Coshocton County dairy family humbled by success of cow herd

0
232

WARSAW, Ohio – An aerial photo of the farmstead, a framed magazine cover and two framed pictures of Brown Swiss cows hang on the wall above a bench in the kitchen.

The photo of Hill-N-Dale Conquest Juana, grand champion at both the 1999 World Dairy Expo and the 1997 North American International Livestock Exposition, hangs above that of Ensign Sue ET, reserve grand champion at the 1998 World Dairy Expo and 1999 NAILE grand champion. Both cows were All Americans and are classified as EX 93.

The magazine cover is from a 1997 Hoard’s Dairyman, and it’s only one of the two that feature cows from Jim and Judy Cunningham’s Hill-N-Dale Farm south of Warsaw, Ohio.

The pictures hanging in the Cunningham house remind the modest family – one that shows strictly as a hobby and plans its own breedings – of its personal successes.

The Cunninghams farm in partnership with their son, Brad, and his family, which includes daughter, Cherish, and sons, Seth and Brandon.

In addition to Brad, the Cunninghams also have three other sons and two daughters. Thirteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren round out the family.

Breeding basis. The cows’ wins would mean little without the family’s blood, sweat and tears mixed into them.

“We get 90 percent of our enjoyment out of breeding cows,” Jim Cunningham said. “Things wouldn’t mean half as much if we bought them.”

It is through the farm’s breeding program, with help from Select Sires, NOBA, TransWorld and New Generation breeders, that the Cunninghams maintain their quality herd of 225 cows and replacements.

The family is a member of a multi-state young sire proving organization and uses semen from a lot of young sires, according to Cunningham. Roughly 80 percent of the herd is artificially inseminated, and 20 percent is bred with a herd bull.

“We keep a bull sometimes. Sometimes breeding works out beautifully. Sometimes it’s not so good,” Cunningham said.

The real payoff from home breeding came a few years ago when a cow Brad showed at NAILE in Louisville, Ky., placed second to another northeastern Ohio exhibitor. Though he could have placed one higher, Brad was ecstatic because the cow that had placed above his was also bred and born at Hill-N-Dale, a product of the same sire.

At times, either Jim or Brad will choose the sire for mating a cow owned by the other in their absence – Brad currently owns about half the herd – and wind up with a good match.

“He’ll come back around and I’ve already bred, but I ask what sire he was going to use. We think along the same lines, and nine times out of 10 one of us ends up using what the other was thinking or something a little better,” Jim Cunningham said.

“The two of us get a real kick out of it.”

Replacements. The family raises all of its own replacement heifers and hasn’t bought any heifers or cows for 18 years, Jim Cunningham estimates.

The family is gradually phasing herd ownership to Brad a few cows at a time.

“Lately things seem too gradual, but that’s life,” Judy Cunningham joked.

The ownership change is similar to the way Jim himself got into the dairy industry.

In 1950, Jim’s father got his first Brown Swiss and began building the herd.

“It was a real gradual building. We didn’t have to put up a large amount of money, but were accumulating inventory,” Cunningham said.

In the meantime, Jim was employed at a rubber factory in Coshocton and raised beef cattle, sheep and hogs on the side.

During work breaks, Cunningham managed to draw up plans for a freestall barn he was sure he’d soon build. With help from his father-in-law and family, the barn was built along Township Road 51 between Tunnel Hill and Cooperdale.

The location lent itself well to coming up with a farm name, using the last parts of the names of both crossroads to form Hill-N-Dale Farm. Not surprisingly, the lay of the land in Coshocton County – rolling hills and dales – added extra meaning to the name.

Today’s set-up. Cunningham ended up trading his father the beef cattle for the dairy cows and milked at the old farmstead, where Brad currently lives, until he moved everything to the new barn in 1978.

Today, the family milks 100 cows twice a day in a Surge sawtooth double four parlor, one of Jim Cunningham’s favorite places on the farm.

“Getting into that pit and milking is a great thing,” said Cunningham, whose been known to make up songs and sing to pass time during chores, according to his wife.

“From the sounds of things, if it’s not his favorite place on the farm, he’s really in pain up there for hours,” Judy Cunningham said.

Milk production. An automatic feeding system is in the process of being replaced with a total TMR mix, and silage is stored in ground-level bags instead of the silo.

“The bagger [we bought] is working tremendously good for us,” Cunningham said, noting that Brad can segregate feed and blend contents of separate bags for optimum feed quality. Brad also works with a nutritionist to formulate feed rations.

The cows are bedded with sand and “seem to like it better,” than previously used straw and limestone screenings, Cunningham said.

The cows’ contentment is shown in the farm output records. The herd’s rolling average is 21,282 pounds of milk, 922 pounds of fat and 728 pounds of protein.

The operation also includes 300 acres of crop ground and approximately 100 acres of pasture. The family also rents acreage.

On their minds. The farm is situated in a 17,000-acre reclaimed strip mine area that extends toward the city of Coshocton, making wildlife control a prime issue on the farm.

In a time span of about a year, the Cunninghams had four car collisions with deer. A milk truck also took more than $5,000 in body damage after hitting a deer in the area.

“We feed more wildlife around here than we care to. We always see deer in the alfalfa,” Cunningham said.

The family also has concerns with development of environmental regulations and how they will affect the farm in the future, and the impact of rural land development. An increased number of homes put in, combined with the county’s topography, has limited the family’s largest crop field to 26 acres, Cunningham said.

Fit to show. The family makes the most of what they have. Brad travels to several shows each year, deciding which cows to take and doing all fitting and showing on his own.

Though the Cunninghams have never shown at World Dairy Expo themselves – it conflicts with their own county fair – they have sold cows that were shown and placed well at Madison. The farm has also grabbed premier breeder awards at NAILE and the Ohio State Fair.

In addition, Hill-N-Dale cattle are shown at the Coshocton County Fair and Spring Dairy Expo.

“For all of us, showing is just a hobby. Around here, the cows may look good but they still have to milk,” Cunningham said.

And the cows do look good. Judging-type photos showing the cows from three angles graced the cover of a 2001 Hoard’s Dairyman, and people travel from across the state and nation to visit Cunningham’s operation.

Students from the Ohio State University visit the farm every year for livestock judging, and Brad’s daughter, Cherish, gains from that for her own benefit on the 4-H and River View FFA judging teams. In his younger days, Brad was a member of the state 4-H dairy judging team that placed fourth at World Dairy Expo.

Name recognition. In addition, the farm has hosted visitors from nearly every continent.

“Comments from those visitors, especially the ones we hear about udder and herd quality, really make us feel good. Our herd is doing better than we ever expected,” Cunningham said.

The visits and cows’ wins have also brought Hill-N-Dale worldwide name recognition. During a trip to Madison one year, a conversation with another producer from Switzerland surprised Jim and Judy.

“We were making small talk and he asked where we were from. I mentioned Hill-N-Dale and he knew right away,” of the herd’s location, Jim Cunningham said.

Worldwide recognition has come as a surprise for the family whose focus is purely on breeding good cows.

“I get a lot of my enjoyment out of the fact that we don’t use bST or oxytocin. With our own herd, we think we can tell genetically which animals are better,” Cunningham said.

“I want to be thought of more for improving genetics in the breed than making milk and hauling manure.”

“We truly enjoy the awards and wins from the cows, but they’re icing on the cake. The reality is humbling,” Cunningham said.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!

Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!

NO COMMENTS