The first woman to run one of the oldest and largest cattle farms east of the Mississippi River, Lynda Stuart, is one of many influential women in the Simmental industry.
The belief that every cattleman has an obligation to produce quality beef for the world with a commitment to return more to their industry than just personal profit is the philosophy by which Lynda Stuart lives her life.
Stuart took over the management of the family commercial cattle operation, Stuart Land and Cattle Company, Rosedale, Virginia, when her late husband, Zan, passed away in 2008. Zan managed the farm himself for 58 years and was the direct descendant of William Alexander Stuart — founder of the family cattle business. The couple was the eighth generation to manage one of the largest and oldest operations east of the Mississippi River. Before she retired in 2018, Stuart left the operation with a legacy for being a science-based, educational, and conservation-focused business. Born and raised on a dairy farm in California, Stuart spent her childhood assisting her father, Dr. Harold Schmidt, with the office work for his dairy and artificial insemination (AI) company, Genetics, Inc. As a geneticist, her father would consult for dairy and beef operations. “My largest exposure to farm life was traveling with my father. We would go up and down the state and stay with other farm families.” Stuart laughs, “I was kind of a sounding board for my father. He would talk to me about genetics — and I probably didn’t understand a lot of what he talked about — but as the AI company and dairy farm progressed, we became a team. I was the implementer and he was the idea man.”
In the beginning, Stuart managed the books for her father but later handled all the promotion and advertising. Her introduction to the Simmental breed came in the late 1960s, when Travers Smith — who successfully imported the first purebred Simmental bull, Parisien, to North America — came to central California to speak at a series of educational meetings sponsored by Genetics, Inc.
Shortly after her father sold his company to Carnation Breeding Services in 1972, Signal, another imported Simmental bull, was purchased by the company and brought to the California facility. Stuart recollects organizing the press party for Signal in Vancouver, Canada, and how imported FleckviehSimmental genetics were used in crossbreeding. “In the beginning, when there were so many beef breeds, everyone was juggling trying to find the right combination for crossbreeding, and my father recognized that Simmental had something special. The people who were working with the Simmental breed were also performance-directed,” she says.
The influence of her father shaped Stuart’s ranch management style. Her eye for science-based selection decisions didn’t change when she took over Stuart Land and Cattle. She continued performance testing through ASA’s Carcass Merit Program, a project Zan set in motion and initiated a few projects of her own. Stuart says, “I implemented genomic DNA testing, I took down some old tobacco barns and fences, and improved pastures to take advantage of water systems installed with federal and state conservation projects. We had the benefit of a strong cattle market so I could do some improvements. I think my impact is greater by keeping my head down, working, and letting the results do the talking.”
Stuart is quick to point out that the agricultural industry must always be cognizant of new technology and scientific research. “My husband enjoyed being progressive and so do I. We have the luxury of being unbiased and making selection decisions based on numbers. I talk very strongly about my lofty ideal that we are producing protein for the world. We have a duty to return to the industry more than just our personal profit.”
Over her lifetime, Stuart has given back to the agriculture and beef industries through dedicating her time and energy for educational progress. She was involved with the Kellogg Foundation, served on the state 4-H board, advocated for a local high school reinstating vocational agriculture classes, and hosted educational days on the farm.
For the last 25 years, Stuart Land and Cattle have been focused on soil and water conservation by fencing off streams and developing careful drainage systems. Around 45 water tanks and five different wells were installed to provide water for the calves. Stuart shares that not all conservation projects are at the expense of the cattle producer. “Implementing wells and water tanks was very interesting because it was to our advantage to fence off the streams and get more water to areas where we had not previously had water. The cattle gained more ground to graze and we gained another 100 pounds of weaning weights. It was a win-win for us.”
As Stuart stepped into retirement in 2018, she received two awards. She was recognized as the 2018 Beef Cattle Producer by the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame. Her portrait hangs at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, next to her husband who posthumously received the award in 2017 — the first husband-wife team to be selected. The second award was presented by the Virginia chapter of the Nature Conservancy for “her exemplary demonstration of conservation leadership, her deep commitment of the preservation and stewardship of the Virginia lands, water, and rich agricultural heritage for the Stuart Land and Cattle Company’s longstanding partnership with the Nature Conservancy to protect some of the most biologically important forests in North America.”
“Work hard. You can never know too much,” Stuart concludes. “You can never have too many resources and extension service people. I may have had lofty goals, but I took baby steps to get there. It’s best to have a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself, your mistakes, and learn from them.”