DELAWARE — Every year Bill and Donna Cackler of Cackler Family Farms open up their tree farm during the holidays.
“[Christmas trees] are one of the specialty crops in agriculture, and it still requires a lot of hand labor. That’s one of the things people getting into it need to understand,” said Bill. He added that pruning, or shearing, the trees requires a lot of hours and care.
Bill and Donna Cackler have spent 29 years growing Christmas trees on their family farm in Delaware County. They planted their first tree in 1989 on what used to be pasture. Now they have about 20,000 Christmas trees of various types on about 24 acres.
Bill used to grow and harvest other types of crops on this land, including pumpkins, tomatoes, sweet corn, and others. “We’ve sorted through all the other [crops] and now we’re just down to the trees,” said Bill. He grows Christmas trees full-time, with the help of his wife, son-in-law and part-time help throughout the year.
“Most people don’t realize that this tree farm is just like a corn or soybean field. It’s systematically tiled. In fact the spacings are closed down to improve the drainage, so it actually cost more to tile that than it does an acre of corn or soybeans,” said Bill.
Every year the Cacklers sell about 2,000 Christmas trees. They then plant a new tree offset from the stump where the tree was harvested. A tree takes 7 to 10 years to be ready to harvest, depending on the species. Therefore, someone interested in starting a Christmas tree farm will not see an income until years after planting.
“I enjoy working with the trees,” said Bill. “I’ve raised corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, but [Christmas trees] are a crop, too. Trees are probably in the top five as far as profitability of the crop we can grow here in Ohio.”
The Cacklers grow mostly fir trees, either Canaan or Fraser Fir. The firs are more than 70 percent of their farm because Bill said that they have become the most popular. Other types of trees they grow include Colorado Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce, Serbian Spruce and White Pine trees.
“Labor has to be put on the trees at the right time,” said Bill, referring to when they sheer, prune and apply chemicals to kill pests and diseases. They start shearing in mid-June and continue to do so throughout the rest of the year. The farm has to be mowed six times per year, which takes up to 40 hours each time.
This year Cackler Family Farms was open for four weekends, from Nov. 17 through the beginning of December. During this time they offered bow saws and tree sleds for the “choose and cut your own tree” experience.
“[Cackler Farms] is designed to give the family an experience on a farm,” said Bill. They also have a live nativity scene, featuring Gabriel the miniature donkey and Zebulon the ewe lamb.
Bill said that they’ve been planting more trees lately because 20,000 trees probably isn’t enough. “The projections by the assistant county engineer and mid-Ohio regional planning told us that Delaware County will probably add 100,000 people in fifteen years,” said Bill.
Bill explained how Christmas tree farms adjacent to metropolitan areas really have an advantage “because they have the customer base, a higher concentration of customers.”
Donna makes about 200 wreaths per year, which they sell every season. She makes the wreaths from trees they let grow naturally, instead of sheering and pruning them to sell. She also makes crosses, blankets, swags and other unique items.
“Unless your spouse is willing to work as hard as you then it’s not going to work,” Donna said, referring to her husband’s dream of owning a Christmas tree farm. “This was his dream.” Donna is the executive director for the Mid-America Christmas Tree Association.
On Dec. 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Ohio Christmas Tree Association will host an event at Cackler Family Farms. The event is for those interested in learning about Christmas trees and the program will feature information on how to get started, a budget outlining what is involved financially.
History and about the farm
The Cackler farm is 38 acres total, which was passed down to Bill from his father. When Bill’s grandfather passed away, he divided and passed along the land to his nine children. When his grandfather farmed the land, it was a grain and cattle farm.
Bill graduated from The Ohio State University with his undergraduate degree in agriculture science, and his masters in science. However, before he went to school he was in the military. He spent his career teaching high school science classes while farming Christmas trees part-time before he retired and went full-time on the farm.