9/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Tabitha Goodling Central Pa. Correspondent
PORT ROYAL, Pa. — Juniata County farmers who do not breed their own cows are indebted to Mervin Zendt of Mifflintown.
Zendt, a dairy farmer for 45 years and an artificial inseminator for the American Breeders Service, or ABS, was named Farmer of the Year at the 158th Juniata County Fair in Port Royal last weekend.
“Mervin has done so much for the agricultural community,” said Krista Pontius, barn superintendent for the Juniata County Fair, who nominated Zendt for the honor.
“For the likes of farmers like us who do not breed our own animals, we are thankful for him because we’d be in trouble without him,” she said.
Pontius noted that Zendt, who operates the 200-acre Zen-Jan farm with about 40 dairy cows, has been active in the farming community for more than four decades. He grew up on the farm he now operates.
His parents, John and Anna Zendt, owned the farm for many decades before Zendt took over in the late 1960s.
“I always wanted to do this (farming). I always enjoyed it,” Zendt said after the awards ceremony Sunday, where he received a plaque, $25 gift certificate to Hoss’s Steak and Sea House, and two week passes to the Juniata County Fair.
Zendt said his appreciation for a “good cow” is what keeps him in the agricultural business.
“A good dairy frame,” he said while standing in the fair barnyard as cows entered the arena for the dairy show, “that’s what makes a good cow.”
Zendt recalled when he officially started breeding cows, something he said he always wanted to do but doubted he had the capability for.
One morning in 1966, a district sales manager with ABS showed up on his property.
“I still to this day do not know if it was because he knew I went to school at Graham’s School for Cattlemen in Kansas,” Zendt said, but the ABS manager asked him if he’d ever considered breeding cows.
The next morning, the manager dropped off the proper equipment. A neighboring farm to Zendt’s provided semen from a bull and, Zendt said, his first cow was bred in early 1967.
Zendt has bred cows all over Juniata County in the past 45 years. Pontius said he has also provided a means to haul many cattle from Juniata County farms to the livestock markets every Wednesday in Belleville, Mifflin County.
“We love coming to his farm,” Pontius said upon presenting the plaque to Zendt in the arena, “He just gives great service to all of us.”
Zendt and wife, Janet, have two adult children —Michael Zendt and Jennifer Dunmire. Zendt supported them as young children in various 4-H programs, and his five grandchildren are also active in 4-H and FFA.
A vocalist with the quartet Joyful Harmony and charter member of the Juniata Valley Chorus, Zendt and the chorus performed at the fair’s opening ceremonies.
This is the fair’s fifth Farmer of the Year award ceremony. Farmers qualify for the award based on 25 years of farming in Juniata County and additional contributions to the agricultural community. Each candidate is nominated by an individual who writes a 300-word essay about the farmer.
“(The award) is really based on the philosophy of It Takes a Village,’ ” said Pontius, who wrote Zendt’s essay.
Farmers like Zendt help keep every other farm moving, she said, adding that she was ecstatic about his selection.
“I am very honored to accept this,” Zendt said. “I hope I can keep up the praises I have been given. I’m ecstatic about this too.”