Farm makes most of forage, genetics

SAEGERTOWN, Pa. – In 1983, when Dick Byham kept his boss’s daughter out past her curfew, he thought for sure he’d be fired.
He’d only been working on the Crawford County dairy farm a few weeks and he figured that wasn’t the best way to make a first impression.
But Richard Black kept him around … and so did Black’s daughter, Sandy.
Twenty-three years later, Dick and Sandy have taken over that farm and regularly break curfew with their nightly milkings.
The desire. From the start, Sandy wanted to farm. Even when her three sisters went off to college, she stayed back, working long days at the local grocery store and relieving her stress by going straight to the barn when she got home.
Dick was a born farmer, too. After being raised on his family’s beef operation, he only applied for one job other than on a farm. The shop owner never called him back and Dick never thought about working anywhere other than a farm again.
Three years after that first rebellious date, Dick and Sandy married and several years later they entered a partnership with her parents.
Then, in 1997, the couple gradually began buying out the operation.
Sandy has now joined Dick full time on the farm and, along with their three boys, they’re working on making Black-Pine Farm more profitable than ever.
Linchpins. The Byhams’ farm hinges on two aspects: genetics and forage.
Breeding selections are Sandy’s specialty. She works with COBA and takes her time choosing bulls to correct weaknesses.
Her main objective is to breed long-lasting, multiple-lactation cows.
The oldest animal in their 63-head tiestall is 12-year-old Shelby, and several others are 8 or 9.
Couple the Byhams’ dedication to genetics with their emphasis on forage and their rolling herd average continues to rise.
Most recently, it’s 28,638 pounds of milk, 1,059 pounds of fat, and 872 pounds of protein, milking three times a day.
But Sandy says, even with these numbers, “if you don’t have quality forage, it doesn’t matter what animals you have in the barn.”
Dick, the go-to guy for forage, says his father-in-law always stressed: “It doesn’t matter who your nutritionist is, it won’t do anything without top-notch forage.”
“[The cows] have the will to milk if the forage is right,” Dick said.
For this reason, he emphasizes planting as early as possible and harvesting at the right time.
He doesn’t waste a day getting in the field when he sees even a few blossoms on his alfalfa. It may be cut short but quality is better than quantity, he said.
Proper cutting time leads to better production and better herd health, he said.
‘One step at a time.’ The Byhams are a self-proclaimed “cautious” family; they’re more about improving what they have than adding expensive barns and costly equipment.
“If we do something, we do it one step at a time,” Dick said.
The best example is how they’re slowly taking over ownership of Black-Pine Farm.
Sandy’s father was raised on a neighboring operation in Saegertown, Pa., but knew early on it wasn’t enough to provide for him and his two brothers.
So he took a gamble and started his own dairy in 1957 with his wife, Jean Black.
As the lure of Florida’s warm weather and perpetual card games grew stronger, the Blacks began selling the farm to Dick and Sandy. First it was the cows, then the land and buildings.
Nine years after they started, the Byhams’ completed purchase should be finalized this spring.
Lullabies. From the time the oldest Byham boy, Greg, was just a toddler, Sandy sang him to sleep: Lillian, Shawna, Shelby … Down the row she went, stringing each of the cows’ names together, in order along the tiestalls, and setting them to her very own bedtime tune.
“He’s always been a cow man,” she says now of her 16-year-old son.
And it’s no wonder.
The Byhams encourage their entire family, not just their sons, to be involved with agriculture. They think it’s so important that they even give their nieces and nephews their first 4-H projects.
The children get to keep the cow after the fair, along with her first heifer.
Although Dick said his sons are welcome to show the cows at the farm, both Greg and 14-year-old Eric chose to buy their own cows.
Greg decided to buy a Brown Swiss, and Eric picked a red and white Holstein – that later went on to be nominated Junior All-American.
All part of the family. It’s too soon to tell whether the next generation will continue Black-Pine Farm.
Greg says definitely, Eric isn’t so sure, and 9-year-old Adam still has plenty of time to think about it.
There’s no pressure for them to farm when they’re older, Dick said, but for now, they’re expected to work.
“This is a family operation and they’re part of the family,” Sandy said.
And no matter their future decisions, they’ll always have a place on this farm, Dick and Sandy agreed.
Regardless of whether they break curfew.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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