HOMEWORTH, Ohio — “You have big shoes to fill,” said Fern Smith to her grandson, Joel, 23 years ago, after his grandfather died. From that moment, Joel knew carrying on the family business was meant for him.
Joel Smith and wife, Ashley, are the third generation to farm Smith Vale Farm.
Joel, his parents Dennis and Melissa, and his Uncle Delmar work on the farm full-time.
Each have their specialities. They all take their turn in the milking parlor, with some help from other family and neighbors as relief milkers.
Communicating between generations. “I’ve always respected the older generation — they’re why we’ve gotten this far,” said Joel.
They organize some farm meetings but prefer to talk as issues come up, Joel said as he glances at his father.
We accept change, nothing stays the same, but we have to evaluate the pros and cons — learn and move on, Joel said.
Melissa does the books so she is sure to keep the men updated on where the farm stands, especially when big purchases are discussed.
The Smiths aren’t necessarily the first to embrace the latest technology. Robotics and automation can be hard to trust, said Delmar. “But, some of it can be useful.”
“We like to work outside and with animals more than computers” he said. “That’s why we chose farming.”
Type of farm: Dairy
Education: High School diploma
Milking: 126 Holsteins
Specialty: Waste management and herd health
Goal: “Be as efficient as you can, still be milking in 5 years.”
Joel agrees; he likes to be hands-on with the cows. “Not to brag, but I can pretty much tell you the whole life history of each cow in this barn,” he said, standing in the middle of the freestall barn watching his two children push up feed with miniature brooms, as cows watched in curiosity.
They built a double six parlor in 1996 and did a stainless update in 2006 to maintain the parlor. Little improvements add up for the Smiths.
In 2013, they built a new heifer barn, giving them more room and additional space to store some machinery.
If you glance down to the left as you walk in the heifer barn, you will see a tribute to Joel’s grandmother, Fern, noting the bookends of her life, etched in the concrete. Joel dusts off the concrete as Haven, 4, and Barrett, 2, run past.
They have started planting some cover crops to keep the topsoil in place, Joel said. “Hopefully it will help keep the farm viable for my son.”
Hard work, good feed, God’s grace, consistency, dedication — these are the things Joel focuses on.
“He has a consistent routine,” Ashley said. “It is almost painful to watch, but it keeps the cows healthy and everything moving in the right direction.”
“I have grown in appreciation for farmers, and to see the steadfast example he is to our children is amazing.”
“We are all trying to do our best each day, with the operation staffed solely by family,” Joel said.
They work with Select Sires and ABS for breeding and selecting bulls to help with faults of the breed — too big, poor teat placement, Joel said.
They have started to do some crossbreeding, trying to discourage some of those negative traits of the purebred Holsteins.
The Smiths purchase milk replacer and supplements from Heritage Cooperative, but grind their own feed.
It is important to know exactly where it came from and what is in it, said Dennis.
“‘We’ve had the same vet and nutritionist for nearly 30 years,” Joel said. He credits them for much of his knowledge about caring for the herd.
When talking about Joel buying into the farm, Joel said, “It is a work in progress,” while glancing at Dennis, his father.
“We can’t take it with us when we go,” Dennis added. The Smiths don’t have the details finalized on paper, but they all know their intent to continue bettering the farm so one day Joel and his sister, Miranda’s children can have an the option to continue as dairy farmers.
The farm sells their milk to Brewster Dairy, and has annually been awarded for milk fat and protein levels.
They are seventh in the state for Holstein production and the leader in Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
“Consistency and God’s grace keep us farming — and were thankful for that,” Joel said, when asked about the farm’s success.