TOWNVILLE, Pa. — Rob, Christine and Josh Waddell tell visitors to their farm, the barns don’t smell bad, they smell like money.
That’s because the smell is like recycling, they say. The smell is the manure, which is used to fertilize the soil, which will help grow grain and hay, which will be used to feed the cattle, which will be used for milk and beef.
Sometimes they get strange looks, but other times they discover a young child remembers the story and repeats it back to the Waddells when he spots them in town.
That’s when the family knows their message is getting through and they are connecting with the public.
The Waddells believe in sharing their story and often open their farm for tours. Rob said it is important that every farmer make the effort to spread the word and educate people about the industry. He said farmers need to connect what they do to what people eat.
“Somebody’s has got to feed the people in this country,” Rob said.
He said it’s also important because of the regulations some government agencies want to place on farmers.
“You have to find a balance between your neighbors and the government,” Rob said.
“People have to understand where their food is coming from,” he added. “Meat and milk never killed us. It’s what got us this far in the world.”
Rob started Apple Shamrock Farm when he was 19 with his father, Robert E. Waddell, and his mom, Lorna.
However, Rob’s parents took a route into farming many would not even consider: Rob’s dad bought the farm at age 50 after selling the family’s home as the down payment.
Robert E. Waddell grew up on a small farm in West Virginia, but World War II came and he went to war. While away, his father died. The idea of farming faded after he got out of the military, and worked as a plasterer in the construction industry.
But it never completely disappeared, as he helped at his uncle’s farms for several years.
So at the age of 48 and 50, Robert and Lorna, sold their house as a down payment for the farm. The family packed their bags and began an adventure as dairymen.
The farm began in November 1976 with 103 head of Jersey cattle. About 70 of the cows were being milked in a single four-sided opening parlor.
Today, the dairy has grown to a 1,200-cow operation. The Waddells farm a total of 1,600 acres, growing primarily corn, alfalfa and orchard grass. Of this ground, 500 acres are owned and 1,100 are rented.
Second-generation owners Rob Waddell and his wife, Chris, have three children: Josh, 26, Joe, 24 and Katie, 22.
Joe is employed by Case New Holland as lab test engineer in New Holland, Pa., and Katie graduated in December from Edinboro University with a degree in elementary education.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Morrisville with an associate’s degree in dairy science and has joined the farming business. In 2009, the family formed an limited liability company in order to give Josh an avenue to grow his ownership in the business. He is engaged and planning an August wedding.
Today, the philosophy that began the farm continues to be the founding principle: slow growth.
In addition, the family takes advantage of their own construction skills and builds many of their facilities.
The latest expansions include one in created in 2007 with a new double 20 parlor and a 100-cow freestall complex. And, in 2010, the farm built a 300-head heifer and dry cow facility.
The farm continues to grow its herd internally with the exception of 100 springing heifers purchased over a two-year period in 1997 and 1998 from a neighboring farm that sold out.
The original farm included 243 acres, of which 180 were tillable. Over the last 34 years, various parcels have been purchased and other acreage has been rented.
For now, Chris and Rob have no plans for retirement, but they say the best way for a family to stay in the dairy business is to keep a positive attitude and to be aware of the numbers — including what is coming into the farm and what is going out.
Rob points out that a dairy farm is not what it used to be and the owners and operators have to change along with the idea.
“It’s not a farm, it’s a business. It’s a business that gives you a way of life. It’s not a way of life,” Rob said.
Josh said the future will determine how they grow the farm. He said it will depend on the milk price and grain price, and he isn’t afraid to point out that it may mean growing the grain side of the business over the cow business.
“We want continual growth, but which side is up, is in the future,” Josh said.
One thing Rob, Chris and Josh say that every farm needs to do is to sit down and make plans for at least three years ahead. In addition, all operators have to constantly battle to keep spending down on the farm.
Josh is the farm’s herdsman and enjoys figuring out which direction he wants to take the herd. He said he appreciates the animal side of the business — combining the genetics of the cow with the correct bull to create a high quality cow.
He said he looks for good confirmation so that the animals are marketable, and can be sold besides being good milk producers.
Part of his herdsman duties include keeping detailed computerized herd records. The farm operates an AFI system, which includes an antennae on the cow’s ankle. This helps the computer system to record the cow’s movement, which is related to their heat cycle, how much milk they are producing and how consistent they are in their production.
Taking place now
Currently, the farm is kept busy renovating a free stall barn to include all deep sand beds.
Josh said the farm has gained between three and four pounds of milk per cow in part of the herd that has already been turned into the renovated barn with the sand beds.
He said there is nothing he would like to do more than to farm, and that’s what keeps him going.
“There is something to do different every day. Every month, there is something different,” Josh said.
Awards and honors
Rob and Chris have been honored with the 2011 Pa. Dairy Stakeholders Pacesetter Award.
However, their commitment to the farming community is continuous.
He also serves as the adviser for dairy profit teams. In addition, he is also a past director for the Farm Service Agency and the Crawford County Dairy Princess Committee.
Chris is also very active as well. She has lead the Townsville Champs Dairy 4-H Club for the past 14 years and is a member of the Crawford County Dairy Leaders, serving as treasurer for the group. She is also a 12-year member of the Crawford County Dairy Princess Committee and a member of the Center for Dairy Excellence board.
She is also serving a three-year term as the AgChoice Farm Credit director.
Apple Shamrock Farms has also been honored as a Dairy of Distinction, a the Crawford County Conservation Farm of the Year and the Waddells were participants in the young farmers’ cooperative conference.