Ohlinger’s agricultural passions help revitalize heritage breeds of livestock
WOODBINE, Md. — On Feb. 22, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report that presented “mounting and worrying evidence that the biodiversity that underpins our food systems is disappearing — putting the future of our food, livelihoods, health and environment under severe threat.” It’s a scenario that Keith Ohlinger of Porch View Farms LLC is well familiar with.
Ohlinger, however, hopes to do his part in reversing those global trends in his corner of Western Howard County by raising multiple heritage breeds of livestock.
Raising multiple heritage breeds of livestock also resonates with the findings of the United Nations report. In the report’s summary, a graphic of various data points states, “Of 7,745 extant local breeds of livestock reported globally, 26 percent are classified at risk of extinction.”
Of the livestock breeds Ohlinger currently raises, one, Hog Island Sheep, is listed as Critical and another, Gloucestershire Old Spots pig, as Threatened by The Livestock Conservancy, a national organization whose mission “revolves around genetic conservation of endangered breeds in the United States.”
His last livestock breed, Irish Dexter cattle, a compact cow, which, according to the Conservancy, “is efficient at producing milk and beef on limited acreage,” is listed as Recovering. “They’re not considered a traditional dairy cow in the U.S.,” explained Ohlinger, “although they are in many other countries of the world, particularly, of course, Ireland and the United Kingdom.”
Given his background, — not only did his family lose its Pennsylvania farm before he was born, but he also graduated in the midst of the farm credit crisis of the mid-1980s — you wouldn’t have thought that Ohlinger would have wanted to return to farming, especially the labor-intensive raising of livestock. And yet, “you can feel his passion and his determination to both restore what his family lost in Pennsylvania and keep those heritage breeds and their genetics as part of our agricultural history,” said Kathy Johnson, director of agricultural business development for the Howard County Economic Development Authority
“He really makes a connection with his animals, such that the animals become a part of his family,” said Johnson. She further pointed out that Ohlinger’s efforts will not only preserve some of the biological diversity the agricultural field has lost, but are also admirable because of the additional extended time commitment required to raise such breeds.
Ohlinger agreed that “regenerative agriculture practices take time — actually years — to put in place successfully.” We, however, “still have and need animals as part of the ecosystem to conserve the natural environment.”
In further explaining his choice in raising heritage breeds, Ohlinger said, “Each individual area used to have animals that were designed for that geographical area. As we do away with that individual diversity, it makes it harder to prevent the animals from contracting something that will decimate everything.”
Ohlinger’s commitment to diversity permeates all of his agricultural practices. Although he has been at his current location for just over 7 years, he is quickly moving to convert it to silvopasture on keylines with rotational grazing of his livestock.
For those not familiar with silvopasture, the Association for Temperate Agroforestry, a national organization promoting the wider adoption of agroforestry, defines it as “the intentional combination of trees, forage plants, and livestock together as an integrated, intensively-managed system.”
Toward that end, Ohlinger has already planted some 300 trees on his farm and recently prepped additional acres to plant, this month, 7,500 more trees, including several nut-based varieties such as chestnuts, pecans, and, of course, oaks.
He also has increased the number of plant species in his pastures by seeding them, using keyline plowing, with wildflower mixes as well as a mix of warm and cool season grasses. Johnson characterized Ohlinger’s use of wildflowers to vary the grazing plants in his pastures as “old school farming practices, but with an innovative twist.”
Those practices, along with others involving composting and soil conservation management, have fully paid off with the presence of dung beetles on Ohlinger’s property. According to Johnson, who said she has seen them in actuality, “When you have dung beetles on your property, that means your soil is really healthy.”
Johnson, however, is not surprised that Ohlinger has achieved such a meaningful result in his farming with his holistic livestock management practices. “His passion for agriculture and living things is unbelievable,” she said.
“He wants to see agriculture thrive in both Howard County and the state of Maryland,” continued Johnson, who has worked with Ohlinger on several county and state agricultural organizations and initiatives. “He is so involved that he wears me out with his energy and his commitment, which is such a good thing for both the county and the state.”