Gerry Boone, owner at Golden Acres Charolais Beef Farm, located in southern Albany County near Westerlo, is practically a ‘one-man show’ — especially when his son Jack is away at college.
Boone’s wife, Dr. Laura Teeney, says Gerry is the farm’s “workforce.”
“This is our workforce right here,” said Teeney pointing to Gerry. “Mainly it’s kind of a one-man operation, which is pretty amazing when you see everything that we do.”
“I help when I can,” adds Teeney, recently retired from her veterinarian practice. “I don’t drive too much of the equipment, but between the three of us we have enough expertise and energy to keep it going — our dog Angus is part of the team, too!”
Since their marriage 26 years ago, Boone and Teeney have expanded the farm, which was started by Boone as a young man. “We’ve bought more acreage, increased our herd size, and now our son Jack, who’s about to turn 22 — and is a student at SUNY Cobleskill — plans to come back here when he finishes college,” said Teeney.
Teeney points out that most farms their size would have at least a few employees to keep things running smoothly.
Golden Acres, home to approximately 250 head of Charolais cattle, consists of about 800 acres. However, considering pastureland, wood lots, swampland and land set aside for conservation easement for ducks; the actual acreage used for farming is closer to 500.
This time of year the farm focuses on crops.
“Everything we grow here is for the cattle,” reports Teeney. “We have to put up a lot of hay for our animals for over the winter.”
During one 7-year stretch the farm raised a herd of grass-fed beef along with their conventionally fed cattle. “We’re not doing that currently for economic reasons — it really wasn’t paying for itself. They’re slower to reach market weight and we were feeding them 5-6 months longer, which usually meant that we were feeding them through two winters. It’s difficult to get cattle to gain weight in the winter in upstate New York, and although we received a higher price per pound for the grass-fed animals from our distributor, the carcasses were generally lighter and the price difference still didn’t cover the extra costs associated with the longer feeding time.”
Teeney says their entire summer is spent bringing in multiple cuttings of hay.
“It literally takes all summer to put up hay. We put up hay in round bales and square bales. The round bales are mainly for our own use, although we do sell a little of that locally. We sell a fair amount of square bales for other people, mainly horse owners in the area.”
Because of the humid upstate New York climate, the Boones have begun making baleage, a baled, high-moisture hay wrapped in stretch plastic film and preserved by fermentation. “It’s a little bit different technology and it’s a little bit different equipment,” said Teeney.
Baleage requires a shorter field-drying time and a moisture range of about 40-60 percent.
“The cows love that stuff. In the winter they really eat that up, and it enables us to keep going on a day where you normally wouldn’t be able to make hay.”
Crops include corn, oats, and mixed grasses and legumes. And this year, for the first time, soybeans have been added to that list. “We’re not sure what’s going to happen with that yet,” remarked Teeney.
Malting barley was one crop that failed on their farm.
“We tried to grow barley because of the current situation in New York State with craft breweries needing locally sourced ingredients — and we had two years of crop failure. So, until the barley thing gets straightened out a little bit, we’re not going to do barley.”
Cornell is currently working to develop new varieties that will withstand the humid northeast climate.
Boone utilizes the whole corn plant through different harvesting and processing methods to produce earlage, silage, kernels and corn dust.
“Part of our ration for the cattle on feed, includes brewer’s grains, a by-product of beer production,” said Teeney. “We receive periodic truckload deliveries of spent grain, which includes barley and hops, from a brewery in Cooperstown.”
Boone says he started with Charolais because he found their color appealing. However, as time went on and the focus of the business changed, Angus and Simmental were added to the herd and many calves are crossbred.
Cows are bred by natural bull cover and not artificial insemination. At this time seven bulls run with the cows.
“Our calves are generally born January through March,” said Teeney. “We’ve chosen to have our calves born in those months for several reasons. One, even though you’re contending with the cold weather, you’re not contending with mud — and in some cases that’s worse than snow. In terms of buildup of bacteria and viruses and other pathogens, the pathogen load is a lot lower in the winter.”
Another reason is that those are the months that Gerry can focus his time and attention on calving.
Vaccinations are administered in January, close to calving season, so antibodies are passed to the calves. Expectant cows are housed around the barn where birthing facilities are available and Boone carefully monitors cows daily looking for physiological signs of impending births. Those displaying signs are moved into maternity pens, where Boone continues to monitor them day and night.
“Most of our cows give birth on their own,” remarked Teeney. “But you want to be there in case there’s a problem. Gerry is very particular about getting to the calves after they’re born, especially since its cold. You want to get those calves up and nursing as quickly as possible.”
Teeney says the mothers are generally good and know what they’re doing. However, you want to be there to move things along if necessary. “We have a couple of different shops with radiant heat and we’ll bring the calves in to get them warmed up and dried off, then put them back out with their moms when they’re able to nurse a little more vigorously.”
All calves have their navels dipped when they are first born to guard against infection. They get an ear tag when they are a few days old. Calves are vaccinated when they are weaned. A system of alleyways, chutes and head gates are used when administering injections so animals can be properly restrained for their safety and the handlers’ safety.
Cows and calves are out on pasture for the summer, while animals that are being finished for market stay in feedlots separated into age groups. They have free choice to go inside or out. As animals get closer to finishing and slaughter weight, they are moved into an upper feed yard, where a complete ration is distributed by a feed truck.
“Feeding beef cattle, especially as they get closer to slaughter weight, is to get them to eat. They’re not going to grow if they’re not eating. You want to have feed in front of them for a good part of every day,” advises Teeney.
Teeney says because of the consistent quality of their finished beef over the years, Golden Acres has a set market. “We have a standing order every month with Dole & Bailey. Every month we bring them 10 finished head. We don’t sell beef off of the farm at all.”
Boone says Golden Acres is unique because they are one of the only full-time cow/calf operations in Albany County.