Meet the Gauker Family -- Dairy Beef Producers
Lee and Jodi Gauker, of Gauker Farms in Fleetwood, PA, raise crops and dairy steers on their 280 acre farm in Berks County. The young couple market their beef direct to consumers both on the farm and at local farm markets. The farm is currently home to approximately 40 Holstein steers ranging from a few days old to market weight. Calves are bought from local dairy farms in the area, all originating in Berks County. Direct buying these calves from local dairies gives the Gauker’s a year round supply of beef. Gauker Farms has plenty of pasture ground to keep cattle fed during the spring, summer and fall months until they are moved into the barn for the winter. They also grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay to feed cattle throughout the winter.
Lee, his dad Barry and mom Jackie are all involved with the daily feeding, farm maintenance and chores, as well as the accounting work for the farm. Father and son share in decision making, while Lee takes care of the field work. Jodi manages the retail beef sales on farm and at market, as well as promoting the farm through online social media outlets, such as Facebook. Lee’s sister, Mandy Marbarger, also likes to help out on the farm or at market, whenever needed. Most of the family members have off the farm jobs, but consider this work their heritage and passion.
The farm, which was established in the early 1800’s, began as a dairy farm for many generations and has been in the family for more than 200 years, with the barn being built in 1841, and the house in 1843. Lee is the ninth generation to farm on the same land as his ancestors. Lee and Jodi’s 1-year old daughter, Callie, will be the tenth generation Gauker. In December of 2006, the family decided to sell the milking herd but began raising dairy steers in 2010, because they missed having livestock on the farm. Gauker Farms provides an affordable outlet for local dairies to sell their bull calves.
When asked why he farms, Lee states, “I chose to farm because it is a family business. The most rewarding part is knowing that as a farmer you’re doing your part for the country and the economy.” He goes on to say, “seeing that you get out what you put in with hard work and knowledge and no one else can do it for you.” After growing up on a farm there isn’t any question he would have it any other way. Jodi grew up surrounded by family farms, but not on one. When attending school to be an Extension Educator, Jodi vowed never to marry a farmer but clearly life had other plans and she wouldn’t go back. Jodi goes on to say, “It is a great place to raise a family, I’ve met some of my close friends through the markets”. She also says her role at the farm helps with her job as an Agriculture Project Manager with the Chester County Economic Development Council and AgConnect.
Each day the Gaukers work hard to keep their cattle healthy and productive by feeding them high quality grain, produced on the farm, and ample amounts of clean water. When cattle aren’t on pasture, barns are kept clean and bedded at all times. Along with cattle care, Gauker Farms utilizes various best management practices around the farm, such as protecting pasture land from overgrazing and treating sick cattle due to their great working relationship with their local veterinarian. Manure and bedding from the barns are spread on the fields as fertilizer and a nutrient management plan is followed. The Gaukers also use no-till planting on crops to conserve soil nutrients and keep waterways in field.
Looking at the future of the industry and their farm, both Lee and Jodi see some challenges, but also some opportunities ahead. Currently, they see a challenge to raise more crops and steers on less land and fewer resources. The volatility and changing prices also makes it hard to manage and market farm products to consumers. Yet, Lee and Jodi recognize that farming is becoming an “exciting” career and consumers are increasingly interested in how their food is produced. The Gaukers enjoy being able to make those direct connections with consumers and view the local markets as an opportunity to educator customers about farming practices and encourage them to make responsible consumer decisions. Jodi strongly believes this education allows the Gaukers to capture more consumer business and help them invest in local, small businesses by voting with their limited food dollars.
Lee and Jodi work to market their product by sharing their passion of farming with their customers. Many consumers want to know more about how their food is being produced and communicating these practices helps to answer those questions about today’s agriculture industry. The Gaukers hope consumers know, “they have the opportunity every day to vote for the future they want to see with their food dollars. That is not a responsibility that should be taken lightly. By investing in our family farm, they are investing in preserving not only farmland, but a local small business that invests back into their community both financially and intrinsically.”
Aside from the farm work and keeping up with 1-year old Callie, Lee and Jodi are members of the Berks County Farm Bureau, Berks Agricultural Resource Network and Berks Southeast Cattlemen’s Association. Jodi is also a member of the Chester County Agricultural Development Council and Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau.