Growing Pains Lead to Pennwood Farm Success

4/20/2013 7:00 AM

Stoltzfus Family Moves Cows Across State for Farm Expansion

Jessica Rose Spangler

Reporter

BERLIN, Pa. — Dairy farms are generally considered to be stationary, permanent operations. Once you own one, you’re probably going to live there the rest of your life.

Pennwood Farms isn’t your typical “stationary” farm.

In 1962, Mary Jane and the late Harvey Stoltzfus began their 18-cow operation on 50 rented acres in Morgantown, Pa.

Fast forward 30 years. With four grown sons — Don, Glenn, Dwight and Duane — and a milking herd 11 times bigger than they started with, the Stoltzfus family needed a change, and the 1990s played host to that change.

Milking 200 Holsteins in two separate barns on rented property wasn’t going to work forever. Plus, their farm location was in prime urban expansion territory near Lancaster, Reading and Philadelphia.

“When we started looking, two of the wives didn’t want to leave the state,” said Duane Stoltzfus, adding that his father knew of a farmer in Somerset County that was ready to exit the business.

In 1999, the Stoltzfus brothers and their parents purchased the Somerset property, plus 60 cows. At the same time, the family also purchased a second farm on the opposite side of their new hometown, Berlin, Pa.

But the move wasn’t that easy. The new property needed new facilities — a 414-stall freestall barn with 28-cow rotary parlor.

“It was a year-long process,” Glenn Stoltzfus said. “Duane and Andrea moved out first to take over the other herd. We built the barns in the summer and moved in August” of 1999.

The “dumbest thing we ever did that first year,” was planting crops in Morgantown and Berlin, Duane Stoltzfus said.

Financing such a large undertaking came with its struggles too.

“The rumor was that we had mason jars filled with millions,” Dwight Stoltzfus said.

“Our debt per cow was around $5,500. We moved in 99, but by the end of 01 and 02, milk prices were real bad. That was the real test if we were going to make it,” said Glenn Stoltzfus. “But we got our herd numbers up, sold 60 to 80 cows for dairy purposes, and made our cash flow better.”

At that point, their culling rate was 30-32 percent, added Dwight Stoltzfus. With the new rotary parlor, the family soon learned that the length of their cows played a crucial role in how well an animal took to the rotary.

“Crampy cows have to go,” Dwight Stoltzfus said, noting that longer cows have an increased risk of pushing their back legs off the rotary floor and fatally injuring themselves.

Initially, to help fill their new facilities, the Stoltzfus’s purchased additional heifers that calved in the fall of 1999.

Dwight and his wife, Melanie, brought their small herd of Jerseys on the move to Berlin, plus the later addition of a group of Jerseys they purchased.

“By the end of November, we were milking around 300 cows,” Dwight Stoltzfus said.

But bringing all of these animals together caused its own headaches.

“I can’t over-stress that no matter how good your vaccination records are, when pulling from a herd, you’ll always have problems,” he continued. “It took us three years to get it sorted out. We had every disease. Everything’s tested for Johne’s Disease and BVD. We started ear notching about six years ago.”

Adding to their growing pains, they overlooked the importance of proper pre- and post-calving facilities. All of the calvings were initially done in an old bank barn.

During the first fall in Berlin, fresh animals were having a 15-16 percent displaced abomasum rate, Dwight Stoltzfus said.

It didn’t take the family long to determine they needed a better freshening area. They built a bedded pack area behind the parlor, resulting in a lower DA rate, and healthier cows and calves.

Recently, Pennwood has obtained the use of a neighboring 70-cow tie-stall barn. This barn, what the Stoltzfus’ call their “brat barn,” is used to house their show herd of Holsteins and Jerseys, plus some longer animals that don’t easily fit in the rotary parlor.

Some of the animals housed in that barn have helped Pennwood Farms achieve national recognition thanks to their show ring success — Holsteins like Pennwood Leader Rocklyn, Pennwood Troy Kalahari, Pennwood Dundee Turnip; and a Jersey, Pennwood Governor Alayna.

There are more than 120 animals that have produced over 100,000 pounds of milk in their lifetime, over 200 animals have been classified as “very good,” and 30 animals have been scored as “excellent.”

According to their March DHIA test as published on page E12 on 615 Holsteins, the herd averaged 23,707 pounds of milk, 819 pounds of fat and 720 pounds of protein.

Like a lot of families, respecting each other’s space and boundaries is helpful. The Stoltzfus family is no different.

When moving to their new farm, each of the four brothers adopted their own branch of the operation, but they are never totally out of touch with each other. Three of the four wives are also involved daily.

Matriarch of the family Mary Jane doesn’t necessarily get out to the barn all day, every day, but she still does own animals and takes an interest in all the farm happenings.

Don Stoltzfus manages the equipment. His wife, Joanne, handles the farm’s finances while still working for Somerset County Extension.

Glenn Stoltzfus makes crop decisions and manages the farms’ employees.

Dwight Stoltzfus manages the dairy heard. His wife, Melanie, assists in the parlor and with animal registrations, plus works off the farm as a hair stylist.

Duane Stoltzfus handles herd nutrition and feeding, and oversees the methane digester that was built in 2011. His wife, Andrea, manages calves from birth till weaning, and works as a writer.

Don and Joanne’s daughter, Ashley, is the first grandchild to return to the farm full-time. She helps where ever needed, especially in the “brat barn.” She also takes a large role in preparing animals for show.

Almost 14 years after they moved the herd, the Stoltzfus brothers are happy with how things turned out. While many of their children are still very young, they’re sure Pennwood Farms will continue long into the future.


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