A Bit of Everything on 12,000 Acres

The Raber family embraces diversity and emphasizes conservation and stewardship on their family land. It’s in their DNA.

By Jamie Cole | Photos By Jamie Cole

“Everybody that comes here, they’ve always got a few questions right off the bat,” says Jonathan Raber, who along with his twin brother, Nathan, is the third generation on Red Hill Farm in Freeport, Ohio. “Our farm is set up a little different.”

Red Hill is a young farm, as farms go. Established in 1987 by Jonathan’s grandfather, Floyd Kimble, who had left the coal mines to get into farming, it was initially planned as a dairy. But since then, the family has … tried some stuff. Kimble did milk cows for the first dozen years or so in the business. But today, Red Hill touches just about every facet of land use in modern farming on its 12,000 acres, from row cropping to livestock to custom work to agri-tourism. The common thread in every aspect of the business is a commitment to forward thinking, a continuance in principle of Kimble’s ideals.

There is a lot to see as you move up the farm drive. Grain storage where semis are being loaded. A 500-capacity feedlot where cattle are fed from the neighboring silage bunk. And just past the storage complex and feedlot, before you reach the shop on the farm’s main road, is a massive structure that, indeed, does raise a question or three. “You can even see it on Google Earth,” says Jonathan. It’s the beginnings of a manure digester that Kimble started building in the mid-’90s. “My father was ahead of his time,” says Randy Raber, Jonathan’s father and Kimble’s son.

“I feel it’s very important to experiment,” says Jonathan. “There are so many variables… you have to just keep trying something different. There’s always going to be something different.”


The Rabers plant around 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans. After the growing season, much of the ground is nurtured by cover crops. While Jonathan says they revere the practice for conservation purposes, there has been some trial and error to get it right for their farm. “We started out with a no-till drill, but we couldn’t get the seed down in time,” says Jonathan. “So we decided to speed that up.” Now, they’re using a light vertical tiller—“top two inches of dirt, sometimes less”—says Jonathan, with a seeder attached. “You can get ahead of yourself planting, you can plant so fast,” says Jonathan. “And we can plant right behind the combine, as the crop comes off.”

Jonathan says they’ve worked out the process over the last decade and are now planting into standing cover crops from the previous year. “We don’t have to spray nearly as often as some farms, other than a burndown up to a month after planting,” says Jonathan. Besides the savings for less spraying, “if you could put a dollar amount on saving top soil alone, it would be pretty high,” he says.

About 250 acres of corn is chopped and bunked for feed for the cattle herd. Another 100 acres is high-moisture corn; the rest is commercial crop that is stored or marketed.

Manure from the Rabers’ feedlot, along with some that is custom-hauled for neighbors, is put down in early spring. While the Rabers use the typical broadcast method on their hay ground—“The hay growth cuts down on runoff and keeps the manure in place,” says Jonathan—crop ground gets a different treatment. There, an injector on the back of the manure tank cuts a trench, lifts the soil, and places the liquid manure underneath before sitting the soil back down. “It cuts down on the drift, the runoff… and keeps our neighbors happy, so they don’t have to smell the smell.”

The Fendt 933 helps the tough task of manure injection… (scroll/swipe right) …pulling the tank and drill that lifts the soil and places liquid manure underneath.

With around a thousand head of cattle that’s moved through the feedlot, there’s always a good supply of fertilizer. Out in the pastures, the Rabers have fenced off many of their ponds to keep cattle out, while building homemade troughs from the sidewalls of large equipment tires—“They would’ve wound up in a landfill,” says Nathan—to water cattle. A system of pumps from various ponds keeps the troughs full, while the ecosystems in the ponds themselves are preserved. Otherwise, “cows could really do some damage to the wildlife in a pond,” says Nathan. The practice helped the family win Ohio’s 2013 Conservation Family Farm award in 2013.

The cattle are grass-fed until they’re brought into the feedlot, where they’re finished on the farm’s own corn silage and hay, along with a bit of distiller’s grain, a byproduct of ethanol production. While the family has tried several markets for beef, including a relationship with Whole Foods, they’ve turned now to customer-direct freezer beef and serving their own product in two restaurants that they own and run. The Bear’s Den Steakhouse and 360 Burger, both within about 10 miles of the farm, carry Red Hill beef exclusively.

WATCH BELOW: Rounding up cattle with four-wheelers for vaccinations.


The scope of the Red Hill business is wide, and Jonathan says he does “a little bit of everything on a day-to-day basis.” He’s the mechanic and works the row crops. Nathan works cattle, both on the pastures near the farm and some leased land in the next county. Randy describes his work as “farm manager,” but he also has a strong hand in the restaurant business and can quickly give advice about the best things on the menu. To round out the farm’s offerings, there are even cabins where guests can stay while they fish the ponds and hunt. Jonathan has even dabbled in wildlife management; deer and turkey are there for the harvesting.


“A little bit of everything on a day-to-day basis” is an apt description for Red Hill Farm, and fits perfectly with the legacy it was founded upon.

Take the manure digester. “My grandfather (Kimble) was real big into renewable energy,” says Jonathan, “and his plan was to have a large dairy facility where we built the feedlot. So he started building manure digesters to convert manure into electricity.”

The manure digesters… (scroll/swipe right) …which can indeed be seen from Google Earth.

Kimble passed away in 1998, and the digesters were never completed. It would be easy to cast the in-progress structure in a negative light. “It looks like a couple of missile silos, to be honest with you,” laughs Jonathan, and you can indeed see the structure from Google Earth. But for an operation that never stops evolving, one could just as easily chalk up the unfinished digester as a symbol of the family’s innovative spirit. “He (Kimble) had a lot of diverse ideas,” says Randy. “Some of them we’re still completing today. It’s part of the long history of what we’re doing here.”