SHILOH -- Richland Soil & Water Conservation District has awarded Randy and Eileen Eisenhauer of Eisenhauer Family Farm 2020 Cooperator of the year.
The Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (RSWCD) promotes the wise use and care of natural resources for long-term sustainability. Conservation Districts are political subdivisions of state government under the local direction of a five-member Board of Commissioners.
Randy and Eileen Eisenhauer started looking for their farm right after they were married. They initially looked for land suitable to raise beef cattle because Randy had raised cattle most of his life. When they found their current farm in Cass Township near Shiloh in 2000, it was bare farmland.
Over the years their farm grew to include a farmhouse, a cow barn, goat barns, approximately 22 acres of pasture, 25 acres of grain and they rent 43 acres for crops and hay. Nineteen acres are in a new mixed hay seeding and other acres are woodlands. They typically have 12-15 cows that calve each year and kid around 30-35 does (goats) annually for the 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) project market.
They have 10 hives of honeybees and harvest and sell honey. They initially became interested in beekeeping due to their daughter, Kristin, who was mentored by Lanny Hopkins (local farmer and beekeeper). They have harvested as much as 350 pounds of honey in one year.
“You can’t farm from fence row to fence row. We need bees for pollination,” Randy said.
The famly also cultivates native plants to attract honeybees and other pollinators.
Instead of changing the land to fit their vision, the Eisenhauers have worked diligently with the land to conserve and protect the soil and water. To improve the pasture and increase production for grazing they did a frost seeding of red clover. The land is better suited to pasture than crops because it is highly erodible.
With financial assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program (USDA-NRCS, EQUIP), they have incorporated many conservation practices.
Windbreak – White pines were planted along the western edge of the property as a windbreak to reduce strong winds. Initially it protected against soil erosion. Now the trees provide protection and shade to the animals in the pasture.
Spring development – Randy and Eileen installed two spring developments that catch water on the hillsides and put in tanks to water livestock. One development feeds into a primary water tank and then overflows into a secondary tank, providing two separate paddocks with waterers.
A second catch provides water in another paddock. Each spring holds 360 gallons of runoff. Catching the water on the hills protects the soil and pasture where there used to be continual wet areas the cattle hooves damaged and compacted.
Rotational Grazing – The Eisenhauer’s use five paddocks for their rotational pasture grazing. It reduces erosion and compaction, improves the soil quality, and increases the quality of the forages. It has increased production of their land as it allows them to wean 750-pound average calves at 205 days.
“The United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service EQUP allowed us to make great strides in soil conservation and water quality protection as we built our farm," Eileen said. "Initially we used cost-sharing to install the windbreak and buffer zone.
"Funds were used for the fencing, pasture, and waterway seeding. Cost sharing was essential to being able to afford these vital items as beginning farmers. Cost sharing also allowed us to reduce run-off from the barn area with a heavy use pad, install the spring developments, develop our rotational grazing and nutrient management plans.
"Currently, we are working on another EQIP project that will provide cost sharing on an access drive improvement in the goat barn area to reduce soil damage and erosion from tractor and animal traffic.”
Riparian Buffers – The Riparian Buffer between the farmland and creek was initially seeded native grasses and planted with white pine and red oak seedlings. Randy and Eileen filled in missing spots with black walnuts. They gave added white oak, northern pecan, and a variety of chestnut trees in more recent years.
This area cleans the water of any excess fertilizer or agriculture chemicals, traps soil and other particles before the water reaches the creek and the Black Fork watershed as well as provides great wildlife habitat and increases biodiversity.
Waterways – Randy and Eileen established two waterways with ripple zones to slow rain and prevent sheet erosion. They are on steep land and the runoff flows into the wetland.
The riparian buffer strip and the two waterways are enrolled in the USDA-NRCS Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which help make it affordable to maintain these conservation practices, adopt other practices and continue to improve the soil and water quality on the farm.
Manure Composting – Randy and Eileen compost their manure and wind row it so it can be turned. Composting allows nutrients to be more readily available to plants when applies.
Timber Management – The Eisenhauers worked with a state forester to develop a forestry management plan. They cut out grapevines and poison ivy. They girdled trees and did a select cut to remove trees to improve the livelihood of others. Since the devastation from the Emerald Ash Borer beetle, they have planted a variety of trees in their woods to replace the ones that were lost.
Wetland Development – They used the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program to create a wildlife wetland. They had an area which stayed wet almost all year and was not productive for farming. It was too low to be tiled, as it was lower than the bedrock bottom of the creek.
The development of the wetland and surrounding buffers provide an area for water during large rain events and better control of “flooding” resulting in less crop loss. Native grasses and wetland plants have created another way to improve water quality and increase bio-diversity and wildlife habitat.
Other conservation-related practices Randy and Eileen have done were to release pheasants in 2019.
They want to release more pheasants in the future along with some quail. They had a covey of quail until the ice storm in 2005 which froze them and destroyed their habitat. They have installed wood duck boxes at the Wetland/Wildlife area and along the creek in the woods. Bluebird houses are installed along the buffer strip and on fence posts of the pasture.
“We think growing up in farming and agriculturally based families, we both didn’t know anything other than conservation," Randy said. "Farming is essentially taking care of the land, making sure that it is productive for the future, and trying to do things in better ways. That is the definition of conservation to us.
"Soil and water conservation are important to us because we want to do our part to ensure future generations have productive cropland, healthy habitats for domestic animals and wildlife, bio-diversity and the opportunities to see wild animals in the wild, and great water quality, which is necessary to sustain all life.”
The Eisenhauer family includes their daughters Kaitlyn, married to Brandon Spangler, and Kristen Eisenhauer. All of the Eisenhauers attended Ohio State University and earned bachelor’s degrees in Agriculture.
Randy’s love of agriculture and helping people increase their knowledge about agriculture led him to become an Agriculture Education teacher and advisor. Randy is in his 29th year of teaching agriculture and being an FFA advisor. He is currently at Shelby High School.
Eileen works as the County Office Administrator for Crawford, Marion, Morrow and Richland County Farm Bureaus and has been with Farm Bureau since 2003. Eileen is active as a 4-H volunteer, is the Senior Fair Board Goat Barn Superintendent, and serves on the County Livestock Committee.
Randy and Eileen’s contributions and commitment to conservation in Richland County is truly a reflection of what it means to be a good steward of the land.