SHREVE, Ohio — When longtime dairy farmers Tom Wolf and his wife, Vivian, received a letter from Dairy Farmers of America telling them they were being named a “member of distinction” in the cooperative’s Mideast Area, they were surprised.
Neither knew about the award or what it meant, and the same was true of their son, Tim, who works full time on the farm.
“We really didn’t know what it was,” said Tom Wolf, 73, who has raised Ayrshires on the family’s Wayne County, Ohio, farm since 1950.
Pleasant surprise. He’s still not sure how DFA — a national milk marketing cooperative — selected his farm from so many. But as he’s learned more about the award, his appreciation has grown.
The family traveled to Kansas City to receive it in late March.
The award recognizes “members who excel on their operations, in their communities and in the industry,” according to DFA. “Honorees inspire others through their actions, leadership and involvement, and represent the best of the dairy industry.”
Tom’s farm is called Spring-Run Farms and his registered Ayrshire herd is ranked No. 2 in Ohio. He is humble about the ranking — pointing to the fact there are fewer Ayrshire herds than most other breeds.
But the farm is appealing in more ways than its rankings. For one, it’s as much family-oriented as can be. Tom and his wife are owners and still active in the daily work. Tim and his sister, Lisa, still work on the farm, and so do their children — Tom and Vivian’s grandchildren.
They were nominated for the award by their local DFA field representative, Will Moore.
“There’s a lot of good dairy farms,” Moore said, adding the Wolf farm is unique because of its loyalty to Ayrshires, its community involvement and family approach.
“The Wolf family certainly meet that criteria,” he said. “(And) I’ve always been impressed with Tim and Lisa’s activities with youth in the county.”
Appealing. It’s also a well-kept farm, with well-maintained buildings and landscaping. It was featured on a recent Wayne County farm tour as one of the primary farm stops.
“You drive by that farm and it looks nice,” Moore said.
Sold on Ayrshires
Tom isn’t sure why the family got into Ayrshires — possibly to try something different — but over the years, he became more concentrated on that breed and today that’s all he raises.
Like any breed-specific farmer, he knows the Ayrshires very well.
“I guess we like the longevity of them, the feed conversion of them (and) they’re not (super) big,” he said. “They’re durable, they’re good graziers, (and) their butterfat and protein is a little higher than most Holstein herds.”
The farm has changed in many ways over the past several decades — a new cow barn, some new equipment and a lot better milk production and crop yields. But the things that helped the farm do well before, are what’s helping it today.
Tried and true
A big one is “sticking to the tried and true methods” of farming, Vivian Wolf said.
The farm still uses a relatively small double-four herringbone parlor, some older tractors and an older combine. And they still pick their corn and store it in cribs, grinding it for feed as needed.
It saves money, they figure, because there’s no drying expense to pay to a mill, or to operate a grain dryer.
“We let nature (dry our corn) and the quality of the corn is, I feel, better,” Tom said.
“We change, of course, like everybody does, but we’re not the first to make the changes,” he said. “I guess we wait until it’s more proven before we jump into it.”
The farm, which has earned a gold quality award from DFA’s Mideast Area for the past three years, has a strong focus on cow comfort.
The main cow barn features open space, instead of free stalls. Tom said the cows sometimes become messier in open-style housing, but they seem to prefer it over individual stalls.
The Wolfs also use cow scratchers, a device the cows rub against for a back rub, neck rub or any other part of their body that needs scratched. One of the newest technologies is computer feeders.
Tim Wolf said working with the cows is one of his favorite things about dairy farming, as well as being outdoors.
“I just always wanted to be here and I like working with the cows,” he said.
Every day carries its own set of chores, but Tom manages to find time for one of his favorite pastimes: restoring old Allis Chalmers tractors and pedal tractors.
He has about 11 full-size tractor restorations, and possibly more impressive — 160 pedal tractors.
The pedal tractors line the walls of his antiques shed, and the tractors take up the remaining floor space.
Tom spent 24 years as a Wayne County Fair board member, helping with dairy and tractor pulling all of those years. The family still exhibits cattle and tractors at the fairs, especially at the county fair in September.
Wolf counts it a blessing that Tim and Lisa are both willing to continue dairy farming. He’s set up a trust for the farm, with the hope it can continue in the family.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have that,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t have anywhere to go with the farm because there’s just nobody interested in taking it over.”
Tom and Vivian’s advice to younger farmers is “take it slow … don’t spend it before you see it coming.”
The Wolfs said it was not their goal to farm all these years and win a big award. But, they enjoy what they do and are proud to be dairy farmers.