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A34-Lancaster Farming, Saturday, June 3, 2000
DeLongs: From Sows To More Cows, Transition Proves Challenging
Lancaster Farming Staff
Co.) A former swine producer,
Jim DeLong remembers many a
sleepless night in 1998.
DeLong sat up late into the
night thinking of ways he, as a
farmer, could survive.
“We had to try to figure out
what we were going to do,” De-
Long said, when hog prices fell to
their lowest in history.
The ideas the family eventual
ly put in place converting
swine facilities into heifer houses
and coming up with ways to milk
a herd large enough to sustain
three families were “figured
out,” DeLong said.
With help from his brothers
and their families, Jim came up
with three major changes:
• Convert a 44-cow stall bam
to a calf bam.
• Convert sow bams from
3-month-old to 5-month-old calf
• Move bred heifers to old hog
In addition, the family built
new feed troughs and hay racks.
Other work was done to finally
convert what was once a thriving
Breeding wheels are key to managing the large dairy, noted Jim DeLong.
Jody DeLong works with Jess to ensure the cows are
milked in the afternoon on time.
hog with some dairy farm into a
A partnership that began in
the early 19705, Jim farms with
brothers Ken and Gerald and
families in Quarryville. Jim’s
family includes wife Martha and
children Jen (married and off the
farm); Jody, 16; Sam, 14; and
Tom, 11. Ken’s family includes
wife Eleanor and children Jona
than, 19 and Jeremy, 12. Ger
ald’s family includes wife Alma
and children Jared, 9 and Kevin,
The DeLongs rely on full-time
help from Mike and Sue Appel
and their children Matt, 17 and
Angel, 13. In addition, part-time
milking help is provided by Rox
The DeLong’s Hope Valley
Farms herd includes 370 milking
cows, grade Holsteins, with a
rolling herd average of more
than 18,000 pounds on Lancaster
DHIA. Fat is 3.86 percent and
protein, 3.12 percent.
Milk goes to Land O’Lakes
Responsibilities are split
throughout the family, with Jim,
the in-house “vet,” who works
closely with the cows and other
The DeLong family shares daily farm chores at Hope Valley Farms. From left, Jim,
Sam, Martha, Tom, Jody, Jess Shenk, and Gerald DeLong; farm help, Mike, Sue, and
Matt Appel; Roxanne Sippel; Angel Appel; and Ken and Jeremy DeLong. Photo by Andy
bam work. Ken works with the
calves. Jim cares for the fields,
along with Ken, Gerald, and
Jim said the farm began in
1948 by his father, M. Clair De-
Long. The farm expanded slow
ly, starting with 12 cows, all
milked by hand.
Though M. Clair was deceased
in 1993, their mother, Miriam, is
still involved with the farm.
In the late 19505, M. Clair De-
Long expanded the herd to 36
cows. “That’s three times as
many, and so did we,” said Jim.
A renovation and expansion in
1964 brought the herd to 44
In 1970, a second bam was re
modeled and the brothers began
taking over aspects of the farm.
The herd stood at 100 cows.
But in the 19605, the farm was
primarily finishing hogs, num
bering about 200 head. They
switched to a farrow-to-finish op
eration in the 19705. In 1984, a
bam was built to hold about 120
But in December 1997, things
began to fall apart. Hog prices
“We felt we had to move in a
different direction,” Jim said.
“We had to go to a whole new
Several problems surfaced
with the old buildings. The stall
bams didn’t look good and farm
milking help was at a premium.
The DeLong’s biggest dilemma:
how to milk enough cows while
the labor continued to become
Milking out of a stall bam was
“time consuming and labor in
tensive,” said Jim. The hardest
decision to make was to transi
tion out of the hog business, he
noted, with a maximum of 2,000
finishers per year, to a dairy.
In April 1998, the DeLongs got
rid of the sows. In October the
DeLongs broke ground on the
double-12 dairy parlor. In No
vember 1998, construction began.
The double-12 parlor was fin
ished in five months and 422
dairy stalls were constructed.
The Appels, working with the
herd for 13 years, contributed
greatly to the transition, Jim
noted. All families work closely
together to continue milking on
schedule, twice a day at 3:30 in
the morning and afternoon, to
ensure the work would be fin
ished on time.
Mike Appel feeds the large
herd. Ken DeLong feeds the
calves and heifers. Gerald main
tains the eqwuipment and does
office work, along with his moth
er. Early milking is done by Rox
anne Sippel and Sue Appel. The
children work about three days
out of the week, rotating their
schedules to fit in school time,
church, and other activities.
Jim noted that obtaining the
Jeremy DeLong also helps in the dally milking. The
DeLong children schedule the milking around school and
proper financing and business
management assistance helped
in the transition. When he sold
his last shipment of hogs, he
was getting 17 cents a pound
far under die break-even cost.
“We’ve been offered a good
opportunity to farm,” he said.
With the children involved,
crucial to the success of the
farm, “if they don’t like this,
then they don’t like to farm.”
Though only a year on test,
the full herd remains in the
high 18,000 pounds at milking,
with some individual cows at
1 110-120 pounds per day. Some
' high producers are in the
26,000-ppund -range now. Next
year, the goal is to obtain aver
ages beyond*2o,ooo pounds for
the herd, “without a question,”
The large herd began milking
April 1, 1999, “April Fool’s
Day,” DeLong said, with a
chuckle. Some of the herd was
obtained from an existing dairy.
Others were purchased and all
needed to be trained. Others
were built up gradually using
the genetics at Hope Valley
“It was a lot of major adjust
ment,” said Ken DeLong. The
financial management and
planning are getting easier, he
The herd is fed a TMR con
sisting of haylage, com silage,
citrus pellets, cottonseed,
(Turn to Pago A 35)