Family provides passion ...
|Bill Smith and his family are pictured here with two of their favorite cows. From left to right: Bill holding Smith-Oak Aspen Eggo-ET (EX-90), All-Pennsylvania 5-year old in 2012; Tylor holding Smith-Oak Durham Marge-ET (EX-90); and by the tractor, Bill’s wife, Suzy with sons Justin, Weston and Jack. Photo by Jenny Thomas|
By DIETER KRIEG
REYNOLDSVILLE, Pa. -- Interested since childhood, inspired by friends and motivated by sheer passion, Bill Smith found a career filled with happiness and adventure. "I've always enjoyed the farm; I've never wanted to do anything else and the cows are my favorite," he stated enthusiastically.
"You'll never be successful in anything if you don't enjoy doing it," the western Pennsylvania Holstein breeder affirmed. "I've never done anything for just money. I do it because I enjoy it. And you know, you couldn't find a better way to raise kids. It's also probably the most honest way to make a living that there is."
"It's a shame the way our dairy industry is today," he continued, referencing high production costs and comparatively low milk prices. Profit margins are thin, if they exist at all.
"It can still be done," he figures, "but it had better be your passion. "
"There's so much to the dairy industry," Bill pointed out, which makes every day an adventure in itself. Smith-Oak Farm, which the family calls home, is a 350-acre property that was purchased by the Smith family in 1885. They're only the second owners, the first being a man by the name of C.J. Morse, to whom it was deeded by none other than William Penn. "There's just a few of those, that's for sure," the young man grinned. All told, the Smiths farm 1000 acres that are devoted to mostly corn, soybeans and hay. The field work, along with the 136 cows, plus young stock, keeps everyone plenty busy, which is where the adventure comes in … at least in part.
The other adventurous segment of the Smiths' operation takes place in various show rings as they have had their share of award-winning Holsteins, along with one prized Jersey. Participating in shows is something the whole family enjoys, especially oldest son, Tylor. Next, in order of birth are Justin, 11; Weston, 9; and Jack, 7. Their father describes each of the four sons in terms of interests and proficiency. "Tylor is really good with the cows," he began. "Weston is a most caring calf person, Justin loves working with the crops and Jack is going to have to slow down a bit before we'll be able to tell what he's interested in."
Asked why he loves to show his cattle, Bill recalls his first experiences when he was 12 or 13 years old. "I'm competitive, but I stood last in my class. I saw guys like Dale Hindman and Jim London at the county fair and admired what they were doing. I aspired to be like them and they continue to be an inspiration to this day. And they're also friends. The camaraderie that has been established between Bill and an untold number of Holstein breeders from across the region and beyond has Bill feeling pretty fortunate and satisfied with his career. Aside from those already mentioned, Bill names Ben Miller and Dwight Stoltzfus of Somerset County and Michael Heath of Maryland as highly appreciated friends. "It's good to have friends with whom you can share ideas," he noted.
Also a source of personal joy is the fact that his four sons are involved and interested. Despite the size of the farming operation and the size of the herd, Bill claims that 90 percent of the work is done by family members. His wife, Suzy, is very involved, as are his father, Paul, and uncle, Harry.
Bill and his boys start their mornings with what has come to be known as "teddy bear snacks." It's time for themselves, snacking together before going out to the barn. Those minutes each and every morning are held dearly by all concerned, Bill assured.
When the talk turns to higher quality cows, Tylor lights up with a big grin. He's the owner of Smith-Oak Durham Marge-ET, who was unanimously named Junior All-Pennsylvania junior 3-year old in 2010.
For Bill, the outstanding highlight was the purchase of Emily’s dam at a sale in Belleville, when he was still in school. Well, he was supposed to be, anyway. The fact is, he skipped out that day to go to the sale, with his father's checkbook in hand. The cow he purchased that day for $1950 became the dam of Smith-Oak Emily (EX-94-4E), who turned 18 late last year.
Emily has two All-Pennsylvania awards to her credit and has lifetime credits of over 300,000 pounds of milk.
While Emily's worth has been proven over and over again countless times, at the time of her purchase, Bill sort of forgot to tell his Dad what he had spent. That was the start of the "E" family, one of two prominent female lines at Smith-Oak Farm. The other is the "M" family, of which 14-year old Mu-ke Linjet Marissa (EX-93-3E) is the matriarch. She was named Reserve All-Pennsylvania 4-year old in 2003 and Reserve All-Pennsylvania aged cow in 2005.
Having cows in the barn that catch the attention of others has its advantages, namely merchandising opportunities. "When we sell a cow and see her do well for others, that's very satisfying," Bill affirmed. "I think it's really exciting to see Smith-Oak animals in sale catalogs," added Suzy, who shares Bill's passion. Any time Bill sells a cow, heifer or calf, he reinvests the money by supporting someone else's sale. The goal is always to acquire an animal that will enhance his own herd and breeding program. Examples of very pleasing additions to the herd include England-Ammon Emory Cary and Hillmont Mandel Puff, who was the highest scoring cow at Hillmont prior to "Lindy."
"I've bought some good cows from fellow Pennsylvania Holstein breeders," he acknowledged, "and I've also bred a few," he grinned modestly.
Bill started making breeding decisions when he was 13 and the herd's BAA was a rather unimpressive 98%. Fifteen years later, the BAA was up to 109%. That was hard to hold, however, since herd expansion came along in 2008.
"What intrigues me more than anything is how I always knew what a good cow is supposed to look like," Bill mused. Perhaps it's sheer passion driving a God-given talent. He also knows bulls and how they might improve a trait or two when mated to certain cows. He studies the correlations with keen interest and sharp eyes. Then, when arriving at mating decisions, he aims to fix two "problems" in one generation. He advises: "Never go for a ‘home run;’ go for a triple instead. Keep the balance of the mating correct. You'll progressively get better in time. Don't use the extremes."
Bulls he has favored in his program include Steven, Attica, Aftershock, Knowledge, Fever, Hero, Sid and L'authority. "We're looking more and more for health traits, especially DPR. It's noteworthy," he affirmed.
The calf crop looks good and Bill pays close attention to the person who is in charge of caring for them. "I've learned that if you listen to your calf feeder, you'll be surprised how well they turn out in the milking herd," he explained.
We milk cows for a living but I wouldn't just milk cows," Bill declared. "I wouldn’t want to get out of bed just for that. It's a different mindset … a pride thing, I guess … and it makes you feel good to have a 94-point cow or an animal with potential to be a show winner. The family has shown locally, across the state and more distant places like Syracuse and Madison. "We've done well," Bill commented in an appreciative tone.
Aside from showing, Bill also likes to judge cows and help 4-H'ers with their projects. All four of his boys are involved in 4-H. A walk through the barn pleases him, as does talking with fellow breeders.
"There's so much to the dairy industry," he stated thoughtfully, mentioning crops, nutrition, herd health, genetics, milking, technology and more. "If you can’t stand diversity then you had better not be in the dairy industry," he quipped. "In this business, you may get up at the same time each morning, but I'll guarantee you won't go to bed at the same time each night!"
Suzy, who grew up on a farm just four miles down the road, says she didn't know much about dairying before she married Bill. "We weren't allowed in the barn," she explained, "but I've always loved animals. I used to bottle-feed calves at a friend's farm."
"One day Leroy and Ida Jane Plance came here and they were so inspiring, especially when it comes to feeding calves," Suzy affirmed with genuine delight. "I listened. They offered awfully good encouragement, coaching and teaching."
Nutrition for the milking herd can be described simply as two-thirds forages and one third grain. Baleage is a preferred feedstuff. It's a long TMR," says Bill. The herd average stands at 21,000 pounds of milk with 4.1% butterfat and 3.4% protein.
"We milk cows for a living," Bill concluded, but its breeding good cows and showing them that keeps the family interested and excited.