Down on the Farm: VFC-12 pilot and wife combine careers with farm life

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When he’s not flying for the “Omars” of VFC-12, Lt. Zach Zuroweste and his wife Tiffany keep very busy on their six-acre farm in Chesapeake, where they have rescued dozens of injured and sick animals, including many of the chickens, turkeys and ducks in this photo, as well as geese and goats. Photo by Harry Gerwien, Military Newspapers of Virginia.

By Cathy Heimer, Jet Observer

--Six o’clock and it’s dinner time at Lt. Zach and Tiffany Zuroweste’s Chesapeake home. But this isn’t a typical family scene that might be expected for the 33-year-old naval aviator and his 31-year-old wife. Instead of the expected high chairs or toddler meals, the couple is busy filling feed buckets, as nearly 100 chickens, a few ducks, geese, turkeys and two milking goats follow their every move from the house out to the barn.

“It keeps us from sitting in front of the TV,” joked Zach, as Tiffany added, “We’re never bored!”

Often times the Navy and the farm are not separate jobs. As Zach, an active duty F/A-18 pilot with Fighter Composite Squadron (VFC) 12 based at NAS Oceana, corrals the animals running across the driveway, he’s talking on his iPhone with his squadron, the “Omars,” — all the while holding a Phoenix rooster.

Tiffany finishes scattering feed for the varying assortment of fowl and then turns her attention to the two milking goats. Expertly securing them in front of a full feeder, she milks each goat, getting nearly three-quarters of a gallon from each, something she does twice a day.

Although Zach taught her how to milk the goats, they agree she has far surpassed his skill.”I used to do it in 10 but it only takes me eight minutes [per goat] now,” she said with a smile.

After securing the goats in front of a full feeder, Tiffany Zuroweste can milk each of their two milking goats in about eight minutes apiece — something she does twice a day. Sale of the milk helps toward the farm’s expenses.  Photo by Harry Gerwien

The farm and animal rescue has been “a trial by fire,” Tiffany explained. “I can’t believe how much I’ve learned.”

Roaming behind the fenced backyard — nearly six acres — are nine more goats, as well as two horses. Like many of the animals, they have names —

Diamond and Chestnut. Both horses are regularly ridden by the couple.
Only the milking goats, two family dogs and horses were purchased; all of the other animals were either given to the couple, mostly as rescues.

Initially, they responded to free ads on Craigslist and they would go out and pick up the animals. It didn’t take long to change that and now people who want a good home for their farm animals bring them out to the couple.

Zach shared that unfortunately, they have had people just dump animals over the gate in front of their home. “Really prefer they not do that, just so we know where they’re coming from, their condition,” he said.

Many of their rescues have been nursed back to health, including a flock of ducks that arrived at the farm, skinny with abnormal black coloring. Now the flock, back to their healthy white feathers and weight, are close behind Tiffany at feeding time.

Feeding this menagerie runs $400 - $500 each month, a major expense, but they feel it’s all worth it. Occasionally they receive donations of feed or money for the animals, for which they are grateful. They sell the goat’s milk and eggs to help offset expenses. They are working on obtaining the 501-3C status, which would make the farm and rescue a non-profit organization.

The Zurowestes also appreciate any volunteers who are willing to help with farm chores. Volunteers at any skill level — or lack of it — are welcome by the couple. Zach said there has been interest from a local Boy Scout troop, who could earn merit badges while helping with the animals and farm chores. For some volunteers, it’s the first time they have ever been on a farm and seen the animals close up.

Several other animals have run of the inside of the Zuroweste home. They include a 10-year-old golden retriever, Kona; Ozzy, a rescued macaw, now in his third home in four years and Comanche, a 3-year-old chocolate lab. They are also on the waiting list to adopt a retired military working dog.

Even as he’s doing the many chores around his farm, Lt. Zach Zuroweste is frequently on his cell phone to his squadron, taking care of an issue at VFC-12 on NAS Oceana. Photo by Harry Gerwien

In their screened porch, away from the other animals, they have set up a small incubator for a young guinea fowl, the only surviving hatchling from a recent flock. Smaller than an adult palm, it sleeps quietly under the heat lamp, oblivious to the noise just feet away.

Because of his job and the amount of time he’s out of the area on detachments, Zach is quick to admit the farm couldn’t run without Tiffany, as well as a friend who is a farmhand, willing to help out whenever needed.

They happily open their farm to friends and co-workers. “Many of the squadron folks bring their kids out here. Many of them have never seen a real farm animal,” said Zach.

Both feel this is something they were meant to do and their love of animals is obvious. Tiffany explains hers began as a very young child in Salt Lake City, where her parents would take her to a local farm, where she could indulge in her passion for animals.

Many young women might have run the other way if their date was talking about how he wanted to own his own farm, but not Tiffany. “I knew he was totally the guy for me!” she laughed. The couple will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in December.

For Zach, the seed was planted to someday own a farm while growing up in New Haven, Mo. Although he readily admits the movie “Top Gun” inspired his desire to join the Navy and become a pilot, he never gave up on the idea of owning his own farm.  It stayed in the back of his head, in the first few years as a junior enlisted Sailor, serving as part of the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington D.C.

Although Zach eventually earned his bachelor’s degree at University of Utah by using the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) Program, (now Seaman to Admiral-21) and went to flight school, he kept nurturing his dream.

Lt. Zach Zuroweste flies the F/A-18 Hornet with VFC-12, based at NAS Oceana. Inspired by the movie, “Top Gun,” Zuroweste enlisted in 1999, eventually earning his bachelor’s degree and commission, and then reaching his goal of becoming a Navy pilot. Photo by Harry Gerwien

Just after arriving in Hampton Roads in 2007, following a tour at Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 at NAS Lemoore, Calif., the couple finally began their search for an affordable farm. Although they loved living in Virginia Beach’s Courthouse Estates with great neighbors, a friend who is a real estate agent, helped them locate the six-acre farm, with a dilapidated barn and house on Centerville Turnpike two years ago.

While affordable on a lieutenant’s pay, both buildings built in the 1940s needed a lot of work and Zach stresses “a lot.” They basically gutted and redid the inside of the house themselves. The barn, which survived a fire many years ago, has been shored up with new plywood and the overgrown bushes, trees and weeds that covered it when the Zurowestes purchased it are long gone.

Although the barn leaks, Zach said it “still provides a shelter” and during storms, they put up tarps to give the animals a safe harbor. A new fence surrounds their property — all their own handiwork, of course.

Zach’s not the only one with a career. Tiffany works as an equine, canine and human massage therapist, as well as a nanny for two young girls — one with special needs. If that weren’t enough, she’s also a student at Old Dominion University working toward a bachelor’s degree in forensic science. Despite two jobs and the farm, Tiffany explained, “I put my school on hold while Zach was doing his, so now it’s my turn.”

When she’s done with her bachelor’s degree, her plan is to continue her education through the doctorate level. Her other passion is children and she plans to use her degree to protect children from predators.

The lieutenant has another 18 - 24 months remaining at VFC-12 and obviously the couple would like to remain in Hampton Roads. “The Navy’s been good to me so far,” Zach said about his career that has included an assignment at VFA- 87, “Golden Warriors.”

Children of their own are in the couple’s future, but not until Tiffany has finished her bachelor’s degree. Until then, they are quite content with the more than 100 two and four-legged feathered and furry family members they have rescued.

For more information about making a donation to the New Haven native who is one of many that have dedicated their lives to protecting our country email Lt. Zach Zuroweste at zzuroweste1@me.com.