Agri-View, Northwest Edition
July 10, 1981, Page 2
From the scrapbook of Luella Mohr
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Five Acres, Faith Plenty for Mike
Elmhorst's Enjoy Life
The Elmhorst children think farming is fun. They are (left to right): Michelle, 8; Maretta, 4; Mike, Jr., 12; Sharon, 6; and Steve, 11; Sandy is held by her mother, Vangie, while Mike holds her twin, Seth.
By Jane Fyksen, Associate Editor
No enormous tractors chug in and out of Mike Elmhorst’s yard. No massive silos dwarf his barn. The dairyman has no corn or alfalfa fields to call his own. But when Mike checks on his 21 cows in their tiny pasture, gazes at his seven children scampering with their pet goat, or walks into his faded barn, there’s no place in the world he’d rather be at this point in his life.
Admittedly, finances are tight for Mike, his wife, Vangie, and their children, who range in age from 2 to 12. Although Vangie substitute teaches part-time to supplement the income they derive from their five-acre farm, Mike confesses that he gets scared at times. But, he says, "My deep convictions about life and where we’re at right now is that we trust God - that he’s leading us the right way. I do a lot of praying."
It’s easy to see why Mike feels that way, since farming, a dream that eluded him for many years, unexpectedly popped into his life in 1971.
When he graduated from high school, Mike would have liked to have stayed on his dad’s Clark County farm, but with 10 brothers, it was impossible. Instead he began driving milk truck and school bus in the neighborhood off and on for 20 years.
"I enjoyed trucking because I enjoyed the farmers," Mike says, "I still have some good friends among those people. It was in the back of my mind to farm, but I didn’t know how we could swing it."
In between times, and even after he moved onto his present place, Mike logged with his brother - a job in which he also delighted. "I liked working out in the woods because I loved being outside. We went into farm woodlots and harvested mature trees, and then we did some clear-cutting of pulpwood on county land," the farmer relates. "I liked seeing the improvements we could do to a farm woodlot by harvesting."
During that time, Mike got a taste of farming again when he and another brother went into partnership with 35 head of beef cattle, from 1972-1975. Mike donated his labor and facilities, and his brother supplied the capital. They bought calves and various sized feeders to raise to slaughter weight.
"We nearly went broke. We bought some feeders when the price was real high and sold them for about what we paid for them," the farmer recalls. "It was really awful. A lot of it was not the best management, either.
"I was at an auction where I was supposed to be buying beef animals, but dairy cows were going so cheap that I bought them and started milking them that night," Mike says of the poor judgment that eventually caused them to disband their business. "Even then I wished I could have started milking."
Mike finally decided to chance it and go farming full-time, despite his meager acreage.
"I just felt I wanted to be with the family more and I believed in my heart that I could make it buying feed," he says. "We didn’t have any savings to get a herd. This place was paid for, since we lived here, and I didn’t want to remortgage it."
But Mike already had two cows, which he used to put milk on the supper table. With a down payment, he bought another couple cows at an auction. When a local farmer retired, Mike bought his 13 cows with loans from his sister-in-law and from the bank, to amass his herd of just about every dairy breed.
"All of a sudden I had 17 cows—two weeks after I quit working in the woods," he reports, amazement still lingering in his voice. "But I only had enough feed on hand for one day, and the bank wouldn’t loan us anything for feed."
"But my dad had extra silage, and friends gave us hay. A neighbor gave us three acres of pasture," he says. "And what really meant a lot to me was the three acres of corn left standing all winter that our neighbor let us pick by hand. It was a good source of grain for a month or so.
When the neighbor sold us this place, we bought it for the same price as a new mobile home would have cost us," says Mike, who was in the market for a mobile home to put on an acre lot before the opportunity to buy the farm came up. "The foundation was caving in. I don’t think the neighbors even thought there would be cows on this place again."
Mike and Vangie appreciate their neighbors’ help.
"They have been encouraging. They’ve called to ask if we wanted to rent land, and I do a little green chopping over there," the dairyman reports. "Since the neighbor let me graze the herd over there, I pay him back when he’s short of help, with my labor. I’m going to work with them again this summer.
"I don’t like to look to the government for help," Mike stresses. "The government talks about how terrible in debt it is. I think country people should do more things for themselves."
"We don’t’ live high, but we have plenty of food, and it’s been working out," he continues. "My goal is not to work off the farm. I’d rather expand the herd to 30 to 35 cows and try to make it with farming. I would want to keep milking cows even if I had to milk someone else’s."
Perhaps that desire lingers from his younger days. "My dad tells me that before I could even walk, I crawled to the barn," Mike says.
"What’s really exiting to me is that three years ago I was faced with selling milk in cans or putting in a bulk tank, but I didn’t have the capital," he says. "The cheese plant loaned me money for the tank, plus an extra $100 to work with. The pastor and friends from church helped me with wiring in the barn. Its things like that that has kept me going - the way people have done things to help."
Mike is now faced with another tough decision. He feels he would like to milk 30 cows, but he would have to remodel his barn. On the other hand, if he sold his replacements and some machinery, he could pay off his sister-in-law and own his present herd.
"But working with cattle, you just feel that certain ones should be raised," he reasons. "I don’t want to give that up."
Mike is also looking at the possibility of buying some land.
"Psychologically, I see them (other farmers) heading to the fields, and I think I should be out there, too," he notes. "But to me, cropping is a whole new ball game. It takes a lot of expertise. The older boys dream of driving big tractors. I would like to buy more land because I can see the boys really have interest in that.
"I wouldn’t hesitate to sell these five acres if we found the right farm. Each one has a personality," the farmer says. "If we found the right one, I’m sure we’d make the move."
Meanwhile, Mike is happy doing what he is. "I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I naturally consider myself a farmer. My talents are working with the herd," he reports.
"God uses people and circumstances to show us where we fit. He has a perfect will. He has something for each person where they will feel good about their life," he continues. "For me, farming was the very best thing.
"When Vangie heads out to school in the mornings, and I see the kids come out to the barn with their eyes half open and they get all involved with the goat and chickens and whatnot; I know I’m in the right place."
*Mike's birth name is Michael Elmhorst. Vangie's birth name is Evangeline.
Bio: Elmhorst Family, Henry
BioA: Elmhorst, Henry (40th - 1940)
BioA: Elmhorst, Sr., Henry (Golden - 1950)
BioM: Elmhorst, Dorothy (1925)
BioM: Elmhorst, Vera (1946)
BioM: Elmhorst, Laura (Sept 2)
BioM: Elmhorst, Laura Mae #2 (1945)
Obit: Elmhorst, Henry P. C. (1910 - 2005)
Obit: Elmhorst, Henry Paul Carl (1910 - 2005)
Elmhorst, Timothy J. (1954 - 1977)
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