Young and Farming: Kevin Spreng

Making connections and accepting new opportunity — that’s how Kevin Spreng, 31, built the platform for his dairy operation in Wayne and Holmes counties.

Spreng got his start on the farm where he grew up, a 60-cow dairy owned by his parents, Floyd and Patty Spreng. But with an eye toward growth, he sought new opportunities and more knowledge.

Kevin and his wife, Kristy, were classmates in high school and both graduated from Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute in 2006 with dairy science degrees. Kevin continued his education at OSU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in middle childhood education.

His internship was spent working with local dairyman Paul Weber, operator of Idyl Wild Farms. The larger herd size and industry connections at the Weber farm helped Kevin broaden his perspective, and, in 2010, the two farmers formed a new partnership herd just north of Loudonville.

 

“Aside from my parents, he was probably the No. 1 mentor to me starting off,” Kevin said.

Branching out

That partnership still exists, but Kevin has since added two additional herds that he and Kristy own themselves. That includes Willow Brook Dairy, which he bought from his parents in 2011, and the former Obrecht dairy, which he bought the end of December 2017. Altogether, Spreng and his workforce milk about 600 head of mostly Holstein dairy cows.

The way he sees it, his growth has been about opportunity and “great mentorship.”

“The direction of our business is simply hinged on the choices made at one open door,” he said.

Although this is a tough time for dairy farmers — especially young farmers — Kevin has farmed long enough to see what lean times are like, including the fallout of 2009.

“We weren’t on our own in 2009, but we were extremely active on all fronts of my mom and dad’s operation, so we saw both ends of the dark pipe,” he said. “We’re young, but we’ve been here before.”

Team effort

All three of his herds are located within a few miles of each other. Kevin employs eight full-time workers and buys most of his forage and feed needs from area farmers.

His parents and brother Aaron operate their own farms, but they all enjoy a good business relationship of buying and selling goods.

Girl and ear tag
Callihan Spreng picks up an ear tag the fell from a cow.

Kevin said that having more independence helps each family to meet its own goals, adding that “partnerships are difficult, whether they’re family or not.”

Part of the reason for his growth is because he and Kristy have five children, and they want to make sure there’s an opportunity for them to farm, if they choose. Their oldest son, Noah, is 7; Callihan is 6; Jordyn is 3; and twins Rhett and Rhea are 1.

Kevin said his biggest asset as a young farmer is “time.” And with a full house and an ever-changing industry, time is of the essence.

Being his own boss sometimes affords him more flexibility with his schedule, and other times, the job dictates his schedule.

“Sometimes that freedom is there — sometimes it’s not,” he said. “The demands of the business when you’re your own boss are limitless. There’s not a ceiling.”

New calf
Callihan, Jordyn and Noah with a new calf.

That’s why he relies on good helpers, which include his veterinarian, nutritionist, and fellow dairy farmers who he can call for ideas and advice. And, he relies on his employees, who are dependable and knowledgeable about what needs done.

“Sometimes people look at what I’m doing, but what I’m doing is because of people around me, and that includes our employees,” he said. “In an effort of us (as owners) striving to be successful, we want to create a workplace that allows our employees to be successful.”

Kevin said he is happy with where the farm’s at, but he still has an eye for innovation and new technology. Last March, he put in a new calf barn with automated calf feeders, and he’s hoping that will pay off with better cows.

Kevin and Kristy also have a knack for showing dairy cattle, having both shown animals in 4-H and with their children soon to be of showing age. But their main focus is the business.

“That (showing) is a hobby for us,” Kevin said. “Our main drive is a well-managed commercial dairy operation.”