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A new family farm

Agriculture.com Staff 04/13/2007 @ 8:27am

The Van Gorden family has been farming for seven generations. But when development meant his grandfather's farm wasn't available to be passed along to him, Zack Van Gorden was faced with the challenge of finding another place to milk cows.

"Our family has been dairying for about 70 years," he says. As you drive by his grandfather's farm today, you see a school has taken its place.

"I had been looking, for various reasons, for another farm to buy because I believe in farms," says investor Steve Kazin. When he learned one friend had a son (Zack Van Gorden) who wanted to run a dairy and another friend had a dairy to sell in Eaton, Ohio, that's when Kazin stepped in.

The 400-acre farm Kazin invested in included a 60-stall dairy that hadn't been used in five or six years. Rather than raze it, they refurbished it. "Generally, new facilities run about $3,000 a cow, and we could do this for $1,500 a cow," Kazin says.

"Steve pretty much replaced all of the parlor equipment, the bulk tank cooler, built new free stalls, and replaced most of the parts on the motor of the silo unloader. He provided a mixer wagon," Van Gorden says. "If there is something wrong, he wants to know about it. He's willing to go along with anything to help us succeed."

"I'm leasing the facility; they provide the cows and all the feed and labor," Kazin acknowledges. "My return is a percentage of the gross milk check. So I succeed when the dairy succeeds."

As in all start-up businesses, the first year is a period of investment. "But as long as we're getting better, I'm OK with that," Kazin says.

Kazin looked carefully before he leapt into this new position as farm investor. He and his accountant worked through dairy budgets provided by the state university to estimate costs.

"We looked at not only my own but also operator costs," he says. "If I couldn't have got it so both sets of numbers had a positive outlook, we wouldn't have gone ahead." Still, Kazin points out, "It's a bet. Farming is a gamble every day. But this one is reasonable."

The Van Gorden family has been farming for seven generations. But when development meant his grandfather's farm wasn't available to be passed along to him, Zack Van Gorden was faced with the challenge of finding another place to milk cows.

The buildings, operational machinery, and the dirt they stand on are investor responsibilities. The actual dairy operation is the responsibility of the dairy farmers.

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