When Ohio Conservation Farm Family Award recipients Ed and Karen Bay think about all the people who’ve contributed to the success of their farm and conservation practices, they keep adding to the list: parents and grandparents; Ed’s high school ag teacher, Bob Lyons; OSU Extension employees like Merlin Wentworth and Cliff Little; Guernsey Soil and Water Conservation District staff members like David Sayre and Jason Tyrell; good neighbors who are always ready to lend a hand; longtime employee Jerry Thompson; and many more.
“We’re getting the award, but it’s a whole group of people who contributed to it,” Ed says. Karen adds, “It takes a community to build a farm.”
The Bays’ 470-acre farm in Guernsey County includes a dairy herd of 40 registered Jerseys and a beef cow-calf herd with 50 Angus-cross cows. They raise corn and alfalfa hay, and manage 200 acres of pasture. “We try to raise all the feed we need to support everything, and most years we’re successful at that,” says Ed.
Farming Guernsey County’s rolling ground presents some conservation challenges, including poor drainage and surface runoff, lack of water access for livestock, wildlife damage, and steep hills. Conservation farming practices are needed for the environment and the farm’s long-term profitability, says Ed. “I heard my dad say many times, ‘They’re not making any more ground, and if you take care of your ground, it will take care of you.’ ”
To improve their farm, the Bays installed subsurface tiling and built grass waterways to divert surface runoff away from sensitive areas. “They keep the water away from where you don’t want it,” Ed says.
Keeping soil in place
The Bays installed spring developments to offer livestock watering facilities in their pastures. In spots where soil is at risk of slipping down steep hillsides, pin trees were planted to hold the soil. They use fencing to exclude cattle from vulnerable woodlots and use a rotational grazing system to better manage pastures. On crop ground, they raise corn for silage, grain and hay. Their common rotation includes one year of corn followed by five or six years in alfalfa and grass hay production.
The Bays are leaders in the area in the use of no-till and cover crops. “There’s very little over winter that doesn’t have cover on it,” Ed notes. For the last three years, they’ve participated in a cover crop cost-share program through the local Soil and Water Conservation District.
Although they have used aerial seeding for cover crops, Ed prefers using a drill or seeder. While aerial seeding is convenient and quick, he says, “the only problem is, it didn’t work.” Because of dry conditions, Ed did not get the stand he wanted. If he is harvesting corn for grain, he often plants cereal rye as a cover because it performs well, even when planted later in the fall. On ground that has been harvested earlier for corn silage, he’s had success with other cover crops such as turnips.
To manage cattle manure, soil tests determine where it should be applied. They have about six months of storage for manure from their milk parlor and freestall barn. “We try to manage our storage empty rather than full,” Ed notes. “Its really nice, so that if the ground is too wet or frozen, you can stay off of it.”
Damage from wildlife is a concern for the Bay family. This year they lost a calf to coyotes and have experienced crop damage from deer, turkeys, raccoons and crows. “They’ll go right down the row and pull them out,” Ed says of the crows.
Using nonlethal methods like propane cannons, and trash bags tied to resemble dead crows, “we try old home remedies and modern technology,” Karen says.
Besides farming, the Bays run an ag fertilizer business. Through the business, Ed works with other area farmers on managing soil fertility while protecting water. Karen spent 38 years working off the farm as a teacher before retiring a few years ago. Both are emergency medical technicians.
The Bays are building on a family history of farming in Guernsey County. Ed’s ancestors started farming there in 1832, and their daughters are the seventh generation. Their girls have been involved with the farm from a young age. “Ed took them to the barn before they could walk in a little red wagon,” Karen recalls. “They sat there in the wagon and watched him work.”
As their daughters grew up, Ed involved them with the farm work and taught them how to do every farm task. If for some reason he couldn’t run the farm, his daughters could step in. “I’d like to think they would miss me, but they could go out to the barn and do it all.”
Farm life includes successes and failures, Karen says. “The girls have learned how to handle both. As a mother looking on, our children have really benefited from living on the farm in many, many ways.”
Oldest daughter Allison is a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University and served for two years with the Peace Corps in the Philippines. She is working on a master’s in public health at Emory University in Atlanta. Their middle child, Emily, a Muskingum University graduate, is in her third year of medical school. She hopes to return to the area to practice medicine, while raising cattle on the side. Their youngest daughter, Alex Scott, is a sophomore at Meadowbrook High School and is active in the FFA.