A farm’s first anniversary

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RANDOLPH, Ohio – The Whites’ first anniversary is a pretty unglamorous affair. No glittering decorations or shimmering champagne flutes mark the occasion. Just a walk through the pasture.

Although the couple is newly wed, they aren’t celebrating a wedding anniversary. Instead, the big day is in honor of White-Lawn Farm.

A year ago, Shaun and Teriah White pulled on their boots, swung open the barn door, revved up the milkers and started an adventure.

And now, Oct. 30, it’s been a year. They started. They expanded. They faced low milk prices. They defied setbacks. They milked at 3 a.m. They watched other farms fold. They survived.

East Coast farming. To a little boy growing up in mountainous Vermont on his family’s dairy farm, it would be hard to imagine fields bigger than 5 acres and tractors bigger than a house. At least it was for Shaun.

Farming was all he had ever known and all he ever wanted to know.

After spending his childhood helping on his father’s Jersey farm, Shaun decided it was time for his own operation. Fresh out of high school, he rented his own place, got his own cattle and milked about 50 Holsteins and Jerseys.

East Coast farming was hard on him, though. He was up against Vermont’s high costs, a short growing season and mountains in place of meadows.

Several years went by before Shaun talked with a buddy working on an Ohio farm and heard about the flat fields, mammoth machines and ease of finding feed.

It sounded like a land of opportunity.

At 22, he packed his bags and headed to Ohio.

Get the girl, cow. Meanwhile, Teriah Zickefoose was raised near her family’s dairy farm in Rootstown, Ohio, milking on the weekends during high school, and later taking on a bigger role while she went to college at Kent State University.

By the time Shaun walked into her life – and onto her family’s farm – she was managing the entire herd.

He’d heard about a cow named Bell who was milking 146 1/2 pounds, and he just had to have a look.

He came to Teriah’s farm to see her, took a quick peek at the stellar cow and spent the rest of the day with Teriah instead.

When the couple got married in June 2002, Teriah’s family knew the perfect gift: Bell.

“So not only did I get the cow, I also got a girl to milk her,” Shaun, 28, jokes.

Farm for rent. In addition to working on a dairy farm, Shaun worked for American Breeders Service, better known as ABS. While making his rounds, he met Gary Rodenbucher in Randolph, Ohio.

They got to talking and Rodenbucher mentioned that he was going to stop milking. Maybe not forever, just until his children were older. Maybe someone could rent it? Maybe Shaun and Teriah?

Soon the decisions were made, the plans fine-tuned. The couple’s cows arrived and they milked for the first time at 3 a.m. Oct. 30, 2002.

Downer days. Although their milk production averaged about 22,000 pounds this year and they’ve increased their milking herd from 10 to 45, it hasn’t been all success and celebrations. There have been bumps, disappointments and spilled milk.

Like when they put in their new bulk tank – a “nightmare,” Teriah, 26, says.

They were dumping 7,000 pounds of milk a day because the tank wasn’t keeping it cool. But until a company came to fix it, they kept milking, knowing it would just have to go down the drain.

And last winter was hard. Not only did they run out of corn silage, but they went from November to April without having a heifer calf born. And then, the first one was born dead.

Then there was the worst day of all, when a cow they bought gave birth to twins. Teriah stood in the stall with all three of them, and proudly looked back and smiled at Shaun just before the heifer calf and mother died.

Smiles, too. But the good moments outweigh everything else. Seeing Shawn try to pack a mound of corn silage by driving his new four-wheel-drive tractor back and forth, back and forth. Seeing him come down the side of the mound with his arms stretched into the air like he was on a roller coaster.

Having Shaun’s little brother come from Vermont to spend the summer on the farm.

Buying the first-choice female from a flush at the National Holstein Convention Sale in North Carolina.

Looking out at a green pasture full of cows in browns, whites, reds and blacks: “We own all these cows. There’s no mortgage. They’re ours,” they think with wonder.

And off to the fair. “And then there’s the fun part of farming,” Shaun smiled. “Showing.”

Showing cattle has been a passion of Shaun’s since forever.

“You breed these cows and breed these cows to get them looking great, and the show’s the time to prove what you have or don’t have,” he said.

This year, the couple showed in Portage and Summit counties and the Ohio District 1 Holstein Show, coming home with a tack box full of ribbons.

“When we buy cattle, I can’t go out and buy show cows that are three times as much,” Shaun said. “I have to put my pride in having [good-looking cows] aside because milk pays the bills.”

Helping hands. The young twosome isn’t in this adventure alone. Other farmers help them along, eager to see these fresh faces succeed.

Area farmers pitch in (some volunteering and some being paid) to chop corn, raise heifers, lend a cattle trailer, fix equipment, offer expertise.

With Shaun working off the farm for Alta Genetics and Teriah for the post office, their gratefulness is obvious.

Anniversaries ahead. Just one year into their venture, they’re already thinking of the anniversaries down the road.

Keep building their herd numbers, continue to improve production, maybe buy their own place.

As for the Dom Perignon this anniversary, they passed, instead spending an uneventful evening together at the farm.

For a farmer, an uneventful night is a celebration all in itself.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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