SOMERSET, Ohio — Dave Noll thinks about expected progeny differences and corn gluten and how many round bales he needs to get through winter. He builds fence and drives tractors and vaccinates cows. It’s the stuff that farming is made of.
But for Noll, there’s something else. Something that always trumps the other work going on at the farm.
It’s called conservation and there’s a good reason it gets so much attention. It’s what makes his farm thrive.
Award. Noll raises 120 Angus and Limousin cows on his 380-acre farm in Perry County. The farm has been in the Noll family since 1904 and beef cattle have always been a part of the landscape. When Noll and his wife, Sue, bought the farm from Noll’s father in 1985, Noll focused on expanding the cattle herd and slowly grew it to the present state.
“I really like working with beef cattle,” Noll said.
This year, the third-generation farmer has been named the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Commercial Producer of the Year, an award sponsored by Farm and Dairy.
It’s hard to find a place on the Noll Family Farm that hasn’t undergone some kind of conservation upgrade. The Nolls have installed more than 7,000 feet of exclusion fence and more than 3,000 feet of waterline for a controlled grazing paddock watering system.
They have built stream bank crossings, heavy use pads, access roads, a dry dam structure and a 40-by-132 foot manure storage facility.
The cropland is enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Security Program and the pasture is enrolled in the Grassland Reserve Program. Noll has established a comprehensive nutrient management plan and planted 300 trees along the stream banks on the farm.
In 2006, Noll earned the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.
“I think you have to have good conservation because you want to leave the land better than how you got it,” said Noll, who also serves as president of the Perry County Cattlemen’s Association and as chairman of the Perry Soil and Water Conservation District.
As a farmer who has hosted many pasture walks and on-farm educational workshops, Noll is keenly aware that conservation goes further than just the environmental impact. Conservation also plays a large role in public perception — it’s proof that a landowner cares about his business and the ground where it stands.
It takes more than just one person to keep things going on the farm. Noll, who retired from Oglebay Norton Industrial Sands in 2001 after a 30-year career, and his daughter, Heather, both work on the farm full-time. Between the two of them, there’s very little that can’t be done.
“I do everything from vaccinations to hauling corn,” Heather said.
But if they do happen to need help, Noll has three other daughters and their families to rely on.
“We try to be self-sufficient,” Noll said.
That’s not only in terms of labor, but also in terms of what’s needed to keep the cow herd flourishing.
The Nolls grows enough no-till corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa to feed their animals. The cow herd is divided into three groups: Two 40-head herds that calve in the spring and one 40-head herd that calves in the fall. This allows for a continuous cycle of feedlot cattle and also helps Noll use his four Angus bulls more efficiently.
Noll finishes his own calves in a feedlot on the farm, feeding them a diet of wet distillers grain, corn gluten, corn and minerals. The calves are fed in a bunk system and Noll buys stocker calves in the spring to keep the barn full in the fall.
By using intensive grazing paddocks for the fall stocker calves for 100 days, Noll achieves a gain of 2 pounds per calf per day on the grass before he moves the animals to the finishing barn. Fat steers and market heifers are sold at the Muskingum Livestock Auction in Zanesville, Ohio.
In addition to finishing his own market animals, the farmer also raises his own replacement heifers.
Bulls are a critical component in Noll’s success. He typically buys them from sales hosted by the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and keeps them on the farm for four years. The bulls need to have expected progeny differences that work with the cows and heifers already on the farm. Since bulls contribute to things like calving ease, weaning weight, birth weight and milk efficiency, Noll won’t buy an animal that doesn’t meet his requirements.
“It isn’t hard to see where you should put your money,” he said.
It also isn’t hard to see that the Nolls have taken their role as farmers seriously. Each paddock and heifer and hay field offers a glimpse into the family’s careful planning.
A glimpse into the cows and crops and conservation that make the farm complete.