Howard Soil Conservation District
Keith Ohlinger raises Heritage Breeds on his farm in Howard County, Maryland, with his wife and daughters. The family raises Dexter Cattle, Hog Island Sheep, Gloucestershire Old Spot Hogs and White Chinese Geese. They also have rabbits and honey bees.
Ohlinger is extremely active in his community. He is treasurer for the Howard Soil Conservation District Board of Supervisors and vice chair of the Maryland Agriculture Commission. He also serves on the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture/Future Harvest Board of Directors, State Soil Conservation Committee, Maryland Forests Association Board of Directors and more. He is also the past president and vice president for the Howard County Extension Advisory Council and past president for the Howard County Watershed Improvement Networking Steering Committee.
With help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Ohlinger has planted a wood lot of over 3,1000 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 sheep and cattle together. Once the herd moves on, the area is left alone for three days. This allows dung beetles to utilize the fresh manure pats. After these three days, geese are allowed onto the area. The geese can then take advantage of the free protein from developing maggots and spread the manure pats.
Ohlinger utilizes many techniques that have helped improve his soil health. 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 and older farmers, books and the National Agriculture Library. Their practices, he says, are a combination of worldwide practices adapted to their local conditions.
Updated August 2019.