We are David and Susan Rabern, owners and operators of Oak Tree Farm, located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, less than three hours southwest of Washington, DC, just off Interstate 81 near Lexington, Virginia.
Susan grew up in Kansas. David grew up in Utah. Susan retired from the Navy after 21 years of service in 2000. David retired from the Air Force after 26 years of service in 2003. Both of us went to work at other jobs. We bought Oak Tree Farm in 2002, just months after the attacks of 9/11. We wanted a place in the country where we could go to get away from our stressful Washington, DC jobs. We wanted a place with projects that would keep us busy and Oak Tree Farm was perfect.
The small nine acre farm was a Civil War relic, abandoned for several years after having been sold and rented repeatedly over the years. It had been part of an enormous apple orchard that stretched for miles down the valley, owned by the same family for decades. The house had been home to the orchard manager and his family – the place where horses were cared for and housed.
The farm consisted of the main home, a guest cottage that had once been a woodshed, a spring house used for cooking and smoking meat before the main home had an indoor kitchen, a wonderful historic barn, pasture, and small pond full of catfish.
The house was not inhabitable, the pond and pasture were in disrepair. And so began our journey to rehabilitate what came to be called Oak Tree Farm One. Our first challenge was to dredge the pond, a project that involved heavy equipment, moving the fish from the pond into tanks, and several weeks of relocating the muck from the pond bottom to the pasture.
We cleaned and sanded and painted the barn top to bottom, put in new storage areas and added a concrete floor to the garage area of the barn. We took out massive rock veins in order to build an equipment pad for our new John Deere tractor and other equipment.
With the expert assistance of a local (and very talented) home designer and contractor, we began the hard work of renovating the main house. Working our day jobs in Washington Monday through Friday, the two of us spent our weekends doing the demolition of the parts of the house that were to be re-built. It ended up being all but one wall of the front of the house. We removed, re-finished, and re-installed the 200 year old tongue-and-groove heart pine floors, added stone flower beds and a courtyard, and finally renovated the guest cottage.
After three years of renovation, we knew we wanted to use the farm for its intended purpose – to care for animals. We knew we didn’t want to raise animals for slaughter and we wanted animals that were easy to care for and had “personality.” Susan has been a knitter since she was a small girl, has done some weaving, and wanted to be involved in spinning. David loves heavy equipment and was game for making the necessary infrastructure changes to the barn and pasture to accommodate the animals if it meant he got to have the right equipment and a new tractor.
Alpacas quickly became our animal of choice with a reputation for friendly dispositions, individual personalities, wonderful fiber that could be spun into extraordinary hypo-allergenic yarn, and minimal demands for care. It didn’t take long for us to find Ore Hill Farm, a very large alpaca operation located just a few short miles from Oak Tree Farm, and to acquire our starter herd of four females and four males.
Our herd quickly outgrew Oak Tree Farm and so in 2006 we purchased a beautiful 172 acre farm that had not been inhabited since the turn of the century. Located just 5 miles from Oak Tree Farm, it is a spectacular private place where 140 acres of timber surround 30 acres of pasture. Springs and streams abound and David has been busy building a series of dams and ponds which we will stock with trout and which will become home to our ducks and geese.
We have been renovating the property for over three years and have recently completed our new big barn and have started construction on our new home, a log hybrid that will be two years in construction.
From 2006 to 2010 our herd grew tenfold from the original eight animals to nearly eighty animals of every color in the alpaca rainbow.
Susan’s dream has always been to have a fiber mill, to make her own yarn. That dream has come true and the mill is operating. She also has an enormous stash of over 1,000 pounds of raw fiber of every color, available for sale.
She is an avid knitter, who starts every morning and ends every day knitting. Her specialty is her own design for a sweet smocked jacket, just right for baby girls.