KIDRON, Ohio — At 150 head of milk cows, and about the same number of replacement heifers, the dairy herd at Raygor Farms just outside Kidron is not the largest dairy in the county — some which exceed 500 head.
But the size works well for the Sprunger family, which opened their family operation to the public on July 19, during the annual Wayne County Twilight Dairy Tour.
“We are just a normal family farm that makes our situation work for what we have here,” said Barb Sprunger, who farms with her husband, Bob, their son Scott, daughter, Amy, and Amy’s fiance, Mark Ostarchvic.
The farm has been in the family since 1945 and consists of 500 acres of corn, soybeans, peas and alfalfa. Several recent updates have been made, including a new calf facility which houses calves up to 7 months old in large, open pens.
Manure is stored in two covered manure pits with a three-month holding capacity. Covered roofs prevent an estimated 150,000 gallons of rainwater per year, from entering the manure supply and adding additional liquid to be hauled.
Following a full dinner of Hostettler’s barbecue chicken, Wayne County Dairy Specialist Dianne Shoemaker interviewed the Sprungers on what makes their farm successful. Barb Sprunger said an open mind and keeping up with technology are two standouts.
“If you don’t keep up with technology you’re going to slide backward with today’s economy,” she said.
Because the farm is a true “family” operation, the Srungers also have the advantage of knowing their workers well, and communicating on a regular basis. Several family members were present for the tour, helping to ensure visitors signed in, wore plastic boot covers to prevent spreading any bacteria, and to answer visitors’ questions.
Bob Sprunger said their size of operation works well, because it fits their facility size and it allows them to employ fewer people. “Do things one step at a time,” is his advice for other dairymen.
Shoemaker said within the county, “there are outstanding small farms and there are outstanding large farms,” noting the example set by the Raygor operation.
The self-guided tour allowed visitors to frequent most parts of the barn, including the parlor, freestall barn, calf barn, hay barn, and the area surrounding the manure pits and waste water lagoon.
The Twilight Tour is an annual project of the Wayne County Dairy Service Unit and local Ohio State University Extension. Each year, one farm is featured, typically a family operation that uses innovation and new technology to contribute to its own operation, and the industry at large.
Tom Stocksdale, a county fair board member and PNC Bank representative, said the county has an important resource in its many dairies — one worth protecting.
“We’ve got some great, great infrastructure in this county and in the surrounding counties that make this dairy industry in this county very, very strong,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Shoemaker said dairy producers are faced with different challenges than last year, while some challenges are still the same. Milk prices are still not ideal, but have improved.
“While we aren’t doing a whole lot more than treading water at this point, at least we’re treading water and we’re not falling behind,” she said.
She reminded producers to learn from the last two-three years, which saw record highs for milk, followed by near-record lows. The trend could easily repeat itself, and producers should guide their investments wisely in preparation.
One issue that continues is the need for producers to share the positive message about what they do, and to be increasingly careful about who they hire and how they hire. In the past year, a dairy farm in Ohio’s Union County hired an animal rights activist and an animal abuser, under the disguise that both were qualified farm workers.
Shoemaker challenged producers to think critically about their hiring process and how they train their people, noting similar things could happen on each of their own farms.
“It’s more important now than ever before for dairy farmers to continue to get up and tell their story,” said Jenny Hubble, vice president of communications for Ohio Dairy Producers Association.
Barb Sprunger said cow and calf care are an important focus on their farm. Welcoming several hundred visitors took some extra preparations, she said, but for the most part, the facilities are just as clean and presentable on a daily basis.
“It (dairy farming) is our family heritage,” she said — one they take seriously.