November 21, 2014

Elyria
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Young farmer taking over family business

MOUNT GILEAD — Andy Creswell didn’t always like cows. He grew up on a dairy farm, and that meant he would help his father and grandfather with the daily milking. But Andy preferred to spend much of his childhood off in other barns, tending to purebred hogs with his brother, Aaron.

Instead of giving him an allowance, his parents bought him corn to feed the hogs and gas to run the pickups and tractors.

AP
Farmhand Nate Jagger (left) and Andy Creswell perform the unpleasant task of replacing the cable for the manure scraper at the Creswell family Spring Valley Farm this summer in Mount Gilead.

There are no hogs left on the farm now, because Andy decided he didn’t want to make a career out of “messing with pigs.”

He thought cows would be a better choice.

Andy, 25, is taking over Spring Valley Farm from his father. The operation is spread over 500 acres in rural Morrow County. He inherits a legacy that, despite the odds, has lasted four generations and more than 100 years.

He and his wife, Sarah, are raising their 1-year-old daughter in the white farmhouse that Andy’s great-grandfather built in 1914.

They also will take over the commitment and the troubles. Andy must make sure the cows are milked three times a day, every day of the year. Family gatherings could be canceled because of a sick animal. When milk prices drop, there will be sleepless nights.
Andy is determined to live up to his family’s expectations.

“I guess I’m big on tradition,” he said. “I like the idea of the family farm.”

Young farmers who learn their trade from relatives have a tremendous advantage starting out, said Joe Cornely of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

“For those that are fortunate enough to have it continue on through three, four and five generations, that may be the biggest reason that they’re able to get into agriculture,” Cornely said. “You grow up around it, and it gets in your blood.”

On any given day, Andy has so many chores to tackle that the only way he keeps them all straight is by jotting them down.

He keeps a running to-do list in a notebook in the back pocket of his Carhartt jeans: Mix feed, feed the Heifers up the road at mom and dad’s, scrape the footpaths, breeding, mow hay, haul fresh grains.

Andy wakes up at 6 a.m., eats a bowl of cereal and is at work in the cattle barn by 6:30. He and his herdsman rotate the early-morning milking duty, which takes up to three hours. A crew of paid part-timers helps with the 2:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. shifts.

Inside the milking parlor one muggy morning, the only available radio station blared country music from a portable radio. The cows shuffled into milking stalls, one by one, backing their rear ends to face the automatic suctions that pump their milk out and into a metal holding tank.

The herd is made up of Holsteins, a few Jerseys and some Holstein-Jersey crossbreds.

Between milkings, the cows lazily graze on feed inside the free-stall barn, and the smell of fresh hay and manure hangs in the air.

Andy leases the farm land from his 60-year-old father, Bill, who helps keep the operation running.

In 2002, the father and son drew up a five-year plan that would allow Bill to ease into retirement and gradually give Andy more responsibility. The five years is up this month.

Andy never felt pressured into a career in farming, he said.

His brother, Aaron, five years older than Andy, had wanted to get away from the farm. Andy didn’t understand why.

“I always enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s the only thing I ever did.” He was about 14 when he and his father first talked of expanding their herd and building a bigger, modern barn in Andy’s name.

After high school, he studied dairy-farm production at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster for two years, joined the Air National Guard and married his high-school sweetheart.

“I had a pretty good shot I was gonna do something farm-oriented, production-wise, but I didn’t have to build the dairy,” Andy said. “The dairy was where everybody looked at me like, ‘You want that?’ ”

He knew what he was in for, having watched his father work. The dairy requires a rigid, three-times-a-day milking schedule, workdays of 12 hours or more and few vacations from the barn.

As the Creswell farm has grown from 50 to 500 cows in recent years, so have its demands. The farm milks at least 200 cows daily and produces about 30,000 pounds of milk to ship to Smith Dairy Products Co. in Orrville every other day.

“He grew up doing most of this stuff,” his father said. “It’s not as big a transition as you would think because it’s not like he’s always been on the outside. He’s ready for it, no doubt.”