PIEDMONT, Ohio — Imagine being a young couple with two toddlers running about and finding the farm you want. The problem?
Not enough time in the day, but enough work for an army.
The Clays, Dick and Kaye, started working on their overgrown abandoned dairy farm even before they could move into the home.
Dick worked off the farm in the coal mining industry and Kaye, a young mother, also worked off the farm during the day. When the “work days” ended, the “work nights” began.
The couple would meet at the Harrison County farm, eat dinner from a Crock-Pot, and go to work transforming their farm from an overgrown multiflora rose bush to a sprawling, well-kept farm with a scenic view of Piedmont Lake.
That was 25 years ago, and the work continues today to make Lakeview Farm a success.
Most of the property was covered in thorny, hard-to-kill multiflora rose when the Clays bought the farm. It’s taken a great deal of physical labor, but the majority has been killed.
Other renovation work has been continuous on the property over the years.
Kaye said the family — which includes sons, Nick, 28, who works as a mechanic off of the farm and Ryan, 26, who works in Michigan — has learned to tackle one chore at a time and move on to the next one when finished.
Along the way, full-time farmer Dick has worked to develop several conservation methods on the property, including constructing a heavy use pad, implementing rotational grazing, building access roads, constructing and now reconstructing fence, developing springs, increasing pasture fertility and creating a soils pit.
Kaye works for the Ohio State University Extension office in Guernsey County and is the program assistant for agriculture and natural resources. In addition, she runs the master gardener group.
The Clays’ property is full of rolling hills and is bordered by Piedmont Lake, which is part of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. This heightened the Clays’ concerns about potential runoff problems from the land into the water.
“We are trying to be good stewards of the land due to the fact we are surrounded by water on two sides,” Kaye said.
Early on, the couple got involved with the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District and they began participating in some of the programs and utilizing cost-share funding and technical assistance for projects on the farm.
Today, Dick is a board member for the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District.
The couple have used grants and coordinated farm projects through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ohio State University Extension office and the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District.
“We are not afraid to ask for advice,” Kaye said.
They have used grants to build electric fence on the property, which enables them to better manage grazing for their beef cattle herd. In addition, grant funding has also been used to help pay for a heavy use pad, spring developments and manure lagoon in the past.
Dick’s proud of many things on his homestead, but simply the ability to drive to the crest of the hill and look out into the well-maintained pastures rates at the top.
“You could not do that when we first got here. It just didn’t happen,” Dick said.
He added the multiflora rose had taken over the property in such a way that enjoying the land was just not possible.
Dick said he also would recommend installing a heavy use pad for farmers.
His project was funded partly through a USDA EQIP grant through the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District.
They installed all new board fence around the area, improved drainage and helped to eliminate mud.
“It’s great for sorting cattle,” Dick said.
In addition, the family has installed a road to the pad and it has allowed easier access to their barn.
Currently, the farm has a total of seven springs they have developed.
Four of them are unique in design, made from used tires taken off of coal mining equipment.
Dick cuts the sidewall out and fills them with cement to hold water. It cuts down on costs because the tires are free and you don’t have to purchase the concrete water container.
Kaye’s next goal for the farm is a wind turbine, explaining, “I want us to become more self sufficient,” she said.
The work is not over yet for the Clays. They plan on many more years of work and enjoyment on their farm. Dick reiterated the farm is their life and they have no plans on changing that fact.
They realize they’ll have to continue clearing multiflora rose from the pasture and to continuously be involved in rebuilding fence lines.
Another goal is to finish building a shop that was just started a few weeks ago on the property and to keep updating things on the farm so that the work gets easier over time.
Currently, the Clays run a 30-head crossbred cow/calf operation and two flocks of sheep totaling 130 head.
In addition, the family also has a facility to house 120 hogs, but it’s empty due to the fall in custom markets in the weakened economy.
The Clays breed Merinos and Merino-Dorset cross sheep and complete lambing outside instead of in a barn.
Dick is working to improve and build his sheep herd, and would like to double the herd to 300 head.
“The ground is here. We can do it. It isn’t a problem,” Dick said.
Along those lines, he wants to get to the point of running sheep and cattle together in pastures.
“It’s better for the pastures,” Dick said.
But with that change comes alterations in the watering systems used by the farm.
Dick said lambing outdoors is unusual, but it works for his operation, even with major coyote losses. He said the farm lost 65 lambs in one season three years ago, and they’ve since hired a trapper to come in and help them deal with the problem.
The trapper captured 200 coyotes that first year on the property. The number has fallen over the past three years, but so has the number of lambs lost due to coyotes.
“You can never totally eradicate them, but it helps,” Dick said.
The Clays contend they have one secret formula for making their farm grow and continue over the years: friends and family.
Both Clays commented on how important their friends are to them.
“We”re a close-knit community here,” said Kaye.
“They help us and we help them,” Dick said, quickly following Kaye’s sentiment. “We have had a great life here. God has been good to us.”