Farming described as labor of love

Farm Forum

SMOCK, Pa. — No matter the weather or how tired he might be, Ron Allen of Franklin Township, Pa., rises every morning before sunrise to begin another day in the life of a farmer.

“I’ve been getting up at five o’clock since I was 12 years old and Rick has, too,” said Ron Allen, who is in partnership with his older brother, Rick Allen.

Their Allen Hill Dairy is one of 2.2 million farms in the United States, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which reported 97 percent are operated by families — individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. Yet, farm and ranch families comprise just 2 percent of the U.S. population.

As a farmer, Ron Allen faces days filled with work that usually doesn’t stop until 6:30 p.m. — sometimes later.

“It’s not a high-profit business,” said Ron Allen. “It’s a lifestyle and a labor of love.”

A son of Ralph and Virginia Allen, Ron Allen grew up with his brother and sisters Cathy Allen Brady and Ruth Ann Allen Winder on the family farm, part of the original tract purchased in 1836 by their ancestor Isaac Allen.

Like many farming families, the Allens are active in 4-H and the Fayette County Fair. The brothers took their first dairy cattle to competition at the fair in 1971. They formed their business partnership the next year when Rick Allen graduated from Penn State University and Ron Allen graduated from Uniontown Area High School. The brothers are full-time farmers as is Ron Allen’s son, Clinton Allen. Rick Allen’s son, Taylor Allen, and Ruth Ann Winder’s son, Joel Winder, also work at the farm in addition to maintaining other jobs.

“I give credit for all the registered cows to my brother,” said Ron Allen. “He had the business mind and I had the mechanical mind. He would say build this and I built it.”

Ron Allen married his wife, Lisa, in 1978. They live in a remodeled school house located across Route 51 from the farm. Their daughter Danielle Angelo, her husband and children, live next door while their son Clinton Allen, his wife and children live in the Allen family homestead that was built in 1856.

Lisa Allen is a native of Westmoreland County where her family operated a restaurant in Irwin. She had been to a fair only once before meeting her husband.

After marriage, Lisa Allen found herself involved in the Fayette County Fair as are many members of the Allen family: Danielle Angelo is a current and Rick Allen is a former board member. Cathy Brady retired from Penn State Extension. Many family members volunteer with the fair’s dairy cattle department while Allen Hill Dairy and the Allen youths continue to exhibit. The fair hosts 4-H and open class dairy cattle competition.

Ron Allen said he enjoys exhibiting because “So many people stop by and see us — old classmates, friends. I still like it. It’s a social thing.”

At the farm, the Allens milk about 130 Holsteins, part of a dairy herd of 300, twice a day. They ship their milk to United Dairy. With about 25 cows, their father had started shipping milk in the 1950s to Farmer’s Dairy in Connellsville. During the 1970s, the family also operated a dairy store.

The animals require a lot of care, including feeding, visits by the veterinarian Dr. Dustin Davis of Laurel Highlands Animal Health, trimming their hooves, running fans in hot weather and putting jackets on the calves in the winter. A large brush on a mounted swivel in the barn allows the cattle to scratch themselves.

“It’s all about cow comfort,” said Ron Allen.

“It’s all about making milk,” said Lisa Allen.

Other chores change with the seasons, planting and harvesting crops in spring and summer, operating Allen’s Haunted Hayride in the fall and making repairs during cold weather.

Weather is always a factor with Ron Allen noting, “My Dad said I’d rather have too much rain than not enough because when it’s raining, something’s growing.”

Advances in technology make life easier, including milking parlors and cell phones.

But farming can be dangerous. Ron Allen has a finger that won’t bend all the way. And he still climbs the silo.

“I always worry,” said Lisa Allen. “I’ve had a couple of phone calls.”

Lisa Allen and Sandy Allen support their husbands not only on the farm but by working off the farm. While Sandy Allen is retired, Lisa Allen is a teacher at Albert Gallatin South Middle School.

“Without Lisa’s job, we could live but we couldn’t do what we do,” said Ron Allen, who has also worked as a disc jockey to bring in extra income.

While Ron and Lisa Allen said they’d eventually like to travel more, there is no retirement from farming.

If there’s one misconception the public has about farming, Ron Allen said that it is not just a hobby.

“They don’t understand — it’s a business. It’s also family, and it’s hard to separate sometimes, but it’s a business,” he said. “If you don’t run it as a business or efficiently, it can run away from you.”