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River life: Along the Cacapon at Rudolph Farms

Second in a 6-part series appearing every 2 months about the people along the Cacapon/Lost River and their love for the river.

“Oh lord, you don’t want to take a picture of me, I’m dirt from head to toe,” said Mike Rudolph, sitting on the front porch. March is mud season on the farm, especially during calving season it’s not unusual for a farmer to be covered in mud.

Mike took time out on a warm day in March to talk about his family farm of 4 generations and life along the Cacapon River.

“This farm covers 300 acres in Hampshire County with over ½ mile running along the Cacapon River.” That river meanders 81 miles crossing through Hardy, Hampshire and Morgan counties.

“I can remember as a kid going “snaring” on the river.” Snaring is a form of ice fishing. “I was always scared to death the ice breaking with me.”

Today the Cacapon River is “…more or less just part of the farm. Seems like all we do is work,” said Rudolph. Still, they find time to enjoy family picnics by the river several times a year.

Rudolph’s grandfather came here in 1910 from Arizona to care for an ailing aunt and inherited the farm located in Yellow Springs.

“It’s a family operation.” Rudolph Farms includes Mike, his brother Jack, nephew Jeremy, and their sister Becky, who is the accountant.

In 2012, they assembled a herd of purebred Angus cattle focusing on quality. “We have a commercial beef cattle operation where we raise natural beef. My nephew has a seed stock operation, where he sells breeding stock.”

Managing a cattle operation can be a tough endeavor. Farmers are always on call. “This morning my brother and I had to help one that was calving, the calf was coming backward. It’s never a dull moment.”

The Cacapon River presents unique challenges for those farming along its banks. Keeping an eye on the river is important. When the waters rise, the Rudolphs try to get the cattle to higher ground.

“It’s a headache when you have a flood, like ’85 or ’96. Or Agnes in ’72. In ’96 – we put the same three miles of fence back twice in one year.”

The lands surrounding the Cacapon River are more to the Rudolphs than just the family business. Many neighbors would say the Rudolphs are amazing land stewards who care deeply about leaving the land better than they found it for the next generation.

The Rudolphs have put conservation easements on sizable portions of their land to help protect the river. Working with the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust, the easements on the Rudolph’s farms will preserve what generations before them worked so hard to build.

Conservation easements like the Rudolphs will ensure driving down the country roads along the Cacapon River there will be farm fields with cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats and buffalo. Often not seen are the hard-working farmers – perhaps a bit muddy – who are tending to the livestock, managing crops and caring for our river.

Peter Wood is a board member of the Friends of the Cacapon River with a mission to preserve, protect, and promote the environmental health and scenic character of the Cacapon River and its watershed.

Photo: George, son of Ironside, is a 2-year-old black Angus bull enjoying a back scratch from Mike Rudolph.