Faith and Family
The Stecklers raise grain and cattle in Ferdinand, Indiana.
By Denice Rackley
The rolling hills of southwestern Indiana greets visitors to this faith-based family farming operation in Ferdinand. What was once a dairy farm has transitioned into a beef operation and custom harvesting business with Paul Steckler at the helm.
The Steckler family has agricultural roots reaching all the way to Germany. Now the family is firmly planted in the soils just north of the Ohio River. Steckler’s parents, Gilbert and Mary Steckler, settled on this land in 1958 where they created their dairy and expanded their family.
Eastern family farms in the 60s typically weren’t all that big. However, what farms lacked in acres was compensated for in diversity. Many families raised much of their own food; such was the case for the Stecklers. Without the modern machinery we enjoy today, farming and caring for livestock demanded a steadfast spirit, deep faith, and many hands. It was normal to have large families with children helping out on the farm, but the Steckler family may have been a bit unusual in that Paul was one of 17 children.
If you asked Paul Steckler the secret to success – then and now – he would reply faith and family.
Surrounded by siblings on their own farms, he is appreciative of the hard work required to pass the farmland and a strong faith down to the next generations of Stecklers. “Many of my brothers and sisters live nearby and many farm. We are a close family and have deep ties to the community and the land here, thanks to the hard work of my parents,” Steckler said. As his own family grew, his daughters followed in the footsteps of generations past, growing up and helping around the farm.
Transitions Are Part of Farming
When Steckler and a brother first took the reins from their parents, the dairy was still running. However, it became increasingly difficult to make ends meet with the price of milk on a downhill slide. Thinking of possible ways to diversify and become more resilient, Steckler began to custom-raise dairy heifers along with developing a custom harvesting and hay business.
“Having the equipment to feed the dairy cows custom work seemed like a good avenue to explore,” he said. Cutting silage for neighbors and custom haying brought in consistent income with opportunities for expansion, but it also required long hours in the field and away from the milking parlor.
Buying and backgrounding beef calves and purchasing a small herd of fall-calving beef cows to utilize harvested feed and available pastures, Steckler transitioned away from the dairy industry and into raising beef.
The farm consists of 450 acres with about 350 acres of corn and soybeans with pastures on the steeper terrain. An additional 400 acres are rented. With the harvest equipment making short work of gathering feed, the Stecklers purchase and sell calves through National Farmers that utilize the abundant feed. At first, calves were backgrounded, bought at 500 pounds, and sold at about 800 pounds. However, now-purchased calves, along with home-raised calves, are fattened and sold through the National Farmers buying station in Ireland, Indiana with the help of National Farmers representative Forest Boling.
From Dairy To Beef
The dairy infrastructure has been modified to suit custom raising heifers, artificial insemination of heifers and the cow herd, and fattening of calves. Steckler has kept his hand in the dairy industry by custom raising and AIing dairy heifers for a friend. “You really don’t meet people better than those who grew up a dairy,” he said. “They are people incredibly hard-working, honest individuals grounded in faith.”
The Steckler Angus-based commercial herd has grown to 150 cows. Believing happy cows are also healthier cows he said, “Cattle are always happier when they are out grazing.” The cattle graze pasture, cover crops, and crop aftermath.
When the original beef herd was purchased, the cows were bred to calve in the fall. Being extra busy in the spring cutting hay silage and planting, fall calving has worked well for the Stecklers. Wanting to improve their herd and increase feed efficiency, the Stecklers use artificial insemination to add the desired genetics. “While all the calves we purchase through NFO are nice calves, we notice a difference between fattening our home-raised calves and fattening purchased calves. Looking at them side by side, the superior genetics are evident,” he noted.
A New Venture
Steckler’s daughters and sons-in-law remain active on the farm. The girls were looking for a way to be more involved with the farm. Just this spring they began Steckler Family Meats Company, selling custom packages and individual cuts of beef and pork to local customers.
Each of Steckler’s daughters utilize their own strengths to help make the farm a success, Paul explained. Oliva is a teacher and FFA advisor, Tabitha has an animal science background, Gina is an RN at the local hospital, and Kendra is a marketing whiz. “God knew what He was doing by giving him four daughters. They make sure I am taken care of,” Steckler said.
Tabitha and her husband, Bryan, both work full-time at the farm. “The cows and their care are at the center of everything we do on the farm,” Tabitha said. “Selling meat directly to customers gives us a chance to show people where their food comes from and advocate for agriculture.” Delivering meat within 60 miles of the farm and having on-farm pick-up enables the Steckler sisters to have face-to-face conversations and develop relationships with their customers.
“It is important to us share our agriculture story, to let people know that farmers care about their livestock and the people they are feeding,” Tabitha said.
Long History With National Farmers
National Farmers has been part of the Steckler farm for more than 50 years. “My dad was one of the original members and utilized NFO to market milk from the dairy,” Steckler said.
The majority of fattened cattle are sold in small lots year-round through National Farmers buying station in Ireland, Indiana. “Selling around 10 head a week, the Stecklers spread out risk,” Boling said.
“The Stecklers are great people,” said Boling. Buying and selling calves for them for about 20 years Boling noted, “Paul is not only a great guy, but a super smart businessman. He has diversified his operation to include custom silage and hay, growing crops, and the cattle and makes it all work. It is always a pleasure to work with him.”
The feeling is mutual. “Forest knows what we want and goes out of his way to accommodate us. Working with NFO and Forest – I know we are in good hands,” Steckler said.
Here is to hoping the partnership between the Stecklers and National Farmers continues well into the future adding to the tried-and-true recipe of success – faith and family.