All in the Family

All in the Family
Great-great-great nephew follows in uncle's footsteps
Photo of Nick Erf with his great-great-great uncle Oscar Erf

By Amber Robinson

It isn’t unusual to find students in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) whose relatives are alumni of the college or of other parts of The Ohio State University. However, rarely do you find a student whose ancestor played an integral role in the formation of their major.

For senior animal sciences major Nick Erf, the family connection is a real source of pride. His great-great-great-uncle, Oscar Erf, was one of the founders of Ohio State dairy science and its first professor.

“I knew the connection of Oscar Erf before I attended Ohio State through family stories,” said Nick, a Bellevue native. “The link definitely influenced my decision to attend Ohio State, because I was determined to leave a family legacy, just as my family members did before me.”

Great-great-great-uncle Oscar, from Monroeville, graduated from Ohio State with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1899. He first served as an assistant professor in dairy manufacturing at the University of Illinois from 1899-1903, then as a professor of dairy and animal husbandry at Kansas State University from 1903-1907. He returned to Ohio State in 1907 to become the first dairy science professor in the Department of Animal Husbandry, which is now known as the Department of Animal Sciences.

“Erf’s use of the Babcock test was very important to dairy farmers. The percentage milk fat was one of the fundamental principles by which dairy farmers were paid for their milk.”Maurice Eastridge

Erf would teach here until 1940, when he switched his focus to research until his 1945 retirement. Throughout his career, he published a number of dairy science-related books and articles for both academics and farmers. An internet search still yields access to many of his works. In addition, Erf was instrumental in forming relationships between the university and Ohio’s dairy farmers.

One way he helped farmers was to encourage their use of the Babcock test, the first inexpensive test to determine the fat content of milk. Dishonest farmers could water down their milk or remove some cream before selling it to factories for processing. Because milk was paid for by volume, honest farmers and those who produced naturally rich milk were not being compensated fairly.

According to current animal sciences professor Maurice Eastridge, “Erf’s use of the Babcock test was very important to dairy farmers. The percentage milk fat was one of the fundamental principles by which dairy farmers were paid for their milk. The test was offered through the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, which Erf was very active in.”

Today, the Erf family continues its tradition of working with cattle. Nick’s family owns and operates Erf Family Farms Inc., a Holstein cattle feedlot operation that also focuses on the production of row crops.

“Oscar spent a lot of time, when not on campus, on the dairy farm in Bellevue, which was started by his brother, my great-great-grandfather,” said Nick. “That family farm, which I currently live on, has been passed down from generation to generation, until just recently when it was incorporated in 2011. Over the years, the farm transitioned through many types of dairy cattle, until 2008 when the cows were sold and the farm started feeding Holstein steers.”

The connection between Nick and ancestor Oscar extends beyond the farm and classroom. Both are connected through the Alpha Tau Zeta Chapter of the FarmHouse Fraternity. According to the ATZ FarmHouse website, Oscar was a member of the original 1897 charter class. Nick is a current member. He is also active in Saddle and Sirloin, having served as co-chair of its steer show committee, the Agricultural Education Society, and the Ohio Collegiate Cattle Association, serving as its 2017 president.

Nick is not the only member of the Erf family to follow Oscar to Ohio State. Nick’s twin brothers, Matt and Mike Erf, are currently studying at CFAES’s Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (Ohio State ATI) in Wooster. Matt is studying agricultural systems management, and Mike is studying agronomy. Nick also started at Ohio State ATI before transferring to the Columbus campus. Other family members who are Ohio State alumni include his uncle David Erf, who studied dairy science, and his cousin Megan Erf Riley, a 2010 alumna who studied agriscience education.

Graduating in 1987, David now works as a geneticist with Zoetis dairy technical services. He also felt the influence of having an Ohio State pioneer as an ancestor: “As I often state, you have key influencers in life – one of mine just happened to die 15 years before I was born.”

Nephew Nick always realized that Ohio State was the place for him. “With a strong reputation for outstanding agricultural programs, I knew I would gain valuable experience and connections. Past family members attending the university also contributed to my decision,” he said. “Growing up around cattle, I knew that animal sciences was the major I was passionate about.”

Nick plans to utilize his animal sciences degree, and his minors in agribusiness and agricultural systems management, when he returns to the family farm after graduating in May 2018. He will become the assistant herd manager and pursue his interest in animal nutrition.