EAST ROCHESTER, Ohio – Mark Kohler, in fringed leather chaps and a crumpled felt cowboy hat, strides through his cowherd looking for the mommas with the biggest bellies.
The cows hustle, splitting left and right when they see the paddock’s board fence in front and the cowman behind them.
He splits the herd of 80 and they trot three times around the circle. He compares the red and smoke-colored cows and tries to remember which black ones weaned 700-pounders last year.
It’ll be calving time soon, and Kohler likes to keep tabs on the herd. He’s a grazier; he watches the animals closely to keep each cow at her peak.
This farm in southwestern Columbiana County sprawls across hills and valleys that sometimes even four-wheel drive trucks and tractors can’t climb.
It’s tough to check the herd when the hillsides slip under tractor tires, when the ground is saturated, when the wind whips over the hilltops and takes your breath away during a 2 a.m. herd check.
Hired hand. The 40-something Kohler, a one-man show here, streamlines his work. Most days there’s nobody to help sort cows on pasture, so he added his own ‘second man’ to the farm – heavy use pads.
A 140-by-60 foot pad and a second 32-by-72 foot pad wrap around two sides of his hilltop shed. Today, he fed hay here, a bait to bring the cows in for the check.
He’s out of the wind, the cows are in an enclosed area, and the calving pens and chute are close by.
“This keeps the cows out of the mud, and keeps me out of the mud,” Kohler says. “Plus, this hillside has highly erodible soil, so we’re also helping with erosion control.”
And if for no other reason than to avoid the mud, Kohler’s heavy use pad has more than paid for itself.
“When they’re sloppin’ up to their bellies in mud, it pulls energy and body heat and then it takes more to feed them. I don’t want thin cows, and I don’t want to have to supplement a lot,” says the grazier.
More helpers. Never one to take money, Kohler gushes about the cost-sharing that helped him build the pads. “It helps everyone in the long run, with less erosion and mudslides and manure in creeks and ditches,” he said.
There are the two pads here by the hilltop shed; a third sits at the bottom of the hillside near the road for feeding hay. Kohler has plans to put in a fourth this spring or summer on a hillside at son Jeremy’s farm nearby.
“I just love this one to death,” he says, standing among the cowherd on the hilltop. “The only thing that would be better is cement, but who can afford that?” he grins.
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