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Water source never dries up on this farm

Stand at the edge of Ralph and Marvin Biehle’s grain setup, and you look down over a small valley and up toward the next hill. Pasture extends down the hill, with barns and silos on the other side. Far off in the distance is a cornfield. And behind it is one of the most important resources on the farm — a pond.

“I built that pond soon after I started farming,” Ralph recalls. His son, Marvin, and Chris Bailey now do most of the chores. They farm near Commiskey in Jennings County. However, Ralph still maintains a keen interest in their cattle.

“The amazing thing is that we’ve supplied water for our 100-head herd from that pond ever since it was built,” Ralph observes. “We pipe it down to hydrants. But there aren’t any pumps. We don’t need them.”

Water coming from the hydrants typically doesn’t freeze in the winter, and the pond is never dry. It’s lower during droughts, but never empty. “The secret is a spring feeding the pond,” Ralph explains. “My dad was skeptical that the pond wouldn’t even fill up. But I hit a vein of water, and we’ve had water ever since.”

Key points

• Ralph and Marvin Biehle’s farm pond supplies water for beef herd year-round.

• An underground spring helps keep the pond full.

• The constructed pond has proven to be an important resource for the farm.

Why it works

How can water flow through pipes all the way to the barn, hundreds of feet away, without pumps? Because there’s enough slope in a constant direction to allow water to flow downhill. When you look out from their grain bins, it doesn’t seem steep enough to work. But Ralph promises it’s deceiving.

“One year we needed to add water to silage as we filled it,” he recalls. “I took the hose to the top of the silo, and it still ran fine! However, I raised it over my head 3 feet, and it quit flowing. That tells you how much slope there is from the pond to the barns.”

Marvin adds, “We’ve replaced the pipe that brings the water downhill, but that’s understandable. It’s been working a long time.”


WATER ‘FALL’: There’s a “waterfall” on Ralph and Marvin Biehle’s farm — except you can’t see it. Water falls through underground pipe to where they need it for cattle.

Jennings County family tames soil erosion

To find Ralph and Marvin Biehle’s farm, pass the Crosley Wildlife Preserve on Indiana Highway 3, south of Vernon. The tiny town of Commiskey lies nearby. Brush dominates the landscape as you approach the narrow county road that your GPS says will take you to the Biehles’ farm. No one could criticize you for wondering if there really is a farm there.

“How close are we to the wildlife preserve?” Ralph asks rhetorically. “It’s right over there,” he quips. Their farm borders the wildlife preserve, and is literally the first farm south, tucked in between rolling hills, with a dose of “buttermilk flats” — heavy, gray clay soil — tossed in just to make it interesting.

“Many thought my dad was crazy when he bought this property,” recalls Ralph, now 79. His son Marvin and Chris Bailey tend to the farming these days.

“There were only a few acres tillable, but he soon began clearing it,” Ralph continues. “I kept at it when I started farming. The pastures were overgrown with brush when Dad moved here. It’s taken a long time to get to this point.”

Key Points

• Biehle family carved their farm out of wooly land.

• Many southern Indiana farms have been rescued from earlier poor practices.

• Improved pasture management supports cattle and prevents soil erosion.

Reclaim the land

The Biehle farm isn’t unlike hundreds of others scattered throughout southern Indiana. Not understanding the importance of following soil conservation practices, many hills were left bare in the early 20th century. Once soil and water conservation districts formed in the 1940s, many farmers paid more attention to preventing soil erosion. Many farms that were once nearly unusable now provide good pasture for cattle.

“We’ve done what we could to improve our pastures,” Ralph adds. “We grow crops where suitable, but the more rolling land is best kept in pasture for cattle.”

Ralph hopes the days of huge gullies never return. As long as they keep the soil covered, he believes they can keep soil erosion at bay.

Old and new mix in Ralph Biehle’s stone farmhouse

The main portion of the farmhouse where Ralph Biehle lives has stood the test of time. Ralph estimates it’s about 150 years old.

The house is equipped with a rather unique feature — twin stone chimneys on either end. “There’s one fireplace on the lower floor for the far chimney,” he explains. “But there’s two fireplaces feeding this chimney. I still remember using the upstairs fireplace when I was growing up.”

Twin chimneys aren’t the only interesting feature on Ralph’s house. A satellite dish sits atop the roof, facing south. It’s the last thing you would expect to find adorning a 150-year-old house. But it brings the world to Ralph’s doorstep, even though his home predates even tractors and automobiles.



PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE: The 19th and 21st centuries coexist in Ralph Biehle’s farmhouse. Twin chimneys flank a satellite dish on the roof.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.