Howard Soil Conservation District
Keith Ohlinger raises Heritage Breeds on his 22-acre farm in Howard County, Maryland, with his wife and daughters. The family currently raises Irish Dexter Cattle. In the past they have also raised Hog Island Sheep, Gloucestershire Old Spot Hogs, White Chinese Geese, rabbits, and honeybees.
Keith believes strongly in Regenerative Agriculture. He works hard to rejuvenate the land and increase soil health through the use of compost, Biochar, rotational grazing, multi-species pastures, Silvopasture, and water management techniques like Keylining.
With help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Ohlinger has planted a wood lot of over 31,000 seedlings and thousands of tree seeds to help move the farm to a wood-based system for heat and energy. He has planted a living fence of Osage Orange, Black Locust, Eastern Red Cedar, and other tree species. The family also has an orchard of apple, peach, plum, pear and sour cherry trees.
Ohlinger rotationally grazes his cattle. Once the herd moves on, dung beetles utilize the fresh manure pats. When he had poultry, geese were allowed onto the area. The geese can then take advantage of the free protein from developing maggots and spread the manure pats.
His farm is laid out on keylines, allowing water to spread out and soak back into the soil. This has helped improve soil microbiology and, in turn, nutrient cycling. In the steeper areas of his farm, swales are dug three feet deep and filled with wood chips. This allows vascular arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to link up with the roots of trees and other vegetation throughout his farm to improve drought resistance. His pastures are seeded with a variety of native flowers and grasses, providing a plant diversity of over 75 species. Some of the native plants have natural dewormers that have helped to keep his animals healthy while eliminating the need for chemical dewormers that might negatively impact his soil microbes.
Ohlinger admits that most of the practices he utilizes are not found in manuals. He learned through experience, older farmers, books, and the National Agriculture Library. Their practices, he says, are a combination of worldwide practices adapted to their local conditions. In turn, what he’s learned, he shares through his service on the Future Harvest and Million Acre Challenge Boards, in farm tours, speeches, and presentations. He also serves as a mentor in the Maryland Grazers Network.
Ohlinger is extremely active in his community. He currently serves on the Future Harvest Board of Directors, the Million Acre Challenge Board of Soil Stewards, and the Howard County Citizen’s Election Fund Commission, to name a few. He is the past Treasurer for the Howard Soil Conservation District Board of Supervisors and served as Vice Chair of the Maryland Agriculture Commission. He also served previously on the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture/Future Harvest Board of Directors, State Soil Conservation Committee, Vice Chair of the Maryland Forests Association Board of Directors, President and Vice President for the Howard County Extension Advisory Council and President of the Howard County Watershed Improvement Networking Steering Committee and more.
Updated March 2023.