Lenz brothers build a new future for their family farm
By Allison Jenkins
CLICK HERE for Flipbook version
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Lenz brothers build a new future for their family farm
By Allison Jenkins
CLICK HERE for Flipbook version
Black vultures are moving north, and their reputation precedes them. Unlike the Midwest’s ubiquitous turkey vulture, which quietly goes about its job of removing carrion, black vultures have earned ill renown for residential and commercial property damage. Now they are in Today’s Farmer country, and among farmers, black vultures are earning a reputation for attacking live calves.
That’s how Jim and Sharon Shepherd realized black vultures had moved into the neighborhood. The Shepherds have sighted the birds on their Lawrence County, Mo., farm, and the couple suspects they have lost two calves to black vultures.
“On the first calf we lost, I was checking cows and found one that hadn’t been nursed. At that point, we knew we needed to find the calf, and we did. There were buzzards all over it. There were enough of them that they’d eaten to the bone around the ribs. There wasn’t much of the calf left. At the time, I assumed it was just a calf that had died. I left it there for the buzzards to do their jobs.”
That was two years ago. Since then, Shepherd has learned more about black vultures, which increased his suspicions that the birds were lurking on his place.
“It was about two months after losing that first calf that I was at an extension meeting led by Eldon Cole,” he said. “There were a couple of farmers there talking about black vultures, and they mentioned that black vultures aren’t very afraid of people.”
Shepherd thought back to the dead calf. “There were at least 10 buzzards on it,” he said, “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as black buzzards, but these weren’t really scared of me. I got within a few yards of them. One just sat on a stump and watched me. The others flew but lit on trees not far away and waited.”
One of the challenges of knowing whether black vultures are preying on live newborn calves is that the incident often happens with no witnesses. Because vultures generally feed on soft tissue first, calves with missing eyes but fresh red-colored blood around the eye sockets are a sign that the calf was fed upon while still alive. Black vultures also often feed on backs and side quarters, maybe as a result of injuries inflicted on the calf to bring it down.
In autumn of 2018, the second calf the Shepherds lost was more incriminating for the black vulture.
The calf belonged to a herd veteran, an easy-calving cow. She had good maternal instincts and was even what Shepherd calls “a little ranchy” or extra defensive of her calves. He can’t prove the vultures killed the calf, but he was on site within hours after it was born, and it was covered with black vultures. The cow had given up and was across the pasture. This time he could identify the birds. There wasn’t enough of the calf left to do forensics.
“They definitely had black heads. There were 15 to 20 on the calf. These acted the same way as the first ones,” he said. “I got up within 20 feet with the pickup before they started getting up.”
Stories like the Shepherds’ are becoming more common in MFA territory. While black vultures are a migratory bird, their territorial range has traditionally been in more southern regions of the United States, throughout Central America and the warmer areas of South America. In recent years, black vulture sightings have moved north. Roosting black vultures have been documented as far north as Highway 36 at Callao, Mo., where a case of live calf predation was documented.
Because they are migratory birds, black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits hunting them. You can’t kill them to protect livestock or property unless you have a permit.
Based in southwest Missouri, Josh Wisdom is one of six Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Damage Biologists across the state. Wisdom said it is hard to quantify numbers of black vultures or any precise reasons for their northward movement. Theories for the movement include changes in seasonal climate as well as a general range expansion due to growing populations or other factors.
“I think about the armadillo,” Wisdom said. “We went from not having them 30 years ago to the numbers we have now. You go from zero to a slow increase. We’ve just started hearing more about black vultures in Missouri in the past few years.”
Wisdom is called on regularly for assistance in controlling black vultures, especially in residential areas where congregations of them can do severe damage to houses and other structures. They pull out waterproofing materials between chimneys and roofs, destroy pool and hot tub covers and even remove shingles from houses. That’s not to mention the droppings. Wisdom figures the largest group he has seen is 50 to 60 birds on a house.
In residential areas, Wisdom’s go-to solution is to hang a black vulture effigy. Effigies are dead or fake dead animals hung to deter the species from congregating in an area. Wisdom uses a modified Canada goose decoy that he paints and adorns to look like a dead black vulture.
“Effigies work,” Wisdom said. “In Missouri, we have some vultures throughout the year, but they are migratory, so the problem is worse in the summer. Where I have used them, effigies will typically fix a problem for the season.”
He emphasized that its best to place effigies before migratory black vultures arrive on the scene and establish a routine and roost. For cattle producers, Wisdom suggests hanging effigies around calving season.
Once he was convinced he had black vultures, Jim Shepherd decided that an effigy would be his first line of deterrence. His son, Jay, an agriculture teacher at Mt. Vernon, Mo., helped by plasma cutting sheet metal into a black vulture silhouette, which Shepherd attached to a step-in pole that he puts in his pasture.
“I’m not sure it scares buzzards,” Shepherd said, “But it scares horses.”
While Wisdom has been successful with man-made effigies and seen silhouette effigies work around landfills and other places where vultures can be a nuisance, he says the best effigy is an actual dead black vulture, preferably one from the group of birds you hope to disburse.
Permits granted to destroy black vultures are more to collect birds for effigies than to reduce black vulture populations. The number of vultures allowed to be destroyed will vary by permit and the circumstances for which it is issued.
“You aren’t going to shoot your way out of the problem,” Wisdom said.
After having lost a couple of calves to suspected black vulture attacks and seeing more of them in the surrounding area, Shepherd is in the process of obtaining a permit. He said that both state and federal officials have been easy to work when it comes to dealing with vultures, but there is paperwork required.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues the permit, but you can start with a call to the state USDA-APHIS office at 1-866-487-3297. If you are suffering livestock losses due to vulture attack, USFWS will coordinate with USDA to expedite the permitting process down to a couple of days and can issue the permit by email. Be prepared to answer a few questions about the nature and extent of damage to property or injury to livestock. It’s a good idea to take photos of any livestock injuries as well as the birds on your property if possible.
While you need a permit to kill a vulture, it is not illegal to harass them to move them off your property or discourage threats to livestock. Pyrotechnics such as scare cartridges for firearms can be used to frighten roosting birds. Wisdom said that lasers work to move birds as well. An online search for “bird laser” yields several options.
As preemptive management against black vultures, Wisdom suggests looking at the habitat around lots and pastures used for calving. Vultures are drawn to dead trees for roosts. “If you have dead trees, push them down,” he said.
Properly disposing of dead livestock helps, too. If you see turkey vultures circling your above your farm, see what is attracting them. Black vultures can’t smell as well as turkey vultures and as a result, follow turkey vultures to find carrion.
So far in the Midwest, livestock losses from black vultures are infrequent, but that’s hardly consoling if it’s your calf building the statistics. Wisdom said that due to vultures’ federal protection status when the birds prey on livestock, producers are eligible for the Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program. Payment on losses is based on 75 percent of market value along with other considerations. For more information on the program go to mfa.ag/livestock_indemnity.
This is the second in a series of interviews with MFA Incorporated’s board of directors to help members get to better know their cooperative’s leadership. In this edition, we’re featuring Barry Kagay, District 1 director from Amity in northwest Missouri, where he and his family operate a row-crop and beef cattle farm.
When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?
Empowering employees to take initiative and serve our members is important. One of the strengths of our system is that we give our employees the ability to adapt to what people in their area need depending on current conditions. That allows them to respond to market or weather situations as quickly as a company our size can. It’s also important that MFA stays successful for our local communities, to help to keep them financially healthy and provide vital products and services to producers in the area, who may not have other reliable choices for their farm inputs. It’s especially important that MFA remain successful in the smaller local communities. Many of them are struggling and need a stable source of employment and a way to bring more income into these towns. Having a strong business or two is critical to the well-being of many rural areas.
We just went through an unprecedented spring rush. What would you say positions MFA to meet those challenges like no other company out there?
This spring has been exceptionally tough for getting ground prepared, fertilized, and crop protection put on with the wet winter and early spring. MFA has been one of the few businesses in our area that has been able to keep fertilizer available because of the storage and facilities we have and because of employees with foresight and the desire to go the extra mile to make sure the members get our crops planted in a timely manner.
In addition to the compressed spring, the past year has been stressful in many ways for farmers in MFA territory. How can MFA help our members through times like these?
As farmers, we know we can count on MFA when things are difficult or the weather doesn’t cooperate. MFA has the infrastructure and experience to keep us in the products we need and also provide good current advice on growing crops or livestock—in good times and bad.
MFA’s sales structure has recently gone through some pretty major changes. As a director and farmer, how do you feel these changes will better serve our members and the company?
The new sales structure has been a pretty drastic change in how we do business, but I think it should position us to compete into the future. Change is always hard, and some tough decisions were made, but you can’t keep doing things the same way without getting left behind. With the new structure, MFA should be in a good position to take care of our customers and go after new business.
You’re coming up on 12 years on the MFA board. What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?
After being on the board nearly 12 years, I have learned that from the top to the bottom MFA employees really want to do a good job for the members and help the company succeed. It is good to see management and employees all pulling together to get the job done. I also learned just how many different things MFA is involved in and the size of this company. It has been a wonderful experience for me. All of the board members are good, dedicated people who care about the future of MFA. I would tell anyone who has an interest in our company to get involved at whatever level you can to help guide the cooperative.
Black Shire Distillery opened its doors in May of 2018 on the grounds of Hermann Farm Museum. As part of the farm tour, visitors tour a replica of a distiller's house along with a fully functioning spring house.
The Hermann Farm Museum opened for its fourth season in May.
Antique implements like tractors and this old carriage wagon dot the grounds of the farm giving visitors a look into the everyday objects from the past.
A replica shop exhibits woodworking equipment typical of what would have been found from the mid-19th century into the early 20th century.
The farm houses two heritage chicken breeds in their coop - Wyandotte and the Barred Plymouth Rock (pictured here).
Tour guides give guided tours in period clothing.
Flowering chives grow in the gardens at Hermann Farm Museum.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour through First Settlement Village at the entrance of the property. In this section is a replica of the trading post established by French fur traders in the 1700s.
A fur hat hangs on the back of a rocking chair in the upstairs quarters of the trading post. Many German settlers stayed in the French fur trading post during their first harsh winter when they arrived in 1836-37.
The Schuetzen Hale is an example of a typical German hunting club. The Germans who settled in Hermann brought the tradition of target shooting with them, but it was not until 1872 that they formally organized a society called Hermann Schuetzen Verein or Hermann Sharpshooters Society.
The farm's traditional four-square gardens are reminiscent of those found in Germany and other parts of Europe.
The farm sits on 200 acres of bluffs overlooking both the Missouri river and the town of Hermann.
Sharon Leeper gives a tour of an old cemetery overlooking the river where the original owners of the property, Charles and Josephine Teubener are buried. The Teubners were the original owners of the farm and established thousands of vines and fruit trees.
Hermann Farm Director Eric Nichols said he's always had a passion for antiques and history. His wife, Susan, also works at the farm.
The Third Switch Band from Columbia, Mo. plays at the farm's Black Shire Distillery to celebrate its one-year anniversary May 18.
The historical farm breeds Black Shire horses, which are currently considered a threatened species by the Livestock Conservancy. Ten foals have been born on the farm - the most recent in early May and weighing in at a massive 135 pounds.
In the Visitor Center, patrons can buy Black Shire Distillery spirits in addition to locally made and sourced crafts.
German travelers encountered a long and arduous journey from Europe in the 1800s. While most ships supplied water, passengers would pack their own food. Wealthy passengers would typically bring luxury items like eggs, coffee, dried fruits, sugar and ham, while poorer passengers may have to survive on hardtack, potatoes and onions.
Here Equine Specialist Merrill McLaughlin demonstrates the difference between and normal size horseshoe and a shire's shoe.
McLaughlin leads a 2-year-old English Shire named Scarlett around the tram for visitors to pet. The endangered English Shire is typically black in coloration, making Scarlett even rarer. There are only three like her in the U.S.
In addition to the walking tour, visitors can take guided tram tours.
The tiny German hamlet of Hermann, Mo., is well known for its wine, but few know its history. It’s a rich history of both French and Germans, celebrated vintners and prohibition. And it’s that history the Hermann Farm Museum seeks to preserve today.
“Jim has always told me the idea came to him in a dream,” Hermann Farm Director Eric Nichols said, describing Jim Dierberg, a banker, vintner and owner of the museum in addition to several other properties in the town. “He knew the story of George Husmann and the legacy of the Hermann Farm, where Husmann lived, so when the property came up for sale, he was very interested.”
George Husmann is legend in this Missouri River town. Often referred to as the “Father of the Missouri grape industry,” Husmann immigrated here from Germany with his family as a child in 1839 and became an expert viticulturist influential in both the Missouri and California wine industries. He was an authority on grape hybrids and soils and is credited with helping to save French winemakers with Missouri rootstock when a nasty blight known as phylloxera destroyed vineyards across France’s countryside in the 1870s. Husmann served as a Union soldier during the Civil War and advocated for the abolishment of slavery. He also sat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators from 1869 to 1872.
“The Husmann house is where restoration began,” Nichols said. “Jim wanted to open the property to the public, so he could begin telling people about Husmann’s legacy and his great accomplishments as both a winemaker and horticulturist.”
To restore the Husmann house took about seven years in itself. The property had fallen into disrepair, once having formerly been a rental property and later sitting vacant. After the house’s renovations, Dierberg solidified a vision for his dream. Work began to stabilize and rebuild some of the farm buildings. Roadways for both construction and public access were completed.
“It’s just bloomed from there,” Nichols said. “Jim acquired what we refer to as ‘First Settlement Village,’ which are the houses in the area of the entrance to the farm. All of those buildings also required restoration— from the original post office and trading post to removing an old, abandoned gas station.”
A primitive log barn was rescued and reconstructed on the 200-acre farm. A replica homestead was built next to a newly erected distillery that produces blackberry whiskey, rye whiskey, two types of gin, brandy and vodka. The Dierbergs are also in the process of reclaiming the city lagoons, which will eventually be the site of a picturesque lake and horse arena.
The museum officially opened to the public in 2016 after nearly 15 years of work, largely completed by local craftsmen whenever possible. This center of significance represents both the artistry and hardships of history.
“When the Germans originally settled the area, it wasn’t anything like they envisioned,” Nichols said. “When they came here it was late fall and they faced a very bad winter with no place to stay. They essentially expected streets of gold, if you will, and what they found was a wilderness town established by French fur traders.”
The French trading post actually served as home for many of the Germans that first harsh winter. A replica of the trading post can now be toured along with a museum, the Schuetzen Halle (a target shooting club), woodworking shop and traditional four-square German gardens planted in crops of the period.
Wyandotte and Barred Plymouth Rock chickens peck at the ground in a small coop. Two Missouri Mules named Pat and Jane came with the farm when it was purchased from the Kallmeyer family, who owned and farmed the land for 100 years after the Husmanns. Nichols said the plan is to add more livestock in the future. Perhaps one of the farm’s most notable aspects are its endangered English Shire horses.
“The breed kind of fell by the wayside during the Industrial Revolution,” Nichols said. “The draft horse used to be your tractor, but much like present day, farmers wanted more efficient equipment. The massive Shires were also used to pull heavy dray wagons to town, which held beer, ale, spirits and wine. Keeping those two things in mind, they really seemed to suit here.”
The farm is actively involved in a Shire breeding program and has successfully bred 10 foals, the newest born at the beginning of May. The baby weighed in at a massive 135 pounds. Bigger than Clydesdales, these horses dwarf a normal person, but their gentle temperament makes them good candidates for tour groups.
“I think my No. 1 interest is the antiquity of the farm,” Nichols said. “I’m a 32-year veteran antique dealer in addition to working at the farm. The preservation of history is paramount for me, and I like having a hand in that.”
The Hermann Farm Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Oct. 31. For more information, visit www.hermannfarm.com.
I grew up in Hermann, Mo., when there were few things to do before the age of 21 and even fewer that wouldn’t get you into trouble. As a former Hermannite, the immense work to revitalize the town is appreciated. At one time, it seemed like more businesses were shuttering their doors rather than opening them. Now there are coffee shops, restaurants and an amphitheater that hosts concerts and movies. It’s good to see such economic vitality returning. Hermann will always be known as a wine town, but to this girl who grew up in its woods and fields, it’s always held so much potential. Projects like the Hermann Farm help the community realize its potential.