When you’re talking about heritage in the dairy industry, 6th generation dairy farmer, 18-year old Rensselaer Co. Dairy Princess Isabella (Bella) Wiley (ADADC District 4), has a long line of history to be proud of. She will be the first one to comment on the respect she has for her family tree and the influence they have had on the dairy industry, not just locally, but nation-wide.
“Genetics plays a great role in the dairy industry today,” said Wiley. “I feel that it has been my own genetics that has led me to the path I have chosen in life. When looking at my family tree, not only are there members that were prominent in the dairy industry — Porter, Wiley, Sherman — but in the culinary field, my mother; a nutritionist, my great-grandmother; and doctor, my great, great-grandfather Dr. Charles Sproat — who had his own herd of Guernsey cows and studied the effects of homogenization and pasteurization of milk.”
It was one of Wiley’s predecessors, Isaac Wiley, who brought the first registered herd of Ayrshires to the area in 1912.
Wiley is especially proud of her grandfather, Paul Wiley, who not only attended Cornell, but also was a certified Ayrshire Classifier, who went to the country of Peru and scored the highest ever classified Ayrshire in the state of Illinois, at 97 points.
Paul presented Bella with her treasured show cow Abby, now retired from showing and pastured separately from the other dairy herd.
The Otter Creek dairy raised the highest producing Ayrshire in 1974, Otter Creek Betty, who went to Newfoundland, and then was sold to a farm in Quebec. After she was gone for three years, Paul and his wife Betty went up to Quebec and bought the cow back with her daughter; bringing them back to the farm. The barn had been remodeled while the cow was gone, but, amazingly, Paul recalls, she went around the barn and right back into her original stall.
Bella’s great-grandfather Newton Wiley was a leader in starting up Rensselaer County’s Farm Bureau, leading 17 dairy farmers in giving the first $100 to start Farm Bureau in the county.
“My own unique experiences of growing up on a small dairy farm gives me a different perspective to the dairy industry today,” confirms Bella. “My mother and father have encouraged me to watch, explore, ask questions, and get hands-on training whenever I could. Knowledge doesn’t always come from a book. My extended family and friends have been a great source of information. Stories from retired farmers, new farmers starting out and their struggles, people from all different aspects of the agricultural community have all helped influence me in the direction that I want to go.”
Bella says her mother, Caroline, was first responsible for her interest in farming. And Caroline attests Bella was always a favorite with the animals, even the feral cats would come to Bella, but run from other folks.
“My mother took me to the barn daily and I loved to watch my father milk our cows. When I was big enough, I was always begging my father to let me tag along. The knowledge that my father had from his father and grandfather, he shared with me. Telling me how and why they did things the way they did. Showing me how to put on a milking machine and when to take it off. He didn’t treat me like I was just a girl, he taught me how to fix a water bowl, drive the skid steer and a tractor, throw hay, and every other aspect of his daily life as a farmer. I have a great respect for not just my father, but every farmer. While most people think that farmers are just simple, I know firsthand that a farmer needs to be knowledgeable and skilled in many different fields of expertise.”
Bella is now a freshman at SUNY Cobleskill, studying Dairy Management and Production, and realizes that farming is more than just staying on the farm to do chores day in and day out, without leaving the farm.
“Although I know that I want to continue on our farm, it is my belief that diversification is the key to survival for the small family farm,” she remarks. “As our world population grows, the need for technology, innovation, and the dedication of the agricultural community to supply food will increase. The search for my exact future goals is not completely refined.”
Bella says she is exploring all of the avenues in which she may impact agriculture for the betterment of the ag community. She says she enjoys meeting new people, experiencing new ideas, and looks forward to a new adventure.
Bella commented on the importance of the ADADC and the Dairy Princess Program.
“The farmer funded organization ADADC gives young people the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide variety of people. You have the privilege to work as a promoter/ educator — bringing knowledge to those who know little about the dairy/agriculture industry. I have been fortunate to have grown up, and to work, on our family dairy farm. I have had the opportunity to serve as a Rensselaer County Dairy Princess and as an ambassador. Being able to promote an industry that I am passionate about has been beneficial to my learning experiences and is important to me.”
The Wiley’s Otter Creek dairy now raises grass fed and pastured Ayrshires, Jerseys and Holsteins.