Ohio dairy graziers highlight youth at annual conference

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DALTON, Ohio — A panel of five dairy youth at the North Central Ohio Dairy Grazing Conference said if they were unable to have their own farm, they’d most likely look for work on another farm, and maybe also consider carpentry.

The youth — Joseph Miller, Nelson Stoller, John-Henry Erb, Merle Yoder and Abe Yoder, ranged in age from 16 to 21. They spent nearly an hour on the opening day of the conference, Jan. 26, talking about their childhood experiences on the farm and their transition into adult farmers.

Most of them began with simple tasks like feeding calves, and progressed to caring for heifers and doing field work. As they got a little older, they got to do more on the farm.

Responsibility

It all leads to building responsibility, said Jerry D. Miller, a local dairy grazier who moderated the panel.

“Sometimes we tend to shy away from (giving) too much responsibility, but as the boys mature, the more they are allowed to take responsibility, the better it works,” he said.

Some of the youth receive payment for their work. Abe Yoder said he receives compensation toward the day when he buys the farm, and others receive certain gifts.

Another young man said he doesn’t get paid outright but boys in his family get a shotgun when they graduate, a new bicycle at 15 and a designated amount in their savings account at 16.

The young panelists’ favorite thing to do on the farm included hauling manure, mowing hay, field work and filling the silo. And, their least favorite chores also included hauling manure, in addition to picking blueberries, pulling weeds and weed trimming.

Biggest obstacle

As for the most prohibitive thing toward their farming goals — all said the high cost of land is the top concern.

“There’s a lot of guys around (with land) but not all are willing to sell,” said Abe Yoder, adding that the recent drilling of oil and gas has made land even more costly.

Jerry Miller said it was encouraging to see the interest the teens expressed in farming, and said it’s important to find ways to make managing and owning a farm feasible.

“Somehow, we need to be creative enough and to come up with new ways to fund our young farmers if we want to continue to see that happen.”

The conference drew more than 700 people and 56 venders on opening day. Leah Miller, the event’s primary organizer, said the coordinators had noticed the large group of youth that came in previous years, and wanted to include them in a session.

“It’s kind of fascinating — they’re very thoughtful and very, very insightful,” she said.

Other questions

The youth were asked additional questions, like “how to tell your dad when you break a piece of equipment.”

“He always wants to know how fast we were going,” Stoller said. “Then he tells us ‘sometimes it’s faster to go slower.’”

Abe Miller said his dad usually just wants to know what it will take to fix the problem. But, it also depends on what caused the problem.
“If it comes from taking too big a load or going too fast, I might get a few comments,” he said.

As for how the youth convince their dad to buy a new piece of farm equipment — it can be a challenge, but they each had their strategy.

Stoller said he shows his dad the price of the new equipment, and then other, higher priced options that make the piece he wants look more attractive.

Nearly all the youth said the key is getting their dad to use the piece of equipment himself, so he will see for himself that it is worn and in need of replacement.

Take-home message

Michigan grazier Howard Straub led a session in the afternoon with his daughter, Terri Hawbaker, about keeping children dairy farmers.

“You have to listen to their (children’s) ideas because sometimes they have really, really good ones,” he said. “If they come up with a project, let them do it. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, it’s part of the learning experience.”

Wayne County dairy grazier Mike Gessel spoke in the morning about his “13-year transition.” The title seemed to mislead some people, he said, but his goal was to show how the farm is always transitioning to something new and different.

Becoming a farmer was a goal of his since he was a kid. He started grazing in 1999 and was one of the founding members of the conference.
Attendance has more than quadrupled since the inaugural event 11 years ago, and that makes Gessel happy.

“It’s becoming more prevalent (and) it’s more profitable,” he said.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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