Erf Family has a Storied History with the Department of Animal Sciences

Feb. 19, 2018

It isn’t unusual to find students at The Ohio State University whose relatives are Ohio State alumni. However, rarely do you find a student whose ancestor played an integral role in the formation of their major. Senior Animal Sciences major Nick Erf’s great-great-great-uncle, Oscar Erf, was one of the founders of dairy science at Ohio State, as its first dairy science professor.

“I knew the connection of Oscar Erf before I attended Ohio State through stories told by my family members,” said Nick, a Bellevue, Ohio native. “This connection most 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.”

Oscar Erf, a MonroevNick Erf while studying abroad in Spainille, Ohio native, graduated from Ohio State with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 1899. He served as an assistant professor in dairy manufacturing at the University of Illinois from 1899-1903 and 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 (it became a part of the Department of Animal Science in 1951 and the department was renamed Animal Sciences in 1994). Oscar would teach at Ohio State until 1940; he focused solely on research from 1940 to 1945, when he retired from Ohio State. Throughout his career, he published a number of articles for both academics and farmers related to dairy science. An internet search still yields access to many of his books and articles. In addition, Professor Erf was instrumental in helping to form relationships between the university and dairy farmers.

According to Animal Sciences Professor Dr. Maurice Eastridge, “His use of the Babcock test was very important to dairy farmers in that it measured the fat content of milk; the percentage of fat in milk 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 (DHIA) for which Professor was very active.”

The Erf family continues the 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 Erf (photo courtest of the Dairy Science Hall of Service)

“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. The farm over the years 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 Oscar Erf 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. Nick is also involved in Saddle and Sirloin (he was the steer show committee co-chair), Agricultural Education Society, and the Ohio Collegiate Cattle Association (he was the 2017 president).

Nick has not been the only member of the Erf family to follow Oscar to Ohio State. Nick’s twin brothers, Matt and Mike Erf, are currently at Ohio State ATI (Nick also started at Ohio State ATI). Matt is studying agricultural systems management and Mike is studying agronomy. Other family who are Ohio State alumni include his uncle David Erf who studied dairy science, and his cousin Megan Riley (née Erf) who studied agriscience education.

Oscar Erf  his senior year, 1899 (photo courtesy of the Makio Digital Archives)David 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.”

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

“I always knew I wanted to come to Ohio State. With a strong reputation for outstanding agricultural programs, I knew I would gain valuable experience and connections at The Ohio State University. Past family members attending the university also contributed to my decision,” said Nick. “Growing up around cattle, I knew that this was a major (animal sciences) that I was passionate about.”

Writer: Amber Robinson (robinson.1965@osu.edu)

The plaque commemorating Oscar's induction into the Monroeville Schools Hall of Fame (photo courtesy of Nick Erf)