CLAYTON — The Dulin family farm in Clayton got its start back in the early 1920s when their landlord came down from Philadelphia with an offer. The landlord approached Elwood and Gladys Dulin, who had been sharecropping on his land and said “I want you to buy this farm.”
Elwood considered the prospect of buying the then-683-acre operation and told him that there was no way he could afford it. But the man insisted and told Elwood that he could afford it and he was going to make sure of it.
“So my grandparents agreed to buy the farm as owner-financed,” said Lee Dulin Jr., a current partner in Dulin Brothers, LLC. “My grandma used to say that Grandpa would stay up nights wondering how he’d come up with the money to pay for it.”
Despite those sleepless nights, Elwood and Gladys, through hard work and dedication, successfully ran the farm and raised a small family on it. They had three sons — Donald, Lee and Norman — who they passed the farm on to when they retired in 1960. Then their kids had kids of their own who had kids of their own, all of whom play a part in running the family farm. The rest, as they say, is history.
Recently, the Dulin Brothers, LLC was recognized at the Kent County Farm Bureau’s banquet held on Sept. 26 in Felton as the 2016 Kent County Farm Family of the Year. U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper and Rep. John Carney turned up at the event and spoke briefly to thank the Kent County farmers for their hard work every day. The family farm is comprised of about 350 head of cattle, 150 of which are milked while the rest are kept as stock and replacement, a poultry house with a capacity of 150,000 pullets and 2,200 tillable acres of grain.
“We grow corn, soybeans, wheat and barley,” said Lee Jr. “We get pullets at one-day old and keep them until they are 17 weeks old when we ship them off to other farms as layer hens. Also, we milk twice per day.”
The family way
The farm has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
“The 683 acres back in the 20s sold for about $11,000 — that’s quite a bit of difference in land prices from then until now,” said Lee Jr.
“When my dad and my uncles took over in the 60s the were still working almost 700 acres and they only milked about 30 to 40 cows. But as we added partners. equipment, got bigger and our families all helped out. We were able to do more so we started growing.”
The family was selected as Farm Family of the Year because it is a family-oriented farm with every member playing a vital part of the operation from picking beans and selling sweet corn to the delivery day of chickens.
“My son Lee III, who works at Delaware State University, comes by every night to help breed cows. My daughter helps with the taxes, my son-in-law runs our grain cart. I can’t go down the list because there are so many family members helping that I don’t want to leave anyone out,” Mr. Dulin said. “All of our kids and grandkids contribute in one way or another. It’s just a family thing.”
When it comes to making big decisions, a process that bedevils many family-held businesses, Lee Jr. says things go pretty smoothly.
“If someone has an idea, we’ll start talking about it. Some ideas work, and some don’t, but we decide what to do as a group,” said Lee Jr. “My dad, Lee Sr., passed away back in 1967, but my uncles Donald and Norman, who are older now, did what I think is a remarkable job of letting the next generation take over. Some people have trouble letting younger people make decisions — they didn’t.”
Norman, who’s 85, and Donald, who’s 80, still keep themselves busy on the farm though.
“Uncle Norman is kind of like our parts guy. He will always run in to town and get parts for whatever we are working on and Uncle Donald walks the chicken house every morning and helps milk in the afternoon,” Mr. Dulin said.
“He’s usually out working at 5 a.m. He’ll head home for a bit during the middle of the day and come back out and stay out until 7 p.m. I actually think helping us is what helps keep them going.”
After Lee Sr. died, Lee Jr.’s mother stayed on the farm with him and his siblings. In 1980, Lee Jr., his brother and his cousin were taken in to the partnership and in 2014 they turned the partnership into Dulin Brothers, LLC.
Mr. Dulin hopes one day the farm will pass down to the next generation in line as well, but he says keeping kids interested in farming can be tricky at times.
“We try to keep our kids and grandkids interested by just including them in everything we do,” he said. “There are so many things out there these days for kids to do, it’s harder to keep them interested in farming.”
He says this is partly because the uncertain financial nature of farming can be difficult to navigate at times and because the work makes for a heavy schedule.
“Farming is really a gamble. You plant the seed, spend the money and just hope it rains,” he said. “In the fall when your kids are playing football and hockey, if you’re a dairy farmer, you’re milking at that time so you don’t get to go to their games. That’s part of it too.”
He is confident about the future though, because there are many young grandkids that still have plenty of time to decide whether they’d like to take and active role in managing the farm. Also, it seems as though heading out into the world and trying their hand at a different profession before returning to the family farm is a well-established tradition with the Dulins.
“Both my brother and cousin worked away from the farm for a few years and ended up deciding to come back,” Mr. Dulin said.
“I have a grandson in junior high school who is really interested in the farm and my brothers’ grandchildren are like 5 and 8 so they’re still too young to know yet.”
Whatever happens, he says that the farm will stay a family operation and they will continue to carry on the legacy started by Elwood and Gladys almost 100 years ago.