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Making farm succeed, all in a day’s work for AFBF honorees

Indiana Correspondent

AKRON, Ind. — Orville and Jessica Haney, winners of Indiana Farm Bureau’s (IFB) Young Farmer Achievement Award last December, were honored as one of the top 10 in the nation in the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement competition at the January convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Orville said they do not know exactly where they placed. “They gave prizes to the first five and recognized the rest of the top 10 by having us appear on stage,” he explained.
While the Haneys are delighted with both awards, Orville shrugs them off by saying, “I’m just the front man. This is a family operation with my father, Kevin, and brother, Jeremiah. We work together.”

He and Jessica are the sixth generation of his family to raise children and milk cows on the farm, known as Haney Hilltop Holsteins, near Akron. “Dad treats Jeremiah and me like partners instead of kids,” Orville said. “That means a lot.”

He’s equally vocal in his support for IFB: “They give us an organized voice for agriculture.” 

While he didn’t go directly from college into farming – he worked as a milk inspector before joining a duck farm, where he learned about biosecurity – agriculture is what this young farmer knows best.
He graduated from Purdue University in 2002, followed by Jeremiah in 2005.

“We learned in college to do what we do best and buy the rest,” Orville said. “That went right along with what my grandfather, Mort, father, Kevin and my Uncle Keith always taught us about being self-sufficient. We still believe and practice that. That’s what keeps us competitive.”

With Jeremiah and Kevin serving as agronomists, Jeremiah in charge of equipment and Orville, the front man, making feed and feeding calves, the three have worked out a schedule that enables them to milk 150 cows in a barn set up for 180. They farm 750 acres, with all but 100 being family-owned.

“We figure our acreage can handle 240 head,” Orville said. As the head feed maker, he buys what they can’t produce themselves, including mineral and byproducts – and even food from children’s cereal.

The farm manufactures its own fertilizer. “We hire people to take soil and manure samples to keep everything in balance,” Orville said.

The farm had a major setback in 2006 when the barn burned. “It was a blow,” he said, “but it actually helped us grow. The old barn had a capacity for 80 cows. We now have a capacity for a maximum of 400. The new barn is built with a monoslope roof that gives it southern exposure and makes room for future growth.”

A nearby tramp shed has the same roofline. Orville designed it while he was in college, but still doesn’t like the term “tramp shed” – “I don’t like to think of my girls as tramps,” he said of his cows, with a grin, before explaining the southern exposure keeps them warmer. “The manure pack behind them gives off heat and makes the building very cozy.”

Living on a hard-working family farm is a life Jessica did not visualize growing up in Richmond, but it’s one she has come to love as much as her husband. A registered nurse at nearby Kosciusko Community Hospital, she works two 12-hour shifts a week. This provides the couple and their three children, ages 6, 4 and 18 months, with health insurance. “That’s important these days, with the cost of medical care,” Orville said.

A day at Haney Hilltop Holsteins begins early, when Kevin starts milking. Orville is usually out the door between 7-8:30 a.m., setting mornings aside as family time with his children. On a normal day he isn’t done until 8 or 9 p.m., when he reads a story to the children, tucks them in bed, eats and completes paperwork in the office. By 10 or 11, he’s in bed. “We have enough outside help we can get away on weekends,” he noted.

Orville and Jeremiah have children of the same ages, and a common goal: To make sure the kids have a business to go into if they want to. He’s not pushing his three but, for himself, Orville is quick to say, “I can’t see myself living anywhere else.”