Daweses, Liberty Acres Dairy named Farm Family of the Year

Members of the Dawes family and workers on Liberty Acres Dairy are (front, from left), Ralph Dawes, Janice Dawes, Colton Dawes, Makenna Dawes, Deb Dawes, Greg Dawes; (second row, from left), Mallory Snyder (Baby), Tiffany Snyder, Mike Snyder, Jan Finch, Deb Finch, Kathie Dawes, Lisa Enyeart, Jerry Enyeart; (back row, from left), Mitch Snyder, Charley Snyder, Brady Swain, Gracey Swain, Chase Enyeart, Allie Enyeart, Chance Enyeart. Also pictured is the family dog, Honey, and one of the farm's dairy Cows, Sumac. Photo by Joseph Slacian. 

By Joseph Slacian

In 1957, Ralph and Janice Dawes were honored by Wabash County Farm Bureau as the Young Farm Family of the Year.
Over the next 50 years, things have changed on the farm.

Modern farm machinery has replaced the tractors of old. Hog, calves and beef cattle, with the urging of the Dawes’ son, Greg, gave way to dairy cows, and the homestead is now known as Liberty Acres Dairy.

The number of Daweses caring for the farm also has increased, and is now in its third generation as grandson Colton has an active role in the day-to-day operations.

Because of the family’s longstanding place in the Wabash County farming community, Grow Wabash County has named the Dawes family as the 2017 Wabash County Farm Family of the Year. They will be honored Tuesday, March 20, at a dinner at the Heartland REMC Community Room.

“It’s quite an honor,” Janice said of the recognition. “We were quite surprised. It’s a challenge, too, to live up to it. We do a lot of business with local merchants. We like it that way. “

Ralph added. “We were surprised and honored. To me, it’s a great honor, because I’m fearful the family farm is declining. I’d like to see the younger generation in farming.”

“I think it’s cool that they named us,” Colton said. “I think it’s neat that they notice what we’re doing here. We’re a good family farm.”

Greg, echoing his son, said, “It’s great that the community has recognized the things which we have done.”

Ralph was a student at Purdue University when, in 1955, he began rending a 280-acre farm west of LaFontaine, where he grew up. In fact, both Ralph and Janice grew up on farms. Janice’s father, Robert Cooper farmed for C.E. Troyer, and she helped on the farm while growing up. Ralph’s father, Harold, had a dairy and hog operation in Waltz Township.

The couple married in 1955 and began farming where Janice’s parents and grandparents did, raising hogs. They also owned beef cattle on another farm.

In 1959, the couple purchased what today is Liberty Acres Dairy.

“I raised beef and hogs,” Ralph said. “Then Greg went to college and he worked on a dairy farm.”

When he was a senior in college, Greg decided he wanted to milk.

“So I gave him the opportunity to come here,” Ralph continued. “We converted our beef into dairy, and we’ve been milking ever since. That was in 1984.”

Greg said he’s always loved dairy cows.

“Even in 4-H, that’s the kind I showed,” he said. “I’ve just always loved the milk cows and calves.”

To convert the farm into a dairy operation, the family added a dairy parlor, free-stall barn and more silos.

“We have 156.9 acres,” Ralph said. “We run about 60 to 70 head, and we milk in the vicinity of 30 to 40 two times a day.
“And then we farm another 1,200 or 1,300 acres. We raise corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa hay.”

While there have been many changes on the farm over the last 50 years, one thing that hasn’t changed was the family’s stewardship of the farmland.

“They do a lot of conventional conservation programs,” neighbor Rod Lines said. “They do a lot of no-till, so they are very mindful of the soil. They are very good stewards of the land.”

Mitch Snyder, a former Liberty Acres Farm employee, said, “I would add that along with that, waterways, wascobs (water and sediment control basins), no-till cover crops, all thinking about how to keep top soil onto the farm.

“Also, with their dairy, their very good stewards of the dairy herd. They’ve always maintained a quality and healthy herd of cows. Really, that’s an interdependent relationship. The better they take care of the cows, the better the cows are going to take care of them.”

Greg said the most important thing about being good stewards of the land “is keeping the soil in the field.”

“A lot of our farming practices are geared toward that,” he said. “Most of our crops are planted using the no-till system which keeps the fodder from the previous crops on the ground, and that helps protect the ground from erosion. Rain is very eroding.

“Also, we use cover crops. Their flown on, typically, in the late summer in the cash crop, that way they get a start before the harvest takes place. And then they also cover the ground during the winter to protect the ground from soil erosion. They also capture nutrients that might otherwise be leached.

“The goal of all these programs … is to keep our waterways, our streams and rivers and so forth, clean and free of pesticides and commercial fertilizers. That’s good for us, keeping our soil in the fields, and that’s good for everybody.”
Ralph added, “You know, you hear so much of being stewards of the church. I think we need to be stewards of the soil. Anytime you raise a crop you take nutrients out, then you have to put those nutrients back for the next year. I think that’s very important.”

There are two things the family tries to do to keep up good relationships with the neighbors, Ralph joked.

“We don’t spread manure too close to their house, and we keep the cows of their yard,” he said with a laugh.

On a more serious note, Greg said the main thing about maintaining a relationship with them is that “we try to be good to them, that’s the main thing. We help them out whenever we can, and they help us out whenever they can.”

In addition to Greg and his family, Ralph and Janice have three daughters, Debbie (Jan) Finch, Kathie Dawes and Lisa (Jerry) Enyeart, as well as seven grandchildren. All, Ralph said, help out during the busy season, doing everything from bringing them food during harvest, to actually driving the tractors and combines.

As for the future, neither Greg nor Ralph see the farm growing, noting that the entire family likes it the size it is now.
However, Colton has a degree in diesel mechanics from the University of Northwestern Ohio, and would like to one day work that into the farm. Greg agreed that that change could one day happen.

In addition to their work on the farm, the entire family has been extremely active in the community.

Janice has been a member of the Wabash County Extension Homemakers for 60 years, and has served as the Troyer Memorial Library librarian in LaFontaine since 1981.

The couple were both 10-year members of 4-H, as were their children and grandchildren.

Greg and his wife, Deb, are active in their church, having both served in various capacities. Greg was a church trustee, while Deb has served on various committees. Greg also serves on the Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee, and also has been involved with the 4-H Dairy committee for a number of years, presently serving as the Dairy Superintendent.

Ralph and Janice have been active in the LaFontaine United Methodist Church in various capacities, and were honored as “Stewards of the King” by the congregation in 2000.

They were youth leaders in the 1970s and ‘80s, and led several mission trips to Native American areas in the U.S. Ralph, Janice, Greg and Deb also have served on mission trips to Hondouras.

The family also hosts school tours on the farm for area kindergarteners.

“There have been some challenging years, as you depend on the weather and markets in farming, but God has helped us through those difficult times and blessed us with a good life,” they said. “Farming is in our blood and we never dreamed of doing anything differently.

“The farm is a good place to raise children, teach them work ethic and instill in them a love for animals and learn to be good stewards of the land.”

Posted on 2018 Mar 13