KINGSVILLE, Ohio – When Loren and Nancy Ring set a goal, they stick to it.
It’s been nearly 50 years since they opened the doors of Ringbyre Jerseys in Ashtabula County and their intent hasn’t changed since the first milk truck pulled up to the barn.
Instead of growing larger, the Rings have always aimed to improve what they’ve already got.
“We always thought it was better to get better than bigger,” Nancy said.
But that’s not to say their operation hasn’t grown over the years. With 700 cows, heifers and calves on the farm, the Rings have come a long way from the 23 animals they had in 1960.
And while there has been opportunity to grow even more, Loren and Nancy are firm in their belief that bigger isn’t always better.
For them, it was more important to “make what we had productive rather than go out and buy more,” Nancy said.
Comfort. Cow comfort has been a major part of the plan for increasing quality on the farm. Rubber mats and mattresses in the freestall barn reduce impact on animals’ joints and make it easier for them to stand up, lie down and move around.
A tunnel ventilation system keeps the cows cool in the summer and cuts down on the number of flies.
Loren also pays close attention to his cows’ diets. He believes the milk you get out of them is only as good as the feed you put into them.
“You’ve got to want to put the best stuff in that stomach if you want the best out of the other end,” he said.
This type of cow-centered management strategy has worked well for the Rings and the proof is in their books. The farm’s top Jersey milked 28,340 pounds in 305 days and several 2-year-old cows regularly hit the 20,000-pound mark.
Humble beginnings. Although Ringbyre Jerseys is seeing its share of success these days, the Rings, and their farm, had a very modest start.
When the couple bought the original 197-acre farm in 1960, it came with 23 Holstein cows, an Allis Chalmers WD-45 tractor, one wooden silo and 38 tillable acres.
But they had the knowledge and experience they needed – Loren was raised on a Jersey farm and Nancy grew up on a Holstein farm. Neither was afraid of the job before them.
They worked the farm by themselves at first, doing nearly every chore by hand. It took a year or two for the pair save enough money for a major purchase and by the time they had the cash, they faced a big decision: Should they buy a car or a silo unloader?
For Nancy, it wasn’t a hard call. She told her husband to get the unloader.
By 1974, the 23 Holsteins had been replaced by 55 Jerseys. The Rings had made an addition to the barn and built a new milk house.
But that summer, a fire brought the farm to a screeching halt. Everything except the house and one small building burned to the ground.
The cows were still there, but there was no place to put them, no place to milk them.
Nancy and Loren moved the cows to a rented farm 20 miles away, traveling back and forth twice a day to care for them.
They were discouraged, overwhelmed and heartbroken. For the first time in their lives, they thought about throwing in the towel.
In fact, the dairyman was trying to sell the herd when his veterinarian called to talk him out of it. It took some coaxing, but the doctor eventually convinced the Rings to give it another try.
By the spring of 1975, Loren and Nancy had rebuilt enough of the farm to bring the cows home and the family never looked back.
Success. Today, the 600-acre operation is thriving and the family has earned recognition from the community.
In 2004, they were named the Ashtabula County Farm Family of the Year. This year, the Rings won the Growth Partnership’s Best of the County Award, which is given to only the top successful small businesses in the county.
The Rings currently milk about 325 cows with the help of two full-time employees and their son, Jeff. Several part-time workers fill in the gaps when there’s extra work to be done.
They also raise more than 340 acres of corn, oats and alfalfa.
Besides making progress in production and quality, the Rings have moved forward with conservation, as well. They’ve installed almost 100 miles of systematic tiling to improve drainage on their farm and allow more days in the fields.
Today, Loren and Nancy have the farm they used to dream about. But they still stand by the promise they made themselves nearly five decades ago.
You don’t expand to be successful; you expand because you are successful.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)