Why Cows Need Names
And More Secrets of Amish Farms
Publication Year: 2013
Why Cows Need Names follows one young Amish family as they dream about and then struggle to establish a profitable and quintessentially American small farm. The story starts with Eli Gingerich’s first timid phone call to author Randy James, the county agricultural agent in Ohio’s Geauga Amish Settlement—the fourth-largest Amish settlement in the world—and traces the family’s progress over the next five years. Through gentle dialogue and true stories, James captures the challenges of creating a simple business plan that will lead to the family’s radiant success or dismal failure. As the narrative unfolds, readers get a rare glimpse into what it’s like to work in the fields with draft horses; in the barn with cows, calves, children, and Chip the family dog; or to sit at the table talking with family and friends over a noontime meal. A picture emerges of how quietly living a shared goal and “doing without” during hard times can strengthen families and provide an appreciation for what is truly important in life.
In addition to the business aspects and day-to-day farm activities, James interweaves commentary on our complex relationships with animals. The stark differences in the way animals are treated and valued in agribusinesses versus on small family farms is a recurring theme, as is debunking the myth that bigger is always better in American agriculture.
Surrounded by a factory-farm world, the Gingerich family employs a business model that flatly rejects the dogma of “economies of scale” and instead focuses on the diversity, flexibility, and efficiency that only a small family farm can capture. Why Cows Need Names provides a partial roadmap, not only for other small farms but for the many thousands of family businesses that are created each year and largely ignored in our national psyche. It will appeal to anyone interested in business management, our food supply, animal welfare, and Amish family life.
Published by: The Kent State University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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The Geauga Amish settlement is a real community centered in Geauga County in northeast Ohio. The stories in this book are true, though most of the names, farm locations, and some other details have been changed to preserve the anonymity of the Amish farm families. Much of the dialogue is verbatim. ...
1. A Bumpy Road Ahead
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It’s a cold, gray, late winter day in March of 2005, and Eli Gingerich is on the line. The full round texture of his voice rearranges the cobwebs of my memory until a 30-something, bearded face comes dimly into focus. ...
2. A New Farm . . . Just Think of the Possibilities
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It’s Wednesday morning, barely a week after Eli first called. Our meeting isn’t until 10:00, so I’ll swing by the Extension office first and get a few things done. Usually National Public Radio would be my companion in the car, but soft, nondistracting, music is tuned in this morning. ...
3. Who Are These Amish Folks?
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Driving back to the office past miles of tidy Amish farms, I can’t help thinking back to 1980 when I first started as the brand-new—and very green—county agricultural agent for the Geauga Amish settlement. Even though I grew up near an Amish community and was quite used to seeing their buggies on the road, ...
4. The Budget Numbers
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Eli’s new farm start-up budget was pretty much done four days after our last visit. Two weeks have passed now and I’m in the car this morning headed for the meeting to go over the numbers. Each new farm is unique, but I’ve done enough of these in the last few years that it is getting a little easier. ...
5. Get Bigger and Specialize
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In the days following our meeting, it is impossible for me to get Eli and Katie and the small farm they are about to establish out of my mind. Actually, I don’t even try to stop thinking about them. This is, hands down, the most rewarding and interesting part of my job. ...
6. Four Big Questions
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With the three meetings coming up fast, Les and I continue to refine our list of equipment and decide what questions we will ask the farmers about each piece. We finally come up with four questions. ...
7. Binders, Planters, and Other Such Stuff
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The first piece of equipment on my list is a corn binder. This should be easy enough. A corn binder is a fairly simple contraption made of wood and metal and held together by bolts. It’s used for making corn silage, and they all look about the same. It’s pulled through standing corn, one row at a time, by a team of horses. ...
8. Why Cows Need Names
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A little over five months have passed since I last drove down the Gingeriches’ driveway to go over a possible new farm plan. Thick snow covered the gravel then. Now summer is on the wane. It’s already September. Where in the world did the summer of 2005 go? ...
9. Silage 101
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Finally outside, I’m drawn toward the shiny new piece of equipment sitting on six-by-six wooden blocks, over next to the corncrib. I think I know what it is. I think it’s a silage loader. I’ve heard about these, but never really seen one up close. Better be sure. “Eli, is this one of those new silage loaders?” ...
10. Lunch, Talk, and Silage 102
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Eli steps around the corner of the barn, his round face almost cut in half by a huge, infectious grin. He’s pleased with the morning’s work and orders everyone to come inside for “lunch.” I’m a little surprised, usually on the farm the noon meal is called “dinner.” It’s normally the biggest meal of the day and at night you have “supper.” ...
11. Milking—A Family Affair
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It’s late Wednesday afternoon and the weather is a little cloudy but warm and dry, as I leave the office and head over once again to visit Eli and Katie, this time to be there while they milk the cows. This isn’t something I routinely do, but it’s sometimes helpful when a new farm is still getting started. ...
12. The Comfort of Friends
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It’s simply doesn’t seem possible that an entire year has gone by, and Eli and Katie Gingerich are filling the silo for a second winter’s cow sustenance. I’m also surprised by how much I’m looking forward to helping again this year. Tonight I will be totally exhausted, and yet I can think of nothing I’d rather do with this day. ...
13. Horsemeat for Breakfast
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It’s about six o’clock and I’m at home working on breakfast. I am totally focused on what is usually my favorite meal of the day, and my wife, Barb, has learned not to interfere. She calls me the “Breakfast Maestro” and will join me with her cold bowl of drippy, crunchy, highly processed cereal when I’m just about ready to eat. ...
14. Tour the Manure
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It’s about twenty after seven, and the sun is busy burning the haze off of this morning. Marvin Weaver called me a couple weeks ago to talk about dairy manure, and that’s why I’m on my way to his farm today. Marvin has always been a true innovator in the community. ...
15. Manure Minutia and Lunch
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Halfway down Market Street, Bill turns left into the parking lot of the Des Dutch Essenhaus restaurant. I haven’t been here for a couple of years, but as I remember it’s pretty good. It’s clean and bright inside, and the manager immediately comes over to greet Bill and show us all to a table near the middle of the restaurant. ...
16. Drafted Out of Retirement
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Unbelievable! A few months ago, laws prohibiting the slaughter of horses for human consumption actually got passed. Surprisingly, it was not the U.S. Congress that got these laws passed but the state legislatures in Texas and Illinois—home of the last three horse processing plants— ...
17. The Milk Price Blues
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It is hard to believe that I retired and moved to South Carolina just about a year ago. It’s May of 2009, and this week we’re back in Ohio again for a wedding and to visit so many old friends. It is a comfort to be back in the settlement and to drive up and down the gravel, dirt, and broken asphalt roads, past farm after Amish farm. ...
18. “It’s What We Want to Do”
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Quite unexpectedly, I’m back in Ohio only a few months after my last visit to attend the funeral of a relative. Before heading back to South Carolina, we are taking a few days to visit friends, both Yankee and Amish. Not surprisingly, I find my car pointed in the general direction of Katie and Eli Gingerich. ...
19. Chinese under the Maple Tree
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As we step into the kitchen, Katie turns away from the counter where she is cutting vegetables, and in a voice that is more directive than questioning says, “You are staying for lunch—aren’t you?” ...
20. We Always Do
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Back on the road again, traveling north, I pass three “Eggs for Sale” signs and one “Broilers for Sale” sign in under two miles. Eli is right. This egg market is definitely flooded. Most probably the farm with broilers for sale started out in the egg business and soon learned there were already too many hens and too many eggs in the neighborhood. ...
21. Moving On
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Another year has gone by. It’s July of 2010, and I’m spending this day quietly driving around the settlement to reacquaint myself with the landscape. In no particular hurry, I’m slowly winding my way over toward the north end of Hosmer Road and the farm that belongs to Monroe Fischer and his wife, Ada. ...
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It’s all here, stretched out in front of me like a hellish prison for gentle cows. Thousands of black-and-white cows milling aimlessly about on rock-hard concrete floors, covered with a soup of runny, loose feces and steaming urine. But this farm is not unique. In fact, it’s the norm for modern, large dairy farms. ...
Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2013