ORISKANY FALLS, NY — Ever since Brian Poole started his small Oneida County farm, his emphasis has been on providing a home for his wife, Tracey, and family, and running a successful dairy business. The couple has also kept an eye on their surroundings and maintained an attractive environment.
In 2012, after only two years in business, Falls Pride Dairy was awarded the Dairy of Distinction label. The sign hangs proudly today in front of their home on a rural road shared by other farms not far from State Route 26 bordering Madison County.
Falls Pride Dairy is back in the spotlight again. The state Department of Agriculture and Markets announced that Falls Pride Dairy received a grant of $32,765 designated for beginner farmers who want to expand their physical plant, purchase equipment or enhance production.
Brian Poole plans to have a new 30-by 65-foot barn constructed adjacent to his current barn to house his registered Ayrshires and Jersey calves. The facility should be completed by the end of the year.
“It’s going to help us improve our calf-raising, a little expansion to gain better animals,” he said.
New York has awarded a total of $610,000 in grants this summer to 20 farms statewide owned by beginner farmers or other relatively new agricultural enterprises. The funds are for costs associated with the expansion of production, construction of farm buildings, purchase of equipment and seed, or upgrades to increase efficiency and boost production.
Poole is a native of Litchfield, CT, who came to the Empire State to attend SUNY Cobleskill. He earned a two-year degree in dairy production, then followed up with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business.
He began by purchasing 10 registered Jersey cows from Stonehouse Farm in Sharon Springs (Schoharie County) in 2006. He decided to take the herd to Connecticut, where he rented a farm. A few years later, he brought the cows back to another farm in Sharon Springs.
By 2008, he was renting a farm a few miles away in Seward, and met his future wife, Tracey. Her family raised Ayrshires in the neighboring town of Ames. After getting her degree in agricultural business from Cobleskill, she remained at the college for seven more years while working for Cornell Cooperative Extension.
After their marriage, Brian and Tracey combined the best quality cows from both of their herds, but they eventually outgrew the farm in Seward.
They purchased farmland in Oriskany Falls and brought 100 head with them in 2010. “We have 85 tillable acres here and rent another 35 acres across the street,” said Poole.
They have 150 cows (70 milkers) now. How to accommodate a growing herd comfortably in the tie-stall barn is foremost on their minds. “With the calves, it’s become crowded and it’s not an environment we want,” added Tracey, who manages the calves.
In the new calf barn, they will be raised in group pens, which will allow them more freedom of movement, weight gain and better health.
During the 2014-2015 winter, many of the calves were confined to hutches next to the barn and close to the house. Nevertheless, Tracey and Brian felt the hutches did not adequately shield the young cows from the harsh conditions.
“It was the worst winter I’ve ever experienced,” Poole said. “It was long and cold. It started early and stayed late. The cows were not affected, but all the snow and cold made it hard to care for the animals.”
Poole has been an admirer of the Jersey breed ever since he started on the farm in Sharon Springs. “I think they have a higher concentration of butterfat and protein compared to Holsteins, but everyone seems stuck on the fact that Holsteins make a lot of milk,” he said. “But Jerseys need less feed and land here is sparse. We don’t have a lot of land for crops.”
Falls Pride Dairy keeps its cows in tie-stalls most of the time except for brief periods when the cows can get daily exercise. “I’d rather use the land for crops, for hay, alfalfa and corn silage,” Poole explained. “We do the cropping ourselves.”
Despite the plans for the new calf barn, “we’re content to stay the size we’re at, a small family farm,” he said. “We do all the work and we don’t have any employees. Our field work is custom done and we depend on our neighbors for corn.”
He can also keep close tabs on the future breeding of his cows and the quality of the milk. “I want our cows to be 100 percent born and raised here,” he said. Falls Pride Dairy sells its milk to DFI. Some milk is used for producing Chobani yogurt, which has a plant in Chenango County.
Tracey gave up her outside career to work on the farm. In addition, she is a fulltime mother to Lucas, 4, and Emily, 2. “I wanted to be home with the kids and to make sure they were raised on a farm,” she said.
The Pooles feel it’s important, as well, to pay attention to details like the farm’s appearance. The Dairy of Distinction award “gives us satisfaction and peace of mind that our hard work has paid off,” Poole remarked. “It shows that we’re making quality products.”