Parents want their children to have better lives than they’ve had. In farming, that means creating an operation that can sustain the next generation.
And that requires embracing change. Even when a farm is passed on, how it’s farmed can change significantly from one decade to the next. That balance of continuity and innovation is what Clint Burkholder and his family have tried to achieve.
“Things change very rapidly on the farm,” said Burkholder, owner of Burk-Lea Farms near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. “We’re striving to do the best that we can. We care for our animals. We care for the land. We need to treat the animals, treat the environment and everything to the best of our ability, because if we don’t, it won’t be there for the next generation.”
Burkholder and his wife, Kara, are the third generation to farm on Burk-Lea Farms, milking 850 Holsteins and raising roughly 700 heifers. They also cultivate 1,400 acres of cropland. Animal care and environmental conservation is part of the business plan; they house their cows in free-stall barns with sand bedding and use cover crops and no-till on their cropland to benefit soil and water quality. The farm also has a manure separation system and a water recirculating system to recycle water.
The dairy dates to Clint’s grandfather in the 1950s. Clint Burkholder credits his father, Stan Burkholder, who is still active in the fam, for the positive attitude – and openness to change – that attracted him to keeping the farm in the family after he graduated from Penn State in 1998.
“He is very progressive, and that’s one of the reasons I was interested in the farm. It wasn’t, ‘All we can be is status quo,’ or what everybody else did, or what we had done before. He was very interested in current technology. That got me excited.”
The dairy continually tries new methods that create efficiency and sustainability, helping the bottom line and conserving resources. A sand-manure separation system and recyclable sand bedding has eliminated the need to buy new sand every time the stalls are beddened, saving money and resources. It’s also given the cows better traction when they walk.
A more recent innovation, activity and rumination collars, has significantly improved herd management, helping him better understand different breeds, dietary needs and improving the herd’s pregnancy rate. Since adopting them in 2013, the dairy’s pregnancy rate has jumped from just over 20 percent to more than 30 percent, with further improvements expected, all helping cows better settle into pregnancy and reducing breeding costs.
All the innovations keep the operation healthy and profitable, and it also adds up to a positive story of dairy stewardship that helps the industry as a whole, he said. Last month, Burk-Lea Farms hosted a group of lawmakers led by the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-PA, to give them an up-to-date look at how dairying is done.
For anyone outside of agriculture, “Trying to educate the public, letting everybody know what we do, can dispel some of the myths or the misleading stuff that’s out there,” he said.
And that too becomes part of dairy’s long-term sustainability, he said. With a son and daughter who are both teenagers, thoughts of the next generation are top-of-mind. And success for Burkholder means creating a place where futures may thrive.
“I think they have a future in farming, but whether or not that’s in the cards for them, they have some time to see that,” he said. “I think the dairy industry has a great future. I enjoy it, so I’m hoping that they would enjoy it. There’s definitely great, great opportunities for whoever wants to be involved in the dairy industry.”