Millers focus on conservation at Misty Valley Farm

0
641
Cows in a field.
The owners of Misty Valley Farm, in Carrollton, Ohio, milk 43 cows and sell the milk to Horizon Organic. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

CARROLLTON, Ohio — Holstein cows dot the hills around Misty Valley Farm, nestled into the hills outside Carrollton, Ohio. It’s Nov. 25 and near the end of the grazing season. Matt Miller, who runs and owns the farm with his family and his father, said soon, it would be time to move his dairy cows inside for the winter.

But, that day, they are still out on the pasture, leaving the barn Miller is cleaning after morning milking quiet. Rain falls outside in a steady drizzle.

The farm, an organic dairy, uses rotational grazing through most of the year, among other conservation practices.

This year, the farm received the Cooperator of the Year award from the Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District for its conservation work.

“They have worked steadily with the office in a variety of areas and have really shown good stewardship towards the land,” said Amanda Tubaugh, district administrator. “You can just tell that they put their heart and soul into their farm.”

Back to farming

But Miller wasn’t always sure if he wanted to be a farmer. His father, John Miller, bought the family dairy farm in 1992. Through the 2000s, Miller watched his father struggle with the farm at times. It isn’t an easy time to make a living as a dairy farmer. And he didn’t know if that was the life he wanted.

For a while, he worked off the farm in construction. But in 2010, two years after marrying his wife, Martha, Miller started to come back to the farm. It was just part time at first. He had seen other people work two full time jobs before, one on the farm and one off the farm, and he wasn’t interested in doing that. He kept working off the farm in construction for a while.

But he saw an opportunity in the organic market. A year after he started coming back to the farm, they transitioned to organic. Then, Miller was able to leave his construction job and come back to the farm full time.

Organic

The switch to organic wasn’t as hard as it would have been for some farms, Miller said. They were already almost there. The Millers never liked working with chemicals, anyway.

“We were pretty close to being there, so why not go all the way in?” Miller said.

Besides, he said, the organic prices were good. Now, the Millers milk 43 cows and sell to Horizon Organic.

From 2002 to 2017, the number of dairy farms in Ohio dropped from 3,771 to 2,171, a decrease of about 42%, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Despite the drop in numbers, Miller believes getting involved with the organic market is one of the reasons the dairy has been able to endure through challenges over the years.

And, while many struggled this spring with processing issues and other challenges, the Millers didn’t. Miller said if the farm did direct to consumer marketing, he probably would have seen more changes this year. Since they don’t, the year has seemed pretty close to normal on the farm.

Kevin Swope, Natural Resources Conservation Service resource conservationist, said the Millers came to him and the district for help transitioning the farm to an organic dairy.

“They helped us out a lot,” Miller said about Swope and district technician, Joe Mayle.

At that point, they were also starting to transition to let Matt Miller take the lead on the farm.

“That transition between father and son often presents challenges,” Swope said. “It always impressed me; the smooth transition there.”

Conservation

The Millers worked with Swope and the office to develop watering systems for the pastures. They pulled from spring water, and Matt’s brother, Bill, helped them set up and install a solar pump system for the water. Bill Miller owns a hardware store and had experiencing with selling and installing solar systems.

“The one we put in had its pros and cons,” Matt Miller said. “I don’t think we put quite a big enough pump, but, overall, yeah, it worked great.”

Since they put in the first pump, the farm has added a few cows. Miller is planning to put in another, bigger pump next spring to make sure the system can keep up with the cows.

The farm does rotational grazing on the farm’s 60 acres, moving the cows onto fresh pasture every 12 hours. The Millers grow about 90% of the total feed that their cows need for the summer, and 60% for the winter. They use a crop rotation and grow in contour strips to prevent erosion.

Misty Valley Farm has been featured on several pasture walks for the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council.

“They’ve always been willing to have us there and host events,” Mayle said. “They’re real advocates for conservation.”

Tubaugh added that the Millers have always been interested in learning and trying new things. They have also participated in the district’s no till drill rental program, soil health field days and winter grazing workshops with the district.

Profitable

Conservation doesn’t always have an immediate impact on profitability. Sometimes, Miller said, in the short term, some practices can set you back a little bit. But in the long term, he’s found that conservation and what makes the farm profitable tend to line up pretty well.

The farm has done rotational grazing for about 20 years, but Miller said they started getting more intense about it in the last eight years, as they switched to an organic model.

That’s when they began the 12 hour rotation. Cows are brought in to milk, then put back out onto fresh pasture. After cows leave a pasture, it gets time to rest before they go back onto it.

“I just love to see the cows go out on fresh pasture,” Miller said.

This change saves on equipment and labor for the Millers — moving cows and keeping up with fencing and water is still work, but less work than cutting, raking and baling hay from the fields, all before being able to feed it to the cows.

“This way, [the cows] are getting quality food, and they go out there and harvest it themselves,” Miller said.

STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!

Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!

SHARE
Previous articleMarket correction or market top?
Next articleComfort can be found in tradition this year
Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.