By Jackie Salowitz
Tribune Recorder Leader
Many of us may think of family farms as the small ones that used to dot the countryside down every side road in the county. There were cows in the fields, fence rows and little 20-30 acre fields of different crops.
Those family farms are still in existance, but there are no longer the small 200-300 acre farms. But, they are still family strong and proud.
One great example of this is the farm owned by Gary Vogel, his wife, Linda, Gary’s brother, Tom, and now a new generation, Gary and Linda’s son, Sam, and daughter, Megan and her husband, Mike.
Gary’s dad, Art, had 146 homestead acres, 95 acres from his brother, Bill and 40 acres that Art purchased later. Art also did construction work in Saginaw until 1975. Gary talked his dad into buying 40 cows, and that was the beginning of what is now a milking herd of 1,550 cows, with 1,500 replacement ones, and milking three times daily. The Vogel’s farm 2,600 acres, some of which they own, and some rented.
The family farm grows crops to feed the cattle, and other crops for rotation. Wheat is planted with clover so that they have straw for bedding, and it also allows them to have fields in which to apply manure from the cows. They plant dry beans, wheat, corn, sugar beets and alfalfa for rotation.
The farm employs 44 people, full and part-time. When you run a dairy farm, it is a seven-day a week job, and Gary, Linda and Tom, after about three years of working together, decided that they wanted to be able to have time off once in awhile. They hired someone, and it went from there. Gary said, “Employees are a big part of our success and the ability to keep this all functioning.”
Linda wasn’t new to farming when she married Gary. Her dad, Ralph Moeller raised hogs, and owned 300 acres of land. Linda said, “I grew up working with the hogs, and helping in the fields. I liked animals and enjoyed being outside. After Gary and I married, Dad would help us out when we would get behind and we helped him when he needed it. The year he decided to quit raising the hogs we started renting his farm. My Dad worked with us for a few years until he decided Mom and him wanted to travel some more. In 2013, Dad and Mom sold the farm to myself and Megan and Mike (Megan’s husband).”
Ralph’s acreage came from his grandfather, Martin Moeller (in which his sons, Theodore and Otto took over) and also land purchased from Norm Kappel, and from Ralph’s mother-in-law. Ralph, after getting out of the Navy, raised beef cattle for a time, and hogs. The hog price dropped dramatically, and Ralph at age 62, decided it was time to retire from farming.
He said of farming, “It is too bad that everyone can’t raise kids on a farm. It teaches them about earning what you get.”
When asked about their feelings about “family farms”, Gary answered, “Ninety five percent of all farms are family farms and the other five percent are corporations made up of families. I feel it is the only way to farm and I enjoy working with family. The hardest part is the balance of life and work. Some members thrive on stress and some hate it.”
Tom, Gary and Linda have worked on a business plan and a transfer of ownership. It is a work in progress. All family members have a certain sector that they are responsible for.
They said, “We went through a really rough time after the 2005 fire and the really rough down turn in milk prices in 2009. We will never forget all the pain that happened during that time.”
“When the cows were off of the farm after the fire, it was just an awful feeling, and to have them come back to the farm was just an incredible feeling.”
Sam, Megan and Mike enjoy the feeling of the heritage of the family farm.
They are proud to be able to raise their children on the farm, and to have the knowledge and know how of the work involved on the farm. Being able to have their children on the farm is the icing on the cake.”