Fewer farms but still a lot to honor

RAVENNA, Ohio – Dairy farming in Portage County may not be what it once was. Fewer farms. Increasing encroachment. More pressure.
But even with only three farms in the county left on official test, one of them is the top herd in the state.
Grac-Glen Farm in Ravenna, Ohio, is that high-producing farm and was honored at the county’s annual banquet March 7 by milk tester Susan Cooper.
With a rolling herd average of 32,256 pounds of milk, 978 pounds of protein and 1,195 pounds of butterfat, the farm currently ranks first in Ohio for both milk and protein and second in butterfat, Cooper said.
The operation, owned by David and Rick Alger, milks more than 200 head three times a day.
Other Portage County farms on official test are Dave Winchell and Hilltop R Groselle.
Looking back. Dwindling farm numbers, however, means there are plenty of past farmers to choose from for the annual honorary dairyman title.
This year’s winner wasn’t a surprise to anyone except Brian Alger himself.
“Some may think that getting this award means that you have officially been put out to pasture, but that is not always true,” said Alger’s brother, Randy, as he presented the Sherman Brockett Honorary Dairyman award. “I think that moving on to greener pastures is a better way of looking at it.”
Career not forgotten. Although Alger is no longer farming in Mantua, Ohio, he accomplished more in his operation than many do in careers twice as long.
Newly graduated and ready to show the world what he knew about dairy cows, he was put to the test after just two weeks on the job.
His father, Norm, had hired his son as the assistant herdsman to the 160 milking cows in 1979. But within weeks, the head herdsman left, leaving novice Alger to juggle milking and breeding himself.
He jumped in with both feet and soon found himself up to his neck, his brother told the group.
Alger caught on quickly, though, and within years began increasing both the herd size and production.
By 2002, he’d expanded the herd to 375 cows and 325 heifers. And he pushed the rolling herd average from 16,000 pounds of milk to 26,000 pounds, landing a spot in the top 5 percent of Ohio.
His progressiveness also helped the farm make a name for itself.
In the mid-1980s, Alger was one of the first farmers in the area to try milking three times a day, which he did for four years. He also was one of the first to incorporate total mixed ration feeding and to use bST to increase milk production.
After years of being one of the largest, highest-producing herds in the county, Alger, his wife, his brother and his parents decided to sell the herd. Expansion was necessary to continue supporting three families, but there was no room for growth at the site.
DeVries Family Farms in Marion, Ohio, bought the herd and it is currently the highest-producing group of cows on that 2,000-head farm, Alger’s brother said.
Alger now works as a technical service manager for a residual management company called Synagro.
Sherman Brockett, the man whom the award is named after, was a milk tester on the Alger farm for 40 years, Alger said.
“It’s an honor to be in a group with him,” he said.
Dairymen’s friend. Fran Mann thought her family was taking her to a Boy Scouts banquet for her grandson.
But then she arrived, and although she started seeing people she’d known her whole life, she didn’t see many young boys.
Skepticism set in. Just what was her family up to?
It didn’t become clear until the speaker welcomed them to the annual dairy banquet and began using words like “Farm Service Agency,” “38 years,” and “Craig.”
Finally, Mann heard her name, along with “Friend of the Dairyman award.”
Mann, the 2006 recipient of the honor, served farmers for 36 years as a program technician for Farm Service Agency before retiring in 2004. All the while, she milked cows and raised chickens with her husband, Ralph.
After her husband’s death seven years ago, Mann’s son, Craig, took over the farm and now operates the 100-acre grain farm in Palmyra, Ohio.
Recognition. Elections for the dairy committee’s board of directors were not held.
With just a few dairy producers left in the county, committee president Ken Rufener instead asked that anyone interested in the group, contact the extension office at 330-296-6432.
Sixteen-year-old Marcy Armstrong was named dairy princess.
Armstrong, of Suffield, has participated in dairy 4-H since she was 6, and also shows horses and steers.
Runners-up included Abby Luli and Alicia Croft.
Farm employees were also recognized, as well as 4-H members.
Opportunity. Five-hundred-dollar National Dairy Herd Improvement Association scholarships are available to youth. Apply by Nov. 30 by visiting www.dhia.org/scholapp.pdf or contact Deb Wendorf Boyke at 608-848-6455, ext. 112, or dwboyke@requestltd.com.
(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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