SUGARCREEK, Ohio — There’s a lot of color in the cow herd at Putt Dairy Farms in Tuscarawas County.
There are the black-and-white Holsteins that have been part of the herd for decades — and the brown-colored Jerseys, which dairyman Dean Putt started milking four years ago.
As a smaller-bodied animal, the Jerseys fit the barns better than Holsteins, and they tend to be more calm and easier on equipment and farm workers.
“It’s given me renewed enthusiasm,” said Putt, whose family has been farming in the Sugarcreek area since the early 1800s.
He’s operated at the same farm since he took it over from his father in 1977. The milking herd has increased from 100 head, to 350 head, along with 250 heifers.
Putt and his good friend, Sandy Newbold, still milk in a double-six parlor, three times a day.
“They work hard. They’re good girls,” Newbold said of the cows.
Putt and Newbold farm about 500 acres of forages along with the help of crop manager, John Stucky, and Sandy’s son, Bryce.
Scenic location. The farm is situated in a rolling hill region known as “The Little Switzerland of Ohio.” Its attractive hills and valleys make for some spectacular views and Putt attests, “everybody knows everybody,” with quite a few being family.
But the laid-back setting is no guise for the work that goes on, or the technology being used. Putt describes himself as “an early adapter” and it’s easy to see what he means.
These days, Putt finds one of his most useful tools to be his smartphone. It’s small, can go anywhere and provides him instant access to the markets, individual cow data, the weather and breaking news — all in the palm of his hand.
“It’s a must-have anymore,” Putt said, showing how easily it displays cow records, or any other data he needs.
“It’s really handy when you’re down in the barn (working), you can pull the cow up,” Newbold said.
Another electronic device he uses frequently is a computerized feed mixer wagon he bought from Harold’s Equipment. The mixer is designed to weigh and record what the cows are being fed and what they eat.
A computerized monitor on the wagon lets him adjust the feed ration accordingly. And it’s accurate.
“Every day, we’re seeing right up to snuff what’s being fed,” he said.
Putt estimates he saved $5,000 the first month he used the mixer, just from improved efficiency and records.
As he looks at where the farm has been and where it’s going, he sees a need to plan for the next generation. Without someone to transfer it to, he’s hoping to add a new venture — cheese making.
Although maybe the venture isn’t as new as it might seem. His mother’s family is of Swiss descent and has a cheese-making history. He’s already located a facility where he’d like to produce the cheese and his herd of Jerseys will be well-qualified to supply the kind of milk needed for cheese.
And cheesemaking would give him more opportunity to work with his cows, his favorite part of dairy farming.
“I really enjoy cows,” Putt said. “I like the land, but I’d rather spend time with the cows.”
He has a degree from The Ohio State University in microbiology — an unusual study for a dairy farmer, but one that has proved very useful. Putt’s education helps him understand cow health and animal diseases. During the Vietnam War era, he worked in a hospital laboratory in Germany.
He currently serves as a member of an animal disease committee with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Its focus is food safety and keeping dairy herds disease-free.
All of his experiences have helped make him a better farmer.
“I use every bit of what I learned and even more,” he said. “It really helps me.”
On the wall in his farm office are many awards, as well as pictures of the farm over the years. A couple photographs are from the 1950s, and one is of a Farmall M hooked up to an old square baler.
Back then, his father and grandfather kept diversified livestock. And each animal and crop supported the others.
“I look at these two eras and I know that life was less stressful,” he said. “It (the farm) took care of itself. I think that was a great period in American agriculture.”
Although he reminisces, Putt also embraces the realities of today’s agriculture. Because of inflation, he estimates a dairy farm should double in at least some part of the business.
It’s one of the primary reasons he’s looking at producing cheese — so he can continue what he’s got, and “keep the farm moving forward.”
Although dairy farming brings new challenges each year, Putt is happy with his profession and the joys it brings.
“I like the life,” he said. “I find dairy farming very exciting.”