CABOT, Pa. — Ed Thiele likes to watch things grow. He likes to see the corn come up and he spends his summers scrutinizing the soybeans. Year after year, he keeps a careful eye on his oats and alfalfa.
He likes to watch the land produce almost everything he needs to feed his herd of Holsteins.
But there’s one thing that will never grow on Thiele Farm in Butler County, Pa. You’ll never see a housing development or a golf course or a shopping plaza in place of the open fields.
In 1997, Ed and his wife, Lorraine, were the first farmers in the county to enroll their land in the state’s farmland preservation program. Enrolling was an easy decision, according to Ed, because even if the day comes that he can’t farm it himself, he still wants to see the 150-acre property in agriculture.
“I’d rather see somebody else farm it than see it developed,” Ed said.
The Thieles said their decision to enroll in the farmland preservation program raised a few eyebrows. Some people even called them foolish for permanently passing up the chance to sell the ground to developers for a hefty price tag.
But Ed and Lorraine were sure of their choice. They love the land and no amount of money would change their desire to preserve their farm and their heritage.
In the 11 years since the farm was enrolled in the program, Ed said he’s never regretted the decision.
The farm — originally 64 acres — has been in Ed’s family since 1868. Ed’s father and uncle ran the farm for many years before Ed took over in 1984.
Today, the Thieles farm their 150 acres, plus another 70 acres of rented ground.
The family milks 40 Holsteins twice a day, although Ed says he’d rather be on a tractor than under a cow. With a herd average of 26,000 pounds, Ed and Lorraine are happy with the size of their herd. According to Lorraine, their motto has always been: Better, not bigger.
Ed’s family has traditionally raised Holsteins on the property and when Ed inherited the farm, the cows came with it. At that time, the herd numbered 20-some head, milking an average around 13,000 pounds. Ed knew he could improve on those numbers and expanded the herd while working to get each cow to its full potential for production.
The cows are bred through artificial insemination, although Ed admits he’s not into big-name genetics. His goal is simply to get healthy, high-producing cows.
During the past 10 years, the Thieles have helped boost their herd’s average by updating equipment and remodeling the barn.
In 1998, they built two new silos and went to a total mixed ration. Two years later, they built bigger stalls in their tie-stall barn, installed mattresses and put up a curtain to improve ventilation.
Last year, they built a new barn for equipment storage.
Both full-time farmers, Ed and Lorraine share the farm chores. On a typical day, Ed does the morning milking, while Lorraine feeds. At night, they switch tasks.
Their 15-year-old twin sons, William and James, help out with odd jobs.
With no hired help, milking isn’t something the Thieles can easily skip. Ed and Lorraine can count on one hand the number of milkings they’ve missed since they were married 17 years ago. In fact, the only time they can remember being gone together overnight was in 1998 when they were finalists for the Pennsylvania Young Farmer award and attended the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting.
That’s not to say they don’t get off the farm, though. They just have to be a little unconventional in their planning.
Ed and Lorraine both take vacations, just not together. While one of them takes the boys on a trip, the other stays on the farm; then, they switch. The arrangement works out pretty well for the boys, they joked.
Besides being passionate about farming, the Thieles are also interested in educating their community about agriculture. They’ve been featured on local farm tours and have hosted school field trips. They say it’s important for people to understand where food, especially milk, comes from.
“I like them to realize it does come from someone who works to get it, not from the back room of the store,” Ed said.
That fervor for farming — and promoting it — is what keeps the Thieles motivated. They want to create something their sons can have and something their community values.
They want to preserve their heritage, just like the generations of Thieles before them. Because they’ve learned that while their family preserves the farm, the farm has a way of preserving them, too.