SAUQUOIT, NY — Cattle farmers from central New York welcomed a rare opportunity to network and get a hands-on talk from an expert on Aug. 21 at Good Time Farm.
A group of about 30 beef producers attended an early evening presentation by Dr. Mike Baker, PhD, PAS, of Cornell University at the invitation of Good Time owner Marylynn Collins, who is a specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.
Baker addressed the topic of the design and layout of cattle handling equipment, specifically how to safely move the cattle around. Collins operates the beef farm with her husband, Alan, and has had plenty of trying experiences transporting calves from here to the Collins dairy farm, which her husband operates with his father and brothers in Chadwicks, south of Utica, and only a few miles from Good Time Farm.
Some of the attendees came from neighboring Madison and Onondaga counties and were grateful for the opportunity to meet fellow cattle farmers.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census 2012, there are 6,579 cattle farms and 86,000 beef cows in New York State. In contrast, there are 5,427 dairy farms in the state with approximately 610,00 dairy cows. A majority of dairy farms have between 50 and 99 cows, while beef farmers average one to nine cattle apiece.
Baker said the popularity of beef farming is due to a decline in the number of dairy farms and the availability of more land, even as individual dairy farms are increasing herd size. Beef farms are not as well-established as those in the dairy industry, yet these newer farmers are growing in influence.
Like any other type of farming, working with cattle is more intense than a mere hobby. However, the cattle business is not a primary or fulltime job as it is with most dairy farmers.
“People (beef producers) come from different backgrounds,” Collins pointed out. “It’s not a 24/7 commitment.”
Dairy farmers are generally well-established in terms of family history and have wide-ranging access to resources. Beef producers feel as if they are operating in a vacuum, which is prompting them to seek greater education.
“Our goal (of the seminar) was to learn about purchasing equipment, such as chutes and head locks and what else to consider putting into place,” Collins added.
Baker passed out six pages of printed notes to attendees on the topic of handling facilities for beef cattle, complete with diagrams for fences and chutes, notes on cattle movement and references to scholarly research.
“What really helped me was the discussion about measurements,” Collins said. “Cattle like to be together, but don’t like to be crowded. We need to construct laneways that allow them to go out in one direction and not be able to turn back.”
The cattle on Good Time Farm are not dependent on 24/7 care. They are pasture-fed, hardy enough to live outdoors year-round and don’t always require shelter. Collins does have a barn, though, for newborn calves. After they’re weaned, the young cows will be trucked to her husband’s dairy farm. The bulls are sold for meat.
Baker explained that head locks and gates are needed to confine the cattle safely for vaccinations, treatment when sick, dehorning, castration and artificial insemination. Since cattle have predictable paths of flight, he recommends the use of curved chutes to take advantage of the cattle’s natural tendency to move away from disturbances in a circling manner.
He emphasized humane and calm treatment, coaxing the animals rather than forcing them to move. Handlers should approach the cattle from the front shoulder rather than the blind side (the rear).
“By combining these three areas, circling behavior, flight zone and point of balance (the animal’s shoulder), we can come up with the easiest way to move cattle,” he said.
Collins said she knew of Baker’s expertise through her work at Cornell Cooperative Extension, but this was the first time she called upon him for personal advice. She also felt it was important for other farmers to learn these tips. A barbecue after the talk further enticed participants to the free lecture.
Tina and Mike Jacobs of Morrisville, NY, just started an Angus beef farm in Madison County last year. Tina is the owner of Devine Gardens LLC, a composting business. Their adult children sometimes help on the beef farm.
“We bought 20 cows, a barn and 70 acres because we wanted to raise our own beef,” said Tina. “We’re still green at this. We worked with Nelson Farms and with the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District to get set up, but we wanted to pick Mike’s (Baker) brain. We built our first corral in the spring.”
Nelson Farms is a processing, education and training center and retail store affiliated with Morrisville College that helps startup companies and entrepreneurs develop and market new agricultural products.
“We went through our first winter with the cattle, and one of our cows had her first calf,” Tina added. “We’re learning about artificial insemination, but we’re going to make sure our calves are born in the summer next year.”
Mike and Velda Ward drove some 50 miles from the Syracuse suburb of Fabius to attend Baker’s lecture. They started raising 37 Herefords in 2008, but sense they need more training. She said Mike originally relied on advice from his father, who started the farm 50 years ago. He has since passed away, so now she and her husband are coping on their own.
“We learned (at the lecture) how to move them quickly into the corral and barn and then toward the chute area,” said Velda, “and how to move them from a large group into single file safely.”
Before leaving Good Time Farm, she got email addresses and phone numbers of the other participants and promised to remain in touch with them.