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 “post-retirement” jobs. We bought our original 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 the perfect fit.
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 stabled and cared for.
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 fertilize 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. That 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 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, with 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 miles from Oak Tree Farm, and from which we acquired our starter herd of four female and four male Huacaya alpacas.
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 One, it was a spectacular private place where 140 acres of timber surrounded 30 acres of pasture. Springs and streams abounded the property. We began with David building a series of dams and ponds which we will stocked with catfish, bass, bluegill and trout and which will become home to our ducks and geese.
Our renovation of the property took over three years and included a new big barn, a log home, shop for David and, of course, the fiber mill.
From 2006 to 2018 our herd grew from the original eight animals to 65 animals of every color in the alpaca rainbow.
Susan’s dream to have a fiber mill and to make her own yarn came true and the mill began operating in 2011 and includes an enormous stash of over 3,000 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.