PROGRESS: Selling land gave farmers chance to customize

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APPLE CREEK, Ohio – Whether it is the breed of dairy cows or how they market their milk, Rob and Rachel Yoder have worked hard to find the right niche for their farm.
When the Yoders started farming in 1985 on a small, rented farm in Coshocton, Ohio, they needed a cow that would fit the farming operation.
For Yoder, Jerseys were a natural choice.
“We have always had Jerseys on our farm,” he said. “We started with Jerseys and a few Holsteins, but we felt Jerseys fit the small farm. They are small, easy to handle and they don’t take a lot of feed.”
Today, they continue to have Jerseys on the farm they purchased just outside of Apple Creek in Wayne County.
The 37-cow herd averages 43 pounds of milk per cow per day, and has a 5 percent butterfat test and a 3.6 percent protein test.
Yoder markets his Grade A milk in the cheese market through Brewster Dairy.
Milking. When the Yoders first started the dairy business, they milked by hand and shipped their milk in cans.
But when church leaders in the Old Order Amish community decided to permit milking machines and bulk tanks on members’ farms, the Yoders installed the equipment.
“We have had milking machines for 10 years,” Yoder said. “It is great. We get more money for our milk and our milk is much better quality.”
Making a change. By 1999, the Yoders knew they needed to make another change in their farming operation.
When they began buying the farm in 1991, 20 acres of the 78-acre farm, including buildings and pasture, were located on the north side of Route 250.
But, the balance of the farmland was located on the south side of the road, making it necessary to cross the road when hauling in crops or hauling out manure.
Yoder said the road is one of the heaviest traveled two-lane truck routes in the country.
“When we were filling silo, we figured that we spent an extra eight hours during that time just waiting to cross the road,” Yoder said.
But, lost time wasn’t his only concern. Safety was an issue as well.
“As many times as we crossed the road, I don’t want to think about the odds of getting hit,” Yoder said. “We definitely had to make sure our buggies and equipment were well lit. We had several close calls when the cows or horses got out on the road.”
They decided to sell the buildings and 20 acres on the north side of the road and relocate the farming operation on the remaining 58 acres.
“It is very hard for a farmer to sell land,” Yoder said. “It is like cutting off his arm.”
Building. Still, building on vacant land allowed the Yoders to set up the farmstead to meet their needs.
The new set of buildings is located in courtyard fashion at the center of the remaining land, a plan that worked well in the design of the dairy herd’s grazing paddocks.
It is convenient during harvest when the Yoders are filling silos or unloading hay into the hay barn.
The new 36-by-102 foot tie-stall barn has 40 stalls, rubber mats to keep the cows comfortable, a poured concrete foundation, an insulated ceiling and a gravity flow gutter system that flows out into a lagoon.
Yoder said the gravity system is a European idea.
“It is simple, there are no moving parts and no real upkeep involved in this system,” he said. “There is less labor involved than scraping and working in the bedding under the cows.”
Yoder believes ventilation is critical to production and cow comfort, so he installed side curtains for additional light and ventilation.
“Before we built the barn, I did a lot of thinking,” Yoder said. “I like to feed my cows individually – I can tell if a cow is off feed – and I have to admit that I like a warm barn to work in during the winter.”
Although he still uses bucket milkers and carries the milk to the milk house, Yoder isn’t planning to put in a pipeline system.
“I like to see how much milk I am getting from my cows,” he said. “I think it is great that we have milkers and we no longer have to milk by hand. Maybe the disadvantage is that we have to bend down to milk, but Rachel and I think it keeps us young.”
They also added a hay barn, horse barn with box stalls and tie stalls, and a heifer barn with roll-up curtains and movable pens so the barn can be divided depending on the size of the groups of heifers.
More changes. Now, Yoder is making yet another change in his operation.
He is currently transitioning from conventional to organic dairy production.

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