Home on the Range
Donation, Land Purchase Permanently Place Angus Cattle Program on UMD Land
By Chris Carroll
Photos by John T. Consoli
It’s a hazy afternoon in late May when Eddie Draper pulls over an old Chevy pickup along a farm lane on what was once the Eastern Shore plantation of a Declaration of Independence signer. Under a nearby tree, a black cow stops munching grass and peers into the cab with big, placid eyes.
Draper (right), who manages UMD’s Wye Angus program, points out attributes that helped the animal sell in the university herd’s annual spring auction: friendly disposition, sturdy frame, healthy-looking udder. “This cow’s a good mother,” he declares.
When she ships out in a few days, she’ll leave behind a “family” of about 200 cows established more than 80 years ago—one that’s valuable both to agriculture researchers and to commercial beef operations looking to inject desirable traits. Through careful management and breeding, Draper and his predecessors have created one of the world’s most stable, genetically well-understood Angus populations.
Starting this year, thanks to a huge land acquisition at the farm located on a peninsula jutting into the Wye River south of Queenstown, the program itself is also more stable than ever.
Since the herd was donated to UMD in 1979 by industrial tycoon and philanthropist Arthur Houghton—who closed it to outside bloodlines in 1959 while developing a showcase cattle operation—it’s lived on leased land that Houghton gifted to the Aspen Institute, a famed public policy body that used Houghton’s grand residences (below) as a conference center. This spring, however, Aspen gave 330 acres worth $2.8 million to UMD, which bought another 233 acres for $937,000. It’s part of the property on which Founding Father William Paca once operated a major farm that, with the labor of enslaved people, produced tobacco and other crops.
The gift and purchase approximately doubled the area of UMD’s Wye Research and Education Center (WREC), where College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) faculty and University of Maryland Extension agents study farming—on land and in the Chesapeake Bay—wildlife management and environmental protection.
The Aspen Institute’s “generous gift, along with the purchase of additional acres, allows us to continue and expand our research excellence in genetics and sustainable food production,” says UMD President Darryll J. Pines. “We have a responsibility to address grand challenges and serve the public good for all of humanity, and we look forward to using this as an opportunity to find new ways to improve food security for the world’s growing population.”
Besides greater leeway in how to use the land for cattle, UMD has other opportunities, says Kathryne Everts, WREC director and professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. Aspen’s former offices provide space for learning, and AGNR will offer a farm equipment maintenance and safety class at the farm in Spring 2023.
“I want to strengthen our connections to and service to undergraduate academic programs,” Everts says. “These new resources can help us better connect to campus.”
As the afternoon heats up, Draper continues motoring around the farm. In one spot, lounging calves jump up for a closer look at the visitors; in another, steers—some bound for UMD dining hall menus—cluster in the shady edge of a field. Nearby, other Wye River denizens—a pair of bald eagles—peer down from a nest built in riverside land that UMD manages for the state to protect bay ecosystems.
Draper, who retired this summer after 36 years overseeing the herd and the broader program, calls himself “the luckiest person at the University of Maryland.” The donation gives him assurance that the program started by Houghton and continued by UMD is secure for years to come.
“I grew up around here ... everyone from this area has a connection of some kind to Mr. Houghton and this property,” he says. “It’s a special place.”
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