Jamie and Benson Tiralla were both working full-time jobs, raising a family and farming on the side when they knew they had to take the leap to farming full time.
“We reached the point where it would be a hobby gone wild or a business,” Jamie Tiralla said.
Originally, the couple bought some cows as a hobby without any intention it would become their full-time gig. They didn’t have the challenge other young farmers have with getting farmland, as there was some family land in Prince Frederick that hadn’t really been used much in the last generation.
Jamie and Benson are fifth-generation farmers on the land. Until the 1970s, it was a tobacco farm, then hay and cattle, until the 1990s. Then Benson’s grandfather retired and the farm was mostly fallow until 2007. Benson’s parents were both medical professionals and kept a few hobby animals, but didn’t farm full time.
Benson was working as a surveyor and when they had their second child, trying to balance a farm, working and having a family was a challenging juggle, Jamie Tiralla said.
It’s been 10 years since the Tirallas bought their first cows as a hobby and now, the herd has grown and sheep, goats, pigs and chickens have been added to the farm. Jamie Tiralla said since she didn’t grow up on a farm as Benson did, it helped with her adjustment that the farm grew slowly. Before going into farming full time, the Tirallas sold just bulk orders, like sides and quarters of beef. Now, they also sell at farmers markets. Half of the business is now bulk orders and the other half is from farmers markets.
The cows, sheep and goats are all grass-fed, which means a lot of time is spent putting up and moving fences to allow for rotating pasture.
Livestock is what works best for the Tirallas’ 115 acres of land, as there’s not much flat space for crops. The goats take care of brush that grows in tricky spots throughout the property, thus taking away the necessity of using a brush hog. The Tirallas want to grow the sheep aspect of the farm, but the goats fit well with that aspect.
“The lamb is still where we want to grow but the goat is a nice compliment,” Jamie Tiralla said.
At the BAE Systems farmers market in Lexington Park, goat meat is popular among the military people who may have eaten it during time abroad. Goats are harder to raise than sheep, Benson said, as they’re more prone to parasites and the goats consume more resources to produce meat.
Benson Tiralla said the biggest challenge is the cost of infrastructure for the farm, particularly the startup expense of the fences and livestock. Additionally, he has to travel two hours each way to a USDA-certified processing facility twice for each load he takes: to drop off and to pick up. The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission has advocated for a more local tri-county agricultural center, which would include a processing facility. Having a facility closer would mean the Tirallas could process more animals and in less time, since the four-hour double round trip to Virginia would be reduced significantly.
“That would be a big help for us,” Benson Tiralla said.
This article is the second in the Faces of Farming series running monthly through the spring and summer.