Call It Tradition or Simply a Way of Life’

2/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Jessica Rose Spangler Reporter

Peace & Plenty Farm Thrives on Camaraderie of 3 Generations

It’s no secret that working with family members day in and day out can put a strain on any relationship. But the Schwartzbeck family of Union Bridge, Md., doesn’t see it that way. Three generations are home on the farm and couldn’t be happier.

“Call it tradition or simply a way of life,” said K. Lisa Schwartzbeck, daughter-in-law of farm owners Joe and Nona Schwartzbeck and wife of their son, Gus. “It’s all (we) know, but we have a good thing here. Gus and his (children) work with their best friend every day, Joe. ... I guess our laid back environment is catching.”

Joe and Nona started their current operation, Peace & Plenty Farm, in December 1968 with a move from Montgomery County to Carroll County, Md.

Joe’s father owned a small 121-acre farm in Gaithersburg, Md., but only did farming as a side job. Joe purchased his first 4-H calf, a Jersey for $50, in 1952, followed by a second in 1953 for $75.

Those two Jerseys were the basis for his initial milking herd. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was milking seven or eight Jerseys by hand. Joe said he would separate the cream, selling it to a creamery in Hagerstown, and skim, which he fed to a few hogs on the farm.

After high school graduation and a stint in the military, Schwartzbeck returned home, married Nona, borrowed $6,500, and built a 20-cow stall barn and silo on his father’s property.

In addition to working with his small herd of Jerseys, Schwartzbeck worked for a neighboring dairy farmer. But instead of cash, the neighbor paid him with Holstein heifers. Once some of them started milking, he quickly noticed that the Holsteins were giving far more milk than the Jerseys, and thus he made the decision to switch breeds.

After Joe’s father sold the farm in 1960, Joe and Nona rented the property from the new owner for a few years, all the while searching for a farm they could purchase.

The Schwartzbecks came across the public auction of a 295-acre farm in Carroll County in December 1968. When the gavel fell, they spent $125,100 and came away the owners of their current farm. After a survey, the acreage was increased to 301 acres.

After a few months of milking and living in Gaithersburg while renovating the farm in Union Bridge, Joe, Nona and their two young sons, Gus and Shane, moved their 45 cows into the 49-cow tie-stall. Joe recalls that his milk check after the move was around $2,500 per month.

In 1974, Joe built a double-4 Herringbone milking parlor that they used until 2000, when they revamped it to a double-8. This expansion also helped the farm grow from 120 cows in 2000 to almost 200 today.

Forty-five years after the move, there are now three generations working on the farm, whose Holsteins boast a rolling herd average of 22,500 pounds with 3.65 percent fat and 3.0 percent protein.

They now use 1,000 aces to grow corn, wheat, barley and soybeans, plus timothy, orchardgrass and alfalfa hays.

K. Lisa said 70 percent of the soybeans, 30 percent of the corn, and all of the wheat and barley are sold each year, with Joe handling most of the marketing.

After high school, Gus returned home to the farm. He and K. Lisa work there full time. He is a general manager and she oversees calf and heifer rearing, and works with the show heifers.

Their oldest son, Davis, who graduated from Delaware Valley College with a degree in ag business, is now the farm’s herdsman. Middle child Aubrey works part time as a cosmetologist and part time on the farm milking, feeding calves and heifers, and working with show animals. Youngest son Austin is currently a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in dairy science. Upon graduation, he plans to return home focusing on improving things like conception and pregnancy rates.

Shane, his wife Lisa A., and their children, Taylor and Sadie, are also involved at Peace & Plenty. Shane feeds cows four mornings a week and tends to 30 heifers housed off the farm at his home. Additionally, he and his family give the rest of the Schwartzbeck clan every other Sunday off by taking care of all the chores. Taylor and Sadie are currently involved in 4-H, showing Peace & Plenty Holsteins.

Joe and K. Lisa are both quick to point out that besides family members, they have been fortunate to have had three dedicated employees over the years — the brother-sister duo of Amy M. Smith and David Miller for 14 years, and Harold Horman, who retired three years ago after being with the farm for 41 years.

A 2010 Maryland Dairy of Distinction, Peace & Plenty and the Schwartzbecks have also been designated as Master Farmers and Maryland and Virginia quality milk award winners. Additionally, they received the Carroll County Commissioners Environmental Awareness Award in 2007.

As of Jan. 1, Peace & Plenty is now a LLC, with ownership divided among the family.

“We’re all going to die. I wanted to get something into the boys’ names,” Joe said. “If you don’t trust them now, there’s no sense in doing it after your dead.”

Joe acknowledges the road to success has had its ups and downs, “but we’ve had far more ups than downs. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.”

“My father-in-law has been such a good manager all these years. I guess that’s why we are still succeeding,” K. Lisa said.

Working with your family “has its ups and downs. You can disagree. ... You can voice your opinion more, but you also butt heads a lot. You have to switch gears when you go into the house,” said Davis Schwartzbeck.

K. Lisa attributes much of their success to her father-in-law.

“Mainly it’s the mentality of Joe, being open minded and a teacher. If you want to bring family in (to the operation), you can’t shut down their ideas. Twenty-something (kids) have lots of ideas. You have to be open-minded,” she said. “Joe and Gus allow responsibility to be rested on the kids. To teach responsibility, you have to trust and let them in. It doesn’t always work out, but my father-in-law has a very laid back attitude and it rolls over into the family.”

“The mistakes they make, I don’t hammer them about it,” Joe said. “If they’re really out of line, I’ll tell them.”

But Joe is also quick to point out that Nona has been part of the farm’s success, as well. She is now retired from calf and heifer rearing, but still maintains the farm records.

National Recognition

Joe may have started with Jerseys, but the Holsteins that now carry the Peace & Plenty prefix are nationally known for their quality, although that was not always the case.

“Our first Holstein show was the Montgomery County Fair. We took seven and six of them were last, only because we had two in one class,” Joe said, referring to their humble start.

From last place to the champion spotlight, the Schwartzbecks have come a long way with their breeding program.

“It’s a group effort,” Davis said, referring to the breeding decisions he shares with the rest of the family, specifically Gus. “We like good solid cow families, but they don’t really have to be show type.”

One of their biggest accomplishments has come with Fishy, a fall yearling owned by Gus and K. Lisa’s youngest son, Austin.

Peace & Plenty Asteroid Fishy was named the first junior supreme champion of the Premier National Junior Shows in Harrisburg, Pa., during the All American Dairy Show in September 2012.

Austin said having Fishy do so well his final year as a junior showman was the perfect way to end his 4-H career. Fishy is a descendent of the first 4-H calf Austin showed when he was 8 years old, making her a bred and owned heifer.

“We could tell when she was in the (calf) hutches that she was leaps and bounds better then the others. We all take pride in her. She’s 100 percent spoiled,” he said, adding that despite a few previous offers, Fishy will never be sold to another dairyman.

At the 2012 International Holstein Show in Madison, Wis., Fishy was fourth and first bred and owned in the open show, and second and first bred and owned in the youth show.

At the 2011 International Holstein Show, youth division, she was the first fall calf, best bred and owned of the junior show, and junior champion.

Additionally, she is the 2012 Junior All-American Fall Yearling, 2011 Reserve Junior All-American Fall Calf, and nominated in the All-American contest both years.

On having a close-knit family farm, Austin said: “It makes it feel like all the accomplishments are worth that much more. It means more to everyone. I love working with my family.”

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