A web site was unheard of back in the late 1800s when our monks first plowed fields, planted a vineyard and orchard, and tended a few chickens and cows. These pioneer monks were continuing the tradition of working the land surrounding the monastery, that had been practiced through the centuries. The thought was that as the monk worked the land, the land formed the monk into a person of prayer, dependent on God’s loving providence for sustenance and material welfare.
In time, corn and cash crops were added to the list of products derived from the monks’ farming effort. In early 1900, Holstein cattle were introduced at Subiaco to provide milk, butter, and cheese for the monks and students of the Academy.
For the next sixty years, the brothers would milk and feed the dairy herd every morning and evening, often missing community prayer to get the job done. Since 1964 when the dairy cattle were auctioned off, the face and nature of farming at Subiaco has changed, as have the personnel that do the work. Other more industry-wide changes have influenced the tradition of farming. Today, “specialization” is the way to succeed in farming, and those who select their specialization carefully fare well, in spite of start-up struggles.
We are making use of the latest technology and available expertise to reap rewards for effort invested. Adapting proven methods of cattle breeding and pasture management are important to our future in farming. So too, hiring the right people to work with us, especially in the face of our own decreased labor force, owing to the “graying” of our monks who served for years on the farm.
Long familiar with milking cattle (the dairy herd was auctioned off in 1964) and then with beef cattle of various breeds (the existing cattle were auctioned off in 1998 with a billboard sign on Highway 22 calling them “holy cows”), the decision to get into the breeding of registered Black Angus cattle was a well considered and timely one for Subiaco Abbey. The upgrading of Subiaco’s cattle stock was necessary to ensure greater profitability.
The production of purebred cattle got its boost when two Angus breeders donated 41 purebreds to the abbey. A donation by Ankony Angus of Clarkesville, Georgia, of an Angus bull, Ankonian Subiaco, has also been of great help in getting breeding started. The hope is to have 200 cows in a few years, making Subiaco a prime supplier in the area for this breed. At present, we are improving pastures and doing the painstaking record keeping and weighing of individual cows at regular intervals. This is required in raising purebreds, and will be a model for other ranchers.