Busy Dairyman Wears Multiple Hats

11/19/2011 10:00 AM

Sue Bowman

Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

MYERSTOWN, Pa. — On a recent autumn day, John Kline had to take a break from his farming operations to pop by nearby Eastern Lebanon County (Elco) High School for an appearance at an assembly.

While many of his peers might have been a little reluctant to go on stage before an audience of teenagers and share a motivational message, Kline took it all in stride. After all, he’s not only a 1981 alumnus who was there to be inducted into Elco’s Hall of Fame, but he already knows many in the student body due to his leadership of the OnFire Club that meets at the school.

It’s all in a day’s work for this dynamo who splits his time and talents between dairying, farming 325 acres and serving as executive director of the Myerstown-based OnFire Youth Ministry.

Dairying has always been a part of John Kline’s life. He grew up helping on his parents’ dairy farm in the Schaefferstown area of southeastern Lebanon County. In 1985, he married the girl he’d met in a youth group at the Heidelberg Church of the Brethren, Sharon Martin.

While Sharon came from a farm family who raised beef cattle, by 1988 the couple had started their own dairy herd of Holsteins. Eventually, their family grew to include five sons, now ranging in age from 13 to 22. As Jason, Josh, Jared, Jesse and Jacob became 4-H members and wanted to show dairy animals, the Klinedell herd grew to include Jerseys, as well.

Currently, the Klines milk 130 Holsteins and Red and Whites, along with 30 Jerseys.

Klinedell has a unique set-up with two adjacent stanchion barns that were once part of separate farms. Having two barns allows the Kline operation to milk their fresh cows three times per day in one of the barns and the remainder of the herd twice per day in the other barn. This two-barn arrangement also allows the family to cater their feeding programs more economically to the specific needs of both sets of cows.

Interestingly, milk from the one barn’s herd is sold to Swiss Premium, while Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) purchases the milk from the other Kline herd.

In addition to having all the Kline family hands on deck to assist with milking and feeding chores, Klinedell also employs two part-time helpers, one of whom is John’s niece, and the other a gentleman who mixes feed and keeps the farm’s mechanical components running smoothly by manning their shop.

John and his sons also do the fieldwork involved in raising the corn, soybeans, alfalfa and some double-cropped barley and wheat on the Klines’ acreage. Most of the crops become the herd’s diet.

While there’s plenty to keep the Kline family busy around home, they’ve also taken to the challenge of showing their dairy animals. Both John and Sharon showed dairy cattle in their teen years and John proudly notes that he has exhibited at the Lebanon Area Fair every year since he was in his early teens.

More recently, the Klines have encouraged their sons to show the family’s herd. John and Sharon like the way that showing animals “makes for working together” within their family, nourishing cooperation, while teaching showmanship skills and also fulfilling what John Kline calls the “internal spirit of competition that we all have.”

An added benefit to their oldest son, Jason, has been his earning some extra income by practicing the art of fitting — clipping, grooming and otherwise prepping other dairy owners’ cattle for exhibition.

The Klines typically compete in the Pennsylvania State Holstein Spring Show and the Farm Show, as well as at the Lebanon, Ephrata and Elizabethtown fairs. Recently, they showed 11 animals at the All-American Dairy Show the same week they took 16 of their herd to the Ephrata Fair. It made for an extra busy week but, John notes philosophically, “How do you explain that so much work can be so much fun?”

Although showing dairy cattle is in effect a long-term marketing strategy for a successful dairy herd, the Klines haven’t yet gotten into selling any of their offspring as a result of their good show results. That may lie in the future, though, as the Klinedell name has become well known to judges and fellow showman alike.

This is especially true after the Klines’ Luck-E Kartoon (excellent-94) took grand champion Holstein at the 2010 Pennsylvania Farm Show — the culmination of many ribbons and awards in their various competition venues.

With all the demands of crop and dairy farming, John Kline’s schedule would already seem to be full to overflowing, but Sharon knew he needed something more to keep his life satisfying on a deeper level.

A family of strong faith, the Klines are part of the church family at the Richland Church of the Brethren. Sharon was active with the Rejoice Club for youngsters there, but dealing with younger children wasn’t as appealing to John as reaching out to older kids in need of finding a faith path for their lives.

In 1995, he began volunteering with OnFire Youth Ministry (OFYM), an outreach to teens in the Elco area founded by former Lebanon County Extension agent Ken Winebark and his wife, Janet, four years earlier. When the Winebarks took a sabbatical in early 2001 to work with the international charity Mercy Ships, John Kline was tapped to lead OFYM during their absence.

After the Winebarks’ sabbatical ultimately took them in new directions, John was appointed as executive director of OnFire. Under his leadership, the youth outreach ministry saw growth in both the number of attendees and in the number of volunteers from a variety of denominations.

Eventually, it became clear that the program had to expand beyond using a local gymnasium for its activities, so John spearheaded the drive to bring a youth activity center to Myerstown. After incorporating as a nonprofit in 2002, OFYM’s board of directors bought a property on West Main Street in Myerstown and used a three-phase renovation process to bring the center to completion in 2008.

Although John initially spent three nights a week at OnFire working with youth in grade five through age 20, the hiring of a full-time program director about a year ago has enabled him to cut back to being at the Center 12-15 hours per week. His role has now transitioned from doing most of the teaching and preaching to mentoring young leaders to start filling those roles themselves. That enables Kline to focus more on outreach and building support for the center.

He notes that about 75 percent of the 300 youth who frequent the center have no church home, so part of the center’s mission is to connect them with the fellowship of a church.

John says his involvement with OFYM gives him a sense of satisfaction similar to what others might get from a successful round of golf or restoring an antique vehicle.

As they look to the future, John and Sharon feel good that their sons are all indicating an interest in remaining involved with the family’s dairy operation; thus, they can foresee the possibility of growing their farming operation.

While the Klines are optimistic about what lies ahead in the dairy industry, John also realizes the numerous challenges involved. He said the greatest need is to “keep the price market rational.” He notes that the industry must strive for less risk and volatility, because “milk is a perishable product, and we can’t stockpile it on the shelf” like producers of other commodities can do during tough market cycles.

Learn more about Klinedell’s dairy operation at www.klinedellfarms.com and OnFire Youth Ministry at www.onfireyouthministry.org.

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