“I was fortunate to study agriculture at SUNY Cobleskill, and land a job in the agricultural sector at NYCAMH, but my family farm is one of — if not my biggest — passion,” declared fourth generation farmer John VanDerwerken, of Central Bridge Farms.
John and his dad Mark work together running the farm, with some supervision from Grandfather John. The farm, which is located in the heart of Schoharie County, is home to a herd of prime Aberdeen Black Angus cattle.
“The farm was started in 1928,” Mark reports. “My grandfather had a small dairy. My father and uncle also had cash crops and a chicken and egg delivery business.”
In the late 60’s Mark says his dad sold out of the chicken business and purchased some Black Angus heifers developing the farm into a hub of Aberdeen Angus production.
“I helped him off and on growing up. I joined the Navy in 1980 and left the Navy in 1994 and moved back to Upstate New York.”
Mark says although he’s been on the farm since then, he remained active in the Army National Guard from 1994 through 2014. He and his eldest son Robert were activated and deployed in 2012 to Afghanistan.
Although Mark left the military in October 2014, Robert is still active.
“Prior to leaving for the deployment we had 85 registered Black Angus cows,” Mark recalls.
Most of the herd had to be sold to allow Mark the freedom to leave for his deployment and the herd to be at a number Grandfather John could handle alone, with some help from his youngest grandson, John, who was in school at the time. Only 11 cows were not sold.
Currently, the herd has been built back up to 22 mature cows and about 20 replacement heifers.
“My youngest son John, 23, graduated with an agribusiness degree and is currently working for the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine & Health (NYCAMH). He’s a big help on the farm and probably will be taking it over to be the next generation of cattle producer there. John and I had the goal of about 60 mature cows on the farm.”
Mark also currently works at the town of Cobleskill Highway Department.
VanDerwerkens rotate pastures, although they are not utilizing intensive rotational grazing, due to their busy schedules, since both father and son work off the farm.
“We have to get better with bush hogging and reseeding fields, and then we’ll start that process.”
Mark says he read in a Drovers Journal magazine about putting grass seeds inside of the free choice mineral feeders and the cows consume the seeds, and then naturally defecate them back into the ground, promoting reseeding. This has worked well in some areas for the farm.
VanDerwerkens plan for April and May calves, using live cover with their own bulls, promoting their genetics.
Steers, previously sold off of the farm by the pound, are now being prepped primarily for sale through the Central NY Cornell Cooperative Extension (CNY CCE) Beef Producers auction.
“I will feed these calves second cutting hay and we’ll start graining them a few pounds a day,” said Mark.
The calves are “all natural”, with no antibiotics or in-plants, are pre-conditioned and graded within uniform weights.
VanDerwerkens sold three calves through the CNY CCE Beef Producer’s 2016 Fall Sale and plan to sell more steer calves in the upcoming April 14, 2017 Spring Sale.
“We’ve already given two shots of triangle 10 and de-wormer to this group. I’m sure prior to the calves being aggregated, there will be another vaccination protocol involving Cattle Master and Ultra Gold.”
“Our congratulations go out to the VanDerwerkens of Central Bridge,” commented Bill Gibson, CCE Educator and CNY CCE Beef Producer Sale coordinator. “They are one of the beef producers that stayed the course and made the sale successful.”
Statistics from the sale show 25 steers and heifers sold at a pro-rated average bid of $1.39 per pound, which was 27 cents higher than the Finger Lakes Livestock, which took place the following day.
“I am looking forward to the spring sale,” said John VanDerwerken. “I enjoyed working with Mr. Gibson and Dr. Baker.”
The CCE CNY Beef Producers Spring Sale, scheduled for April 14, 2017, will include both 2016 Fall calves and 2016 Spring calves carried through the winter. Presently there are over 80 young stock lined up.
“We have had a good uptick of support,” commented Gibson. “We visited 11 farms last week to sort calves being offered for our Spring Sale, which in total represent a pot load, but due to variations in size breed and gender we could use a few more participants to build up a couple groups. We have 25 more calves to look at, which should help. Presently we have 36 black six-weight steers and smaller groups of five and seven-weight, black steers and a couple groups of red animals. So, some more involvement is still welcome. Our latest first vaccination date is March 8, 2017 to get double vaccinations in this spring.”
Anyone interested in the CNY CCE Spring Sale can contact Gibson firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-588-6032.
“I guess to sum it up; I want to take over the farm,” John remarked. “Since I was young, back in elementary school it has been what I wanted to do. I am the fourth generation and my family legacy means a lot to me. Looking forward to the future, I hope one day to have a big enough herd size and maybe diversifying into other livestock and picking up more hay land to make and keep the farm viable and competitive.”