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History Repeating Itself

Read this story from Massey Ferguson Farm Life Magazine about the Utsey family and how they found ways to live off their Alabama land passed down for six generations.

Much of Jake Utsey’s history courses through the dense, ruddy Alabama soils where he makes his home and his living; portions of the property have been in the Utsey family for more than 150 years. Water Valley Lodge sits on a slice of land in Gilberttown, in southwest Alabama. It is home to timber, gently rolling pastureland, hay fields and woods teeming with wildlife.

Jake Utsey holds dear his land and his family’s history on it. Here, he displays a photo of life as it was on what is now a 30,000-acre operation in southeastern Alabama.

Opened in 1996, Water Valley Lodge, the Utseys’ hunting operation, hosts a range of visitors; the family sees 200 to 400 hunters a year. “People come from all over the world,” Jake says. “The farthest anyone’s come to hunt is Pakistan and Japan, but we’ve had hunters from Scotland, Israel, Germany, French Quebec and [other regions in] Canada.”

Water Valley Lodge has hunting rights to 30,000 acres of land. Most of the farmed land is currently in timber; Jake owns a small hay operation; and he’s clearing land for future livestock use. The property also boasts a large hunting lodge, dining hall, bunkhouse, cabins, an office and the house where Jake resides with wife, Pia, son, John Jacob, 10, and daughter, Gaddy, 9.

It’s one thing to decide to run a hunting operation and quite another to actually do it; the sheer magnitude of the business was often overwhelming at first. “The learning curve was really rough,” Jake admits.

“Hospitality is something you have to do yourself,” adds Pia, who gleaned valuable hospitality expertise in hotels and country clubs. “We don’t run hunters through our business like cattle; we limit numbers each season. In order to make people feel at home, it has to be your home. That’s not something you can easily hire someone else to do.”

Jake and Pia shared a few other operational how-tos:

  • Hospitality is one of the keys to the success of Water Valley Lodge. Meals are served in the dining hall, along with conversation.
  • Water Valley Lodge offers four types of hunts: quail, turkey, deer and hog.
  • To keep the game around, food plots have to be planted and maintained. The smaller plots—anywhere from 1 to 2 acres—generally run north and south to “give plots more sunlight in winter months,” Jake says. Longer plots—up to 10 acres—are easier to plant and are set up, when possible, to allow hunters to be upwind of game.
  • Permits and insurance are required. There are burn and chemical permits, too.
  • Hunting may be the main source of income, but corporate clientele has suffered greatly since the economic downturn, and the Utseys have relied on other ways of making money. “It’s actually the hay operation that’s saved us,” Pia says. Previously the hay business was about one-tenth of the family’s income but it’s become one-quarter.
  • Conservation management goes hand in hand with timber. “We have a total and constant reforestation plan, including the planting of masting trees—which bear food for game—and constant erosion control,” he says.

Running the hunting operation may be an all-hands-on-deck, 24-7 job, but it has allowed another generation of Utseys to remain on their slice of family land.

Read the full story at

Know of other non-farming operations that help land remain in the family? Share them with us in the comment section, below.

How To Build a “Living Fence”

FarmLife offers step-by-step instructions on using hedges to create a barrier that’s “bull strong and hog tight.”

For our ancestors, it wasn’t uncommon to use materials found on their land to fence in their livestock. Some made their own fences from Mother Nature’s bounty, while others grew them in the form of hedgerows. The latter method may have taken longer, but since most folks tended to settle their homesteads early in life with the notion of staying there for the rest of their days, such a living fence made sense.

A living hedge, strong enough for livestock.

Such a fence is, however, just as viable an option today and FarmLife offers season-by-season tips on how to do so. What follows are the basics steps of growing and creating such a fence. For the full article, visit

• Establishing an animal-tight hedge will take a few years and you’ll need to devise a plan to keep your grazing animals away from it until it becomes well established.

• In the fall, lay out your hedge and mow down the grass where it will be planted. Turn a furrow or otherwise till the area; the turned soil will mellow over the winter. If weeds or grass begin to sprout, turn down with a disc, tiller or hoe.

• When choosing the main structural wood for your hedge, consider easy-suckering hardwood trees like Osage orange, black locust, holly, honey locust, elm or oak. Typically, plants native to your area work best.

• Similar results can be achieved when planting seed or transplanting seedlings. You’ll need enough of either, though, to plant every 12 to 18 inches in your furrows.

• Plant the seeds or seedlings at about the time you would normally plant corn in your area.

• As your hedge seedlings germinate, thin and/or redistribute to accomplish the ideal spacing.

• To plash the seedlings the following fall, carefully lay them over at about 2/3 of the way up from the base to the tip. Then secure them to the ground by covering the tip with soil. If simply burying them doesn’t hold the plant tips down, you may need to use anchor pins.

• The following spring, the now-horizontal seedlings will send up shoots vertically along the trunk. In the fall, bend these shoots horizontally and weave them together so you get a woven barrier that’s about 24 inches off the ground.

• In the third spring, these stems will begin growing into one another. By the third fall, new shoots will have also grown vertically. If you wish, weave this growth together or simply prune the hedge to its final height.

• In subsequent summers, prune the growing green shoots several times. This will stimulate the lower buds to produce more lateral branches, which will make the hedge even less permeable.

In the end, you’ll have established a lovely hedge that will harbor all manner of songbird nests and one that will contain all but the most determined livestock.

For the full article, visit

Do you have a living fence or another made with traditional materials such as stone or wood harvested off your land? Send us a picture and we’ll share it with other readers.