Family farm continues a 239-year-old legacy
When Lynda Stuart took over Stuart Land & Cattle Co. after her husband’s death in 2008, she would ask herself a question: “What would Zan do?”
Her husband, William Alexander “Zan” Stuart Jr., ran the Russell County farm for more than 60 years. “He was so enthusiastic,” Stuart says. “He would be anxious to pick the bulls for mating, anxious to see those calves and see how calves performed. That’s a year and a half, so he was always looking forward to the next segment, the next phase.”
The property has been farmed since 1774. Today, it sells calves to small feedlots.
Managing the family business proved to be harder than Lynda Stuart, formerly the company’s bookkeeper, expected. As a result of the Great Recession, feed costs rose, Stuart says, and calf sales fell.
“These are things I had to learn,” says Stuart, who is 72. “Keeping books and doing financial things, you’re not aware as much about what’s happening to other segments of the industry.”
Under her direction, company employees attended a workshop conducted by Temple Grandin, a renowned animal welfare expert. “It’s made a huge difference,” Stuart says.
The company also was a finalist in last year’s Resilience Awards, an annual program sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business recognizing companies that persevere in difficult conditions.
As one of the nation’s oldest family businesses, Stuart Land & Cattle has gone through many changes. The company, for example, once raised sheep and tobacco but left those businesses more than 20 years ago.
The company now employs eight people, who are offered free housing, health insurance and a retirement program. The oldest employee, Raleigh Lester, who is 86, has lived on the farm his entire life. In fact, his parents and grandparents worked there, and continuing the family legacy, his two sons also work on the farm.
“Most people in the cattle business are really good folks and have long-lasting relationships. We all have a common bond,” Stuart says. “I love trying to continue my husband’s programs.”