By Kyle Sharp
Twice a day, every day, at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., the father-son duo of Ron and Doug Caldwell head to the family stanchion barn to milk cows. They do have a local boy who gives them a break on Sundays every other week, but aside from that, the task is all theirs.
It’s a tradition that has taken place at the Caldwell Farm in Harrison County near Hopedale for many years. The Ohio Department of Agriculture recognized the farm as an Ohio Century Farm in 2009, meaning it has been consistently in the Caldwell family for at least 100 years. And as far as Ron and Doug know, an operating dairy has always been part of the farm.
“It’s something to be really proud of, because it’s hard to survive, especially in the dairy business,” Doug said. “So far, we’ve weathered the storm, but it was a real challenge a couple years ago.”
If prices would stay where they currently are, everything would be all right, but being in the dairy business is about like playing the lottery, Ron said.
It’s a way of life the family has endured for more than a century.
“Every generation of our farm has had excellent years of harvest and milk production, along with terrible years of harvest and milk production, and many average years in between,” Doug said. “But through all these years and four generations of Caldwells, the family farm has been the mainstay of our lives.”
Today, Ron and Doug milk about 41 Holstein cows, and with replacement heifers have about 65 animals on the farm. The stanchion barn has room for 30 cows in the stalls, and they can milk six cows at a time. Although the stalls have seen better days, Ron said.
“People come in while we’re milking and ask how we keep the cows standing still,” Ron said. “I say, ‘Well, they’re used to it, and they’re tied with baler twine.”
While the Caldwells’ cows have always been on pasture, rotational grazing was adopted in 1995 after Doug attended several field days and learned the merits of intensive grazing. The cows are rotated every day or two, depending on the grass growth, between 14 or 15 different paddocks. All told, the farm has about 90 acres of pasture. The cows typically are on grass from March through October, depending on the weather.
“We’ve had them out in November some years. The longer you can leave them out, the better off you are,” Doug said. “We used to put up haylage in the spring to feed in the barn while milking, but we don’t do that anymore. Rotational grazing has really made a difference.”
The Caldwells have always been active members of the community, especially with 4-H. Wayne was a 4-H advisor for more than 50 years, and Ron and Doug are both currently advisors. Two of Doug’s nieces are in 4-H.
“They love it. They always want to go to the barn with you to milk,” Doug said. “If they had a choice, they’d probably just rather be here every day.”
Ron and Doug have both served on the Harrison County Dairy Board, they show cows and heifers at the Harrison, Jefferson and Carroll county fairs, and Doug served eight years on the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation Board.
“We have always been part of the community and worked to do our part to help Harrison County and our local communities be as strong as they can be,” Doug said. “We love living where we live and hope to continue farming our Century Farm for another 100 years.”
For more of the history of this Ohio Century Farm, see the Mid-September issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.