In Our Own Back Yard – Letsinger Farm
Charles (C.M.) Letsinger and his wife, Nadine, have put a lifetime of work into their farm northwest of Ava. In fact, they represent the third generation of farmers on this piece of Douglas County land.
“My grandfather, Charlie Miller, emigrated from Germany and homesteaded 160 acres around 1880. My dad and mom, Cecil and Rosa (Miller) Letsinger, later bought it. When we moved here in 1942 Dad bought his first tractor.
It was a little Ford, but we thought it was big back then. Because this land was so eroded, he used it mostly filling in ditches and building terraces. Before that, we farmed eighty very rough acres in the Prairie Hollow area. I remember my dad using horses to farm there. I was old enough to help him some, mostly with the harrow and at hay time.
We began milking by hand, first Jerseys, then Holsteins, and in 1944, we put in a Grade A barn. The pump was powered by a gasoline motor. I believe it was 1948 that we got electricity and that was a definite improvement, because some mornings that old gas motor didn’t want to start. Even today, we still use the log barn that Grandpa built in 1905 and the one he built in 1920 to store our hay.
“In 1950, Nadine and I got married and moved just across the road from Grandpa’s old place. We have been here ever since. Getting started, however, was quite a challenge. Ray Parsley of the University Extension Office was a great help. Following his suggestions, we laid out more terraces and enlarged fields by removing some existing fences,” states C.M.
Nadine also recalls attending Bryant-Flint Point, one of the seven extension clubs in the county. In fact, Rosa Letsinger, her mother-in-law, was a charter member and early-on rode horseback to club meetings at Bryant. (At one time Bryant, located near Highway 5 at the old fish hatchery, had a post office, blacksmith shop, groceries and a gas pump.) “Mattie Jane Casebeer, our home economics agent, met with the club members often, teaching new and improved methods of food preservation such as canning and freezing, and other projects to make our kitchens more efficient. I am still using probably a dozen or so items that we made back then.”
“It was about 1962 that we put in the pipeline and bulk tank,” states C.M. We kept a herd of around 50 cows most of the time. That seemed to be about what we could handle by ourselves along with the aid of a couple of pretty good border collies. We milked for 40 years, but gave it up in 1993.
C.M. continues, “One of the best farming investments that we made was to purchase the equipment to harvest and store haylage.” (Haylage is a chopped feed that is halfway between hay and silage and must be processed at 40% to 70% moisture content.) In the 1970’s C.M. partnered with his brother, Hershell, and together they purchased the necessary equipment and erected Harvestores for this process.
“Around 15 years ago, I had what may have seemed to others to be a “far-out” idea. I planted around 400 to 500 Osage Orange plants. I am now harvesting some of those trees. I didn’t know if I would live to see them mature, but I have. This winter has been warm enough that I have been busy setting my first hedge posts. [The wood of the Osage Orange, also known as Bois D’Arc or hedge-apple, is dense, strong, and highly resistant to decay making it ideal for fencing.] I’m cutting the trees that are about 6 inches in diameter and they are yielding 3 to 4 fence posts. It is a quite a little work, but when compared with $4 steel posts, they look pretty good to me,” C.M. proudly states.
Keeping the land that they love in production is the driving force that keeps this Douglas County couple farming IN OUR OWN BACKYARD.