Shelby Toops didn’t grow up on a farm, but she knows it is where she belongs. The livestock at Red Moon Ranch
“They’re not just a job to me,” says the 25-year-old, who founded the ranch outside of South Vienna in 2017.
Despite the challenges of being a first-generation rancher – and a woman in what has traditionally been a field dominated by men – Red Moon Ranch has grown and thrived under Toops.
What started with a few meat chickens has expanded to much more, including cattle, hogs, lambs and egg-laying chickens. Toops was able to quit her full-time job at an agricultural cooperative last year to focus on the farm.
Toops has loved animals since she was a young girl, and growing up, her family always had a dog. But it was farm animals that she truly had an affinity for. As she grew older, she realized that she wanted to work for herself, and she knew that she wanted to be in the agriculture industry.
She got a closer view of what that might look like in high school, where she joined FFA and showed goats, dairy feeders and hogs at the Clark County Fair
. When she was 17, she got a job at a local farm, caring for and bottle-feeding dairy calves. She is still thankful to have had that early experience.
“It seriously did teach me everything that I know,” she says.
Toops graduated from Northeastern High School
in 2014. Three years later she had founded Red Moon Ranch at 12711 Broadgauge Road, across the street from where she grew up. Her husband, Douglas, had lived there and then rented it before the couple purchased the home and some surrounding land. Additional acres recently increased the size of the farm.
“Animals have a very good life here, and we treat them with respect,” Toops says.
They have access to the pasture, with no added hormones or antibiotics. Most of the animals come to trust her, and she enjoys giving them a pet. She tries to keep their lives as free from stress as she can.
“We normally say they have one bad day in their life,” she says.
Toops prides herself on being transparent about how the farm is run, and customers tend to appreciate that more than any label or certification, she says.
The cattle, for example, are fed grain because she believes it produces the best product, with more marbling, more tenderness and a better flavor.
“In the end, most people want something that tastes good. That’s what we go for,” she says.
Red Moon Ranch’s products – from ribeye steaks to ground beef to chicken breast to bacon and beyond – are available for local delivery and pick-up, and shipping began earlier this year. She also sells at the Worthington Farmers Market
, outside of Columbus.
On occasion, her husband will attend the market with her. Regular customers know her, but new ones tend to address him instead. She doesn’t take offense, but she does correct the misconception.
“It’s a man’s world, for sure. I’ve been working in a man’s world since high school. That’s just part of it,” says Toops, who has connected with other women in agriculture online.
While Toops oversees the livestock operation, her husband grows crops – wheat, beans and hay.
They both now have something they raise together: A new son. Dougie was born in February.
Toops knows that her son quickly will have to learn to respect the large animals and large equipment he will be surrounded by, along with the work and responsibility that living on a farm entails. As she juggles being a new parent with running the ranch, some things have necessarily changed.
Her husband has always been a help, and even more so now, she says. He takes on some of the hands-on work, like loading animals or fixing the barn. And time is precious.
“I would stand outside and watch my chickens and cattle just roam around for a while. I don’t quite have that luxury now,” she says.
When Toops was naming the farm, she wanted to choose something meaningful. A red moon hung over the house during her first date with her now-husband, and they still see red moons there a few times each year. Red Moon Ranch was born.
For Toops, the name and the work both having meaning. It is hard and the challenges are true, and Toops knows she will never become a millionaire. But she is right where she wants to be.
“I truly love what I do,” Toops says. “Not many people get that satisfaction in life.”