by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Although they appear to be quite ordinary farmers, raising sheep and chickens on their 95-acre farm in Stone Arabia, NY, husband and wife team Marc Kratzschmar and Judy St. Leger are unique in the world of farming.
“My regular job is working for SeaWorld,” St. Leger states. “I determine why pelicans and dolphins are dying. The job is pretty exciting and has taken me to some awesome places. But when push comes to shove, I think Stone Arabia, NY is where I’d rather be most of the time.”
St. Leger, originally from Colonie, NY, attended SUNY Cobleskill for 2 years before transferring to Cornell to study Agricultural Science and receiving her DVM from Cornell. “I trained in food animal diagnostic pathology in California through UC Davis at the Diagnostic lab. But I don’t work with food animals on a day-to-day basis.”
Kratzschmar, originally from Germany, works for a software company based in Pennsylvania and also works from home, traveling as needed. “We coordinate our schedules so that someone can be on the farm to look after things,” said St. Leger.
St. Leger and Kratzschmar moved to the Stone Arabia location in 2009. “Because the property was in the hands of a single family for many generations, this farm is much the same as it was in the 1800s,” reports St. Leger.
Although much of the property was in need of repair, the couple was willing to take on the commitment, restoring one building each year and are currently having the main Dutch barn renovated.
St. Leger says they intend to manage the farm business as an integrated livestock program and biodynamic farm, hoping to farm the acreage in a sustainable manner.
“In 2010, we started using sheep to improve our pastures. Our first sheep were a small flock of ‘learner’ sheep borrowed from our Amish neighbor.”
Once they established their skills with the sheep, they brought in 30 ewes the following year. “They are whiteface, market ewes with a mix of Dorset, Fin, and Ile de France in their genetics.”
The herd was expanded in 2012 with two more small flocks to meet the business plan goal, which was to have 50 ewes.
“We have a fabulous purebred Texel ram that we acquired from Getchen Subik of Hilltop Acres in Fonda,” said St. Leger.
The Texel breed is characterized by a short, wide white face with a black nose, widely placed, short ears and no wool on the head or legs.
“We sell the lambs after a summer on pasture. The Texel in them helps them to grow rapidly and develop good muscle. We are very proud of these lambs.”
The lambs, which are raised for herd replacements or meat, are marketed in the fall either directly to consumers or to butchers. “We’d love to do more direct to consumer marketing and we hope to over time. The Cornell Cooperative Extension folks have been very helpful in teaching us how to make this happen.”
Gwen Hinman comes from New Hampshire in the spring, a week or two before lambing, to shear the sheep. “Gwen has been shearing for some time. She spent time perfecting her craft in New Zealand — and it shows! She does an excellent job!”
Wood panels are used to create a chute in the barn, and St. Leger said, “each sheep trots out one at a time for a quick exam and vaccinations — then on to get shorn. The sheep look lovely when Gwen’s done!”
Last year, the wool was sold at the Washington County Wool Pool.
Free-range chickens are also raised at Dutch Barn Farm. Manure is composted and used to fertilize the hops, veggies, and hay fields on the farm. “This traditional approach to small-scale farming is what we want our farm to be,” St. Leger comments.
All of the income generated from the farm activities goes back into financing the restoration of the farm. “A few years ago, New York State grants to promote restoration of barns were discontinued. Without the income from the animal enterprises, we could not afford our restoration efforts. We have worked on one barn a year since we got the farm in 2009. This year’s project is the biggest ever — we’re working on the Dutch Barn. We don’t need it to hold sheep — yet, but it stores hay in the winter and we will use it to dry hops this fall.”
Kratzschmar said he chose farming for many reasons. “One is that I think that the preservation and encouragement of sustainable small scale mixed farming is important as a source of food. Another is that I like the countryside in upstate New York where the historic fabric is of small-scale farms. Operating such a farm preserves the countryside. A third is that the work of farming, at least at the scale that we do it, is very satisfying.”
Although, he adds, his full time job does take up most of his time and supplies the majority of his income.
“But I don’t know of a single farming family where one or more members don’t have off-farm jobs — even among our Amish neighbors, and I think that this has been true historically,” Kratzschmar stated.
“We’d like to own a place that is the kind of farm people think of when they imagine what a farm should look like,” said St. Leger.
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin