A Family Farm Comes Clean
Vanfossen Family Farms might look like no other operation, and there’s a pride in what they do differently—and immaculately.
By Jamie Cole | Photos By Jamie Cole
“We do things a little differently around here,” says Wes Vanfossen, smiling under a Fendt cap and standing on his farmhouse porch.
Next to the steps on the porch hangs a sign, a gift from his wife, Debbie. It reads: “Unless you’re God or Wes, take your boots off.”
Talk of “doing things differently” prompts knowing smiles and quiet laughs among the gathered family on the porch. It’s a rare weekend when everyone is on the Kimbolton, Ohio, cow/calf operation together—Wes, Debbie, and all the kids: Ariana, Cash, Celeste, and Wesley. It’s a picturesque spot to meet, on the western edge of the Appalachians, tucked between Ohio’s Amish country and the West Virginia border. But natural beauty isn’t the farm’s sole aesthetic appeal.
“So, this place is unusually clean,” laughs son Wesley, who notes that the boot sign on the porch is more than an indication of a fastidious farmer/father. It can be taken literally. “You can come out here and check cows in your slippers in the middle of the night… it is that clean.”
No boots required.
“When you work and pay for it, you take a little better care of it,” says Wes, who is a rare thing in twenty-first century agriculture: a first-generation farmer. From a young age, he dreamed of farming, “all I ever wanted to do,” he says, but needed a career to fund the passion until he could retire and farm full-time. Years and years of welding pipeline away from home and family afforded the purchase of land, cattle, infrastructure.
The original farmhouse on the property is restored, and Wes has added to it a large farm shop and an immaculate cattle facility adorned with ironwork designed for their brand. The fencing is topped with “Vanfossen Family Farms” custom lettering. Inside the freestall barn are 400 feet of feed bunks, and small cleanliness details, like permanent netting in the eaves to prevent bird roosting. The care Wes and Debbie take with it reflect the off-farm work it took to build it.
Wesley is following the same path. Also a welder, also slowly building his own farm enterprise just down the road, he appreciates Wes’ particular approach. “I’ve got to hand that to my dad,” he says, still smiling.
Though Wesley is the only second-generation Vanfossen that plans to farm full-time, the whole family contributes to work on the main farm at specific times of year. Now, as corn silage comes off, the clan is here to build the feed bunker, another thing Vanfossen Family Farms does “differently.”
An Alternative To Concrete Silage Bunkers
Hay is the main crop on the farm, and round bales are stacked on the edges of a concrete pad just a few hundred feet from the cattle barn and the homestead to create the walls of the bunker. Silage is then filled in to the top of the hay bale “walls” and packed, and the family unrolls bales of hay and wheat straw on top of the packed silage. “Then we will plant wheat seed or rye seed on top of that, and put a sprinkler on it, and that seed will germinate and the plants will grow,” says Wes. “But the root system underneath is what creates our ‘liner’ to help keep the oxygen out.”
Wes admits that the prompt for this method was a shortage of plastic covering during the pandemic, but now he likes that he’s not out cutting plastic to get to silage during the winter, or adding plastic to landfills. It’s easier, convenient and “makes us happy that we’re being a little better for the environment.”
Hay ground here is marginal, says Wesley, so getting a good ration mix is essential. Besides silage, Wes says there’s nothing unique about how they grow soybeans, but again, the “package” after harvest is different. “We just mow them and bale them,” he says, “and I don’t know many that do that.”
Cattle overwinter and calve in the facility, and don’t spend much time on pasture. Wes says that saves him time in tending cattle, and money on maintaining pasture.
Size of the crossbred herd varies, but hovers around 400 head. “We’re always trying to make things better for the animal,” says Wesley, and better for the end market. “We are about mature animals, more than fast,” he says; their animals “have marbling you can’t really get when you’re pushing an animal hard for six months,” he says. “We’re talking about an animal that’s almost two years old when it goes to market, and it’s been fed and nurtured in a way that I want to eat my beef,” he says. “We even breed our heifers, instead of having them calve at two, ours calve at three years old, when they’re mature.”
Wes says the care and timing pay off. “I learned very quickly that pre-conditioning background in cattle with a high forage diet is huge in keeping those cattle healthy,” says Wes. “We’ve turned that into a custom business… We always get a premium out of the cattle that we sell.”
A Different Machine: The Fendt 516
“I was 100% the ‘other brand,’” says Wes, and there are still ‘other’ green tractors in use on Vanfossen Family Farms. That gives the family a unique perspective on what makes Fendt different, once they decided to try one out for themselves. “We got to noticing that locally, successful farms were running Fendt,” says Wes. “We started asking questions. We had some custom manure haulers come in, do some work for us; they were running Fendt. We learned a lot in a short period of time.”
Wes was first impressed with some standout features. As a cattleman making several trips from the silage bunk to the TMR mixer and feed wagon every day, he first noticed the fast, accurate scale on the loader. Besides weighing the rations, he also uses it to make sure he’s getting his money’s worth when he buys supplemental hay bales from a supplier.
Cool features may have gotten his attention, but Wes says service sealed the deal. He says he drove by his local Fendt dealership, Lowe & Young, in Wooster, Ohio, many times, but “one day I stopped, and the difference was unbelievable,” he says. “The people there have been over the top. We don’t want for nothing, we don’t need for nothing.”
The Fendt 516 was more than just the right fit, says Wes; “It’s taken the place of two tractors, and even the skid loader, we’re not putting as many hours on,” he says. Efficiency goes beyond utility: “The fuel efficiency is second to none,” says Wes. “It’s the CVT transmission. The tractor knows how much horsepower it needs at any given second.”
Wesley, who just finished field work with the Fendt, says, “After you put 100 hours on that machine, you don’t want to drive another tractor.” With Wesley still away on welding work most of the year, he also has confidence that his dad will be up and running. “I’m only home one, maybe two weekends a month,” says Wesley. “For the longest time, neighbors took care of neighbors … Well, Lowe & Young and Fendt are like our new neighbor.”“We got to noticing that locally, successful farms were running Fendt.”Click To Tweet
As the family wraps up a day of packing silage and covering the bunker, Wes—true to form—is at the foot of the pile, moving stray silage back into and under the pile with a leaf blower. When he’s done, the concrete pad at the foot of the bunker is spotless. Wesley has come to see it as part of the process.
“You work for an end goal, but you reap the benefit once you’re done,” he says. “This is what farming’s about. When you farm, it’s never done.”