ADENA, Ohio — Optimism in the dairy business is waning for many farmers after a year of record low prices. For a Jefferson County couple, however, the love of the land, the cattle and a hope for the life they want to give their children, have them saying the future looks bright.
Steve and Melissa Griffith operate an 80-cow dairy in Adena and farm more than 225 acres, and it’s truly a team effort.
Both Griffiths work on the farm. Melissa left her job with the Harrison County Soil and Water Conservation District to be on the farm more and raise her two children, Corissa, 5, and Shane, 3.
One of the factors in that decision was the difficulty finding labor to help on the farm. They have a part-time employee who is a lot of help for the couple, but others hired to help were not working out.
Steve admits the first spring was a little scary. Not necessarily because of money (although that’s always in the back of his mind), but because the two were working together and it was only the two of them. They depended on each other to get the crops planted, manure spread and the milking done.
And the area’s hills presented challenges for Melissa, a new tractor operator. However, before long, she was like a professional at operating the farm equipment.
Steve said there are advantages and disadvantages to operating the farm with just the two of them. One advantage is they don’t worry if someone is going to show up for work that day. But a disadvantage is that they don’t go many places together.
Today, the milk prices could be higher, but they feel if they can make it through a year like 2009, then they can make it through whatever life throws at them.
Steve has always loved the farm life. After all, he is a fourth generation dairy farmer, and worked at it with his grandfather and his dad.
In the early 1990s, he attended The Ohio State University, where he majored in animal science. It was at Ohio State that he met his future wife, Melissa, who was majoring in forestry management.
Then in 1995, he got the news: His dad was diagnosed with colon cancer and would need surgery. Steve took a quarter off of school to take care of the farm in the hopes his dad would recover, but in 1998, Steve’s father died.
Steve said it never occurred to him what would happen when that day occurred. It was just a given that he would farm like his dad. He took over the dairy farm and has never looked back.
“We were lucky. I inherited a herd of cattle, and this is what I like to do,” Steve said.
Steve’s great-grandfather was a Guernsey man, but his grandfather wanted Holsteins and eventually his grandfather won. Today, the farm continues to raise and milk grade Holsteins.
The Griffiths raise their own forages and purchase most of their grain. The couple raises 50 acres of corn and over 100 acres of hay for their herd.
In 2002, the couple were having trouble completing milking in an efficient manner and decided something had to change. So they built a new freestyle barn and milking parlor.
“We just got to the point, we had to quit or we had to build,” Steve said. “It’s worked out pretty good.”
Steve Griffith admits he calls 2009 “the challenging year,” and attributes surviving the dairy crisis to saving on labor costs with his wife’s help, and making do with less.
In addition, he said they were lucky enough to have savings that helped them to be able to plant crops and they grew most of their own food.
Another way the Griffiths are succeeding is with their milk quality. They have been earning the bonus for their product and that has helped them to stay afloat. They attribute the quality and quantity to the hands-on care the cattle are receiving.
“We have eyes on the cows all the time,” Melissa said.
Right now, the herd average is 84 pounds of milk per cow per day.
“Each year we seem to climb a little bit,” Steve said.
Melissa’s management of the heifers and calves helps to ensure they are growing, which translates into healthier cows.
Few left in county
Steve said there are very few dairies left in area and they are disappearing fast.
“It makes you wonder what the future of it is,” he said.
Steve said the whole industry has a lot of challenges, but he, like many dairymen, doesn’t know what the answer is to keeping a steady milk price.
He said it is hard to figure out what to do at times. The couple tries to save money when milk prices are up, but then they often have to let equipment go when milk prices are down. So when prices go up, money has to be spent on updates, repairs and replacements, which means little money is being saved.
One challenge for their farm, in particular, is the location.
“We are located so far from everything we need. We are 1 1/2 hours from everywhere, it seems,” Steve said.
It is clear the one thing that keeps the couple going is their children. And they’ve wasted no time getting their children involved in farming. Some of the children’s toys are scattered in the calf barn to keep them occupied while Mom feeds and waters calves.
And sometimes the children help with bedding calves or carrying milk buckets.
Steve believes it is important to get away from home and see how others farm. He said seeing how others have succeeded and failed make opportunities available to other farmers because they then realize if an idea might work or not.
In fact, Steve has incorporated ideas from other farms such as installing heifer pads and redesigning the manure pit.