Healthy farm, healthy cows

It was hard to tell who was happier on a recent sunny afternoon at the Ashbys’ sprawling farm in South Kitsap — the animals or the humans.

“We’re real fortunate to have this place,” said Butch Ashby, who has lived on the nearly 50-acre property with his wife Myrna and generations of contented cows and chickens since 1966.

“Before that, we lived on Ramsey Road — we’re real world travelers,” joked Myrna as her husband headed down the grassy hill to visit with his herd of cattle, which includes about six Herefords, two Angus — and one very large bull.

“I do it for the love of it,” said Butch, scratching the bull’s neck and explaining how it’s hard to make money raising grass-fed, hormone-free beef when you factor in all the money for fertilizer in the spring and feed in the winter. “I just about break even.”

But he said it is definitely satisfying knowing he is both raising happy cows and selling people quality meat.

“And it keeps me active,” said the 69-year-old, who retired from his machinist work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard 15 years ago. “It keeps calluses on the hands and a little bit of fat off the belly.”

Watching Butch with the cows now, you’d never guess it was his wife — whom he married 50 years ago March 29 — who actually grew up around cows.

“This was my father’s land,” said Myrna, also 69, explaining that the pair decided to raise cattle for beef instead of dairy because “I was the only one who knew how to milk a cow.”

So while Myrna was raising their three sons, Butch learned how to raise cattle.

Much of what he knows, he said, he learned from his friend William E. Ralph of South Kitsap, who is still going strong at 84.

And Butch must have learned something about raising a good side of beef, since he said every year his loyal customers snatch up every pound he puts up for sale.

“We only sell about four to five steers a year, ” he said. “We have to turn people away.”

It’s not just beef lovers who appreciate the Ashbys’ farm, either. On Monday, the pair received an Earth Day Award from Kitsap County’s Public Works Department, which declared them Clean Water Partners for their efforts in protecting local waterways and salmon habitat.

Several creeks on the Ashbys’ farm feed into Salmonberry Creek, and the pair worked closely with county officials, including the Kitsap Conservation District, to build more than two miles of fencing and two environmentally friendly bridges to keep their cattle out of the waterways.

The Ashbys also replanted their pastures with “high-quality grasses,” and use a rotating grazing schedule to keep both the fields and the animals healthy.

And when it takes more than grass and a sunny day to keep his cattle thriving, Butch makes sure they have what they need — even if it means playing mommy to an orphaned calf.

“He sets up a bucket with a nipple and props it up for him,” Myrna said, pointing out a corner of the chicken house where her husband feeds a calf whose mom died of what they believe was a heart attack.

“I asked people here for a calf bucket and no one knew what I was talking about,” Butch said, explaining that he finally ordered what he needed from a farm supply company in Oklahoma.

And while normally the Ashbys keep half of the meat from every steer they sell for themselves, Myrna said it will be a different story with the orphaned calf.

“I don’t think he could eat him if he had to,” she said.

“Yep,” Butch joked. “That’s why we call him T-bone.”

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