FRAZEYSBURG, Ohio — Joe Celuch was living his life in Johnstown when he decided he wanted a change — a big change. He wanted to move out to the middle of nowhere, as he called it.
Celuch wasn’t raised on a farm, but he did spend weekends on his grandfather’s farm when he was young. And after living in the city he decided he wanted to get back to that feeling and out of city life.
So he went looking and bought a piece of ground near Frazeysburg with one abandoned, falling-down barn.
He and his fiancee, Brenda Butler, have spent the last 10 years building Beagle Hill Farms from the ground up in the hills of Muskingum County, along with their trusty hay dog, a beagle named Karl.
And, as Celuch puts it, “It’s been a very big journey.”
He proudly tells visitors to the farm that none of it existed 10 years ago. Now, he owns a second farm that adjoins the home farm and leases a third one.
“All I had was a dream, a shovel and a wheelbarrow, but not a pitchfork in sight,” Celuch said.
He started by building a driveway into the property. Then a house. And then a hayfield. But he still didn’t have a barn or even a cow.
Celuch and Butler, went to work building fences all around the property and building a dream at the same time.
“We really had to think many things through. We had a blank slate,” Celuch said.
He bought his first herd of cattle in 2003 but he didn’t sell his first calf until 2005.
Off the farm, Celuch works in highway construction and Butler works at the Cambridge Developmental Center so it’s important for them to keep their operation moving in a way so they can make hay after work or work with their cattle in the evening.
Today, the cow-calf producer says he isn’t looking back.
“We didn’t plan on farming. We didn’t even plan on turning a profit, but there are benefits beyond that. And we’ve learned that,” Celuch said.
He added that many farms just move along with what they have. The farm is passed down from the last generation and processes are already set. Pastures and fields are already developed. Beagle Hill Farms started with nothing.
But Celuch started reading and studying before he purchased his cattle and came up with plans.
One was for rotational grazing. “We started that from day one,” Celuch said.
He also said he owes credit to some people who have touched his life and helped him build his dream.
Celuch said he had a college professor who taught him to keep asking questions and that’s what he does now.
Another mentor is Ed Troendly, who was his dad’s best friend. The man who is known to many for developing and building alfalfa production. He taught Celuch some basics about growing hay and it is paying off with his hay operation.
The farm makes several cuttings from 240 acres of hay a year. They built a new barn to hold the hay in 2010. They sell the hay to cattle and horse producers across the country.
Another person who taught Celuch a lot about the farming world is Wayne Graham. Celuch said the wisdom he has passed along to him can’t be taught in a college classroom.
“They taught me to take care of the land and it will take care of you,” Celuch said. “I’d like to think both my dad and Ed are sitting up in heaven saying they did something right to help me get to this point.”
He and Butler agree there is not a lot of downtime at their farm.
“There’s a season for everything. We are constantly doing things at different times of the year,” he said.
Celuch said the trick to their operation is keeping a focus. The focus is becoming a cow-calf producer, and the hay-making component is important in achieving the end goal.
Besides, the hay end of the farm, Celuch is raising 90 head of cattle. They are an Angus cross, with genetics selected from bulls with strong maternal traits.
Both Butler and Celuch are proud of the herd they have developed so far, but say they are nowhere near where they want it to be.
“We’ve spent the last five years building the herd. Now we have retained 40 heifers and are breeding them to target the market,” Celuch said.
They are now breeding their cattle to build a herd of Black Baldys.
“If you are going to raise cattle — remember, you only get one a year — so when it is going through the sale barn, you may as well get $1.40 a pound compared to $1.10,” said Celuch about his Angus-Baldy crossbreeding.
They market their cattle through the Muskingum Livestock Auction and look to it as a gem in the area. Both agree they are lucky to be located so close to a livestock auction that markets a large number of cattle, and gets higher prices partly because of buyers coming in from everywhere.
Celuch said one thing that has played a big part in building his farm is knowing the cost of everything. He emphasized farmers have to know cost components and make decisions based on numbers, not emotions.
Besides the beef and hay operation, Celuch and Butler find time for several conservation projects on their farm.
They work with the National Resources Conservation Service, the Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District and the programs offered through them.
They are now on their third contract utilizing cost-share programs to construct fences creating paddocks, build frost-free water troughs and stop cattle from entering the waterways that run through the property.
Celuch said the first contract was six years ago and after the projects were finished, he realized what a benefit they were.
The last project included building more access roads and two creek crossing designs, which are serving as pilots for the state. They include a cement crossing with constantly running water. The creek will be restricted from the cattle this spring when the fence is finished, but the cattle will be able to enter the cement crossing to access the constantly running water.
“Our goal is to keep the cattle out of the creeks and woods, and we are trying our best. We can already see the difference we’ve made. You can now see the rocky bottom of the creek and not the muddy bottom that it used to be,” Celuch said.
He said the properties had erosion problems and were covered with scrub grass and brush when they were purchased, and the focus has been to turn that around.
“Wisdom from all of my mentors has helped us to restore the green blanket here,” Celuch said.
Every producer has to figure out what’s available on his farm and work with it, he said.