By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff
In 1832 Andrew Jackson was the President of the United States, and a young man named William Taylor moved from Montgomery County, north to a farm located west of Sidney, near the small town of Oran, Ohio. Little did he know that the farm would stay in the family for almost 200 years. Seven generations later, Patrick Knouff and his father Mike, and uncle Steve recall how their family has raised livestock and tilled the fertile soils of Shelby County for 190 years. Growing from 80 acres in 1932 to now farming around 2,000 acres, with the majority owned by family members, the Knouff family takes pride in the stories of their farm over the years.
William Taylor first moved to a log cabin on the farm in 1832. The farm was passed on to Williams’s daughter Eliza in 1871. Eliza Taylor married Hugh Jelley. Hugh and Eliza built the first brick house on the farm. Hugh Jelley was a respected blacksmith in the Civil War and the story goes that he even shoed General Sherman’s horse. The family still has that black smith anvil, and it is used in the farm shop. Hugh Jelley built a barn on the farm modeled from those found in the Shenandoah Valley after his time in the south during the Civil War.
Hugh and Eliza’s son William A. Jelley and his wife Elizabeth built the second brick house on the farm. All the stones used for the foundation, the timber used in the houses and even the clay bricks on the outside came from the farm. William A. Jelley was the third generation. William A. had a son named Milton.
The farm passed on to Milton Jelley and his wife Blanch. It was Milton and Blanch’s daughter Grace, who married Clarence Knouff. The farm ownership transferred to Clarence and Grace Knouff in 1950. They were the parents of Mike and Steve Knouff. Mike and Steve are the sixth generation on the farm. Mike’s son Patrick, who currently operates the farm, is the seventh generation. Patrick’s children would make the eighth generation.
The farm was like most in the area in the early 1800s and into the 1900s with diverse livestock and crops grown. While there was a mix of livestock on the farm, the family began milking cows in 1911. “Grandma and Grandpa started milking cows here when they got married. They had Guernsey, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows,” Mike said.
“Stories are told of how Grandma Grace started milking cows when she was 6 years old and milked until she was 80 years old,” Patrick said. “The joke was that she was a late bloomer because her brother started milking cows when he was just 4 years old.”
The family was an early user of genetic technology.
“Grandpa started breeding cows with artificial insemination (A.I.) back in 1952,” Patrick said. “The heifers were bred with an Angus bull. I remember when I was little, I was not allowed to go into that back pasture.”
Steve remembers a similar story with a different bull they had when growing up.
“We had a Guernsey bull named Countryman that was kept in a pen in the back barn,” Steve said. “We were never allowed to go into that part of the old barn.”
In the later years, the Knouffs had a partially registered Holstein herd. The family milked cows for 95 years until they sold the herd in 2006. The family now raises replacement dairy heifers.
The Knouffs have implemented several conservation practices on their farm. They started no-tilling corn in 1993 and soybeans in 1997. They have been grid soil sampling their fields since the late 1990s and started using variable rate technology in the early 2000s.
“We added variable rate technology before we even added auto steer,” Patrick said.
Selling seed has also been a part of the family for three generations. Clarence Knouff started selling Pioneer Seed in 1966. Mike took over the dealership from Clarence and Patrick runs the dealership today. They have been treating seed for over ten years and are currently expanding the facility to allow seed to be treated inside regardless of the weather conditions.
The Knouff farm has a 165,000-bushel capacity grain storage facility with a tower dryer. The first bin in the current facility was put up in 1967. In 1980 a bin was added with an in-bin dryer. The main part of the facility was built in 2013, and a 60,000-bushel bin was just added this past summer.
The farm is operated as a combination of business structures. It is a combination of a corporation and a sole proprietorship.
Mike started farming in 1961 as a freshman in high school. He purchased his first tractor in 1963. It was a John Deere 3010 and he paid $3,750 new.
“Dad and I split it,” Mike said.
With the exception of 3 years spent in the Army as a heavy equipment operator in Vietnam, Mike has spent his entire life on the farm.
Steve started farming in 1964. Along with working on the farm, Steve taught history at nearby Northwood Middle School in Sidney.
Patrick grew-up farming alongside his father and uncle, and after graduating from The Ohio State University he worked in the ag industry for a short time before moving back to the farm in 2006. Patrick is married to his wife Jennifer who teaches Kindergarten at Fort Loramie, and they have three children, Emily, Alex and Spencer.
In just 10 years, 2032, they will celebrate two centuries of farming in Shelby County as a family. Looking to the future, the Knouff Family is still willing to expand and grow the farm as opportunities arise to set the stage for the next two centuries on the family farm.