The Waddington family of Central Washington has been farming and raising beef cows for nearly 30 years.
But the business doesn’t look anything like it did back in 1991, when Justin and Tyler Waddington were teenagers and their parents, Tim and Marilyn, started farming hay in the Yakima Valley town of Harrah. In fact, Waddington Farms doesn’t even resemble the operation of a decade ago.
“If we were still doing what we were 10 years ago, I don’t know if we’d still be in business,” said Justin Waddington, who manages the farming side while Tyler focuses primarily on the cattle.
“The way we were running cattle — using larger grazing areas and bigger pieces of ground — went away because the competition for land in this area got so high that we lost some. We had to start trying some new things out of necessity.”
Waddington Farms is divided into thirds, with cattle, hay and corn accounting for roughly the same amount of annual revenue. The family manages 300 head of Black and Red Angus cows (plus calves and 90 replacement heifers) and maintains 400 acres of hay and 250 acres of corn.
They once owned more than 500 head, but a highly competitive real estate market forced the Waddingtons to alter their farming and grazing practices. Over the past few years, they have found that a “total grazing” approach can deliver positive outcomes for both cattle and crops.
“We had to figure out how to utilize our feed better, so we started running our cows in smaller groups and moving them around to different parts of grazing land by moving our fencing every day,” Tyler Waddington said. “We’ve tried a few different avenues to help us become more efficient, and there’s definitely been some trial and error. But now, we’re utilizing all of our feed better and we’re also achieving maximum recovery for our farm land.”
In 2017, the family started keeping their calves over the winter and using them to graze the winter crops before sending the cows to market. Under the total grazing philosophy — made popular by Texas ranch consultant Jaime Elizondo — the cattle are moved to specified grazing areas by adjusting the fencing on a pivot system.
After the cows graze all of the hay and corn stalks in targeted areas during the winter, the farmer plants a warm-season hay variety behind it, and the cycle repeats itself.
“Around here, not many people are doing things this way,” Justin said. “But it just depends on what you want. Do you change your environment to fit your cows, or do you breed your cows differently to fit your environment?”
Waddington Farms also has been experimenting with different breeding techniques to combat the extreme summer heat in Central Washington. They recently introduced some Mashona bulls from Zimbabwe into their herd because they are able to withstand the summer heat better than North American cattle. The business now has two groups of Mashona heifers, which will be used to breed quarter-bloods this season.
Being able to respond to unforeseen challenges has become a point of pride for Waddington Farms. Now that they have found a way to keep their business profitable for years to come, Justin and Tyler Waddington are confident that they can overcome any future challenges.
“A lot of times, it’s about adapting so your business can survive,” Justin said. “We’ve been able to use our farm ground to feed our cattle year-round, and that has helped rejuvenate the soil for growing corn and hay. Basically, the same piece of ground has raised three crops for us over the past few years, and that has really kept us going.”