“Our family traces our dairy heritage back to 1525,” remarked 41-year-old Eric Ooms of A. Ooms & Sons Dairy. “The farm started in America when my grandparents emigrated here in 1950 from the Netherlands.”
The 475 cow, 1700-acre dairy, located in Columbia County, includes property in both Chatham and Kinderhook townships, and is a partnership between Eric, his brothers, Ron and Tim, and their father Adrian, founder of the New York state farm.
“I came from the Netherlands in 1950,” explained Adrian, “with my father and mother, brother and four sisters. One sister came a year later because my father came on a farm visa, she was over 18 and she was not a farmer.”
After two years, the family found a 318-acre farm — with 37 cows and some old machinery — that they could afford to buy. The farm had two mortgages and cost $55,000, but a down payment of $2,500 secured the farm for the family.
“We needed feed, so we went to Agway,” Adrian said. And when someone vouched for them, they received credit to make monthly payments.
“We needed a milking machine. We had the farm but we didn’t have a machine.” The dealer came and said he could get them a milking machine, but he needed a down payment. “Well, we had only saved up $3,000 altogether, so we only had $500. We’d just pulled out a big bull calf. So he said, ‘Give me the bull calf! That’s your down payment!’ Those things helped.”
Adrian and his wife Dinie, also a Dutch immigrant, along with their four sons and daughter, moved their farm to the current location on Rt 28 in 1982. Here, soil differences allowed the farm to nearly double its crop yields.
A grain dryer was purchased. “The grain dryer came from the Oneida Indians when they had their auction,” Adrian said. “It all works. It’s an older dryer and you have to watch it, but you don’t want to turn a dryer on and leave.” He explains, “You stay there and when it gets too dry or too wet or too warm or too cold; you’ve got to change things.”
The dryer works on LP gas. Since Ooms’ farm produces all of their own feed from the 2,000 (owned and rented) acres of corn, alfalfa and grasses that they farm, it makes sense to own a grain dryer.
Adrian points out that when there is corn left over you can either send it out to be dried and pay the all of costs or you can get a dryer and it will pay for itself.
In July 1990 an electrical fire destroyed the barn, stanchions and the milk pipeline. Fortunately, few cows were lost.
“What do you do when the barn burns?” Adrian asks. “First questions first, do you want to stay in farming? Then we rebuild. You don’t want to stay in farming? Now we start to get out. Well, they all wanted to stay in.”
A new barn was built to house the cows and recently three robotic milkers were added.
“It’s a big transition for everyone to get trained, both the cows and the people,” Eric says about the robotics. “We still milk half of the cows in the parlor.”
Ooms say they are pleased with the robotics and the cows are adjusting nicely.
Eric notes that he had received a call from the robot the night before to alert him of a problem. “It’s the first call we’ve had in 5 or 6 days.” He explained that three cows in a row did not get milked, so he received a automatic call and came to the barn to discover that a cow had kicked the machine off. This is only one scenario that will prompt an emergency call from the robot.
Ooms said there are four people that the robot will call in succession until someone responds.
The farm produces 30,000 pounds of milk per day, with the family selling their milk to Agri-Mark since 1956.
Another new barn is under construction that will house more robotic milkers, with one expected to arrive before Christmas.
While Eric serves as Vice President of the New York Farm Bureau Board of Directors and has also served on the Board of Directors of Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation since 2009; following with the family tradition, niece Emily is also a dairy promoter, currently serving as Dairy Princess for Columbia County.
“I became involved in our County Dairy Promotion when I was 12, as a Dairy Ambassador,” Emily said. “I really enjoyed being able to educate the public as they become more and more removed from where their food comes from; so I decided to run for dairy princess!”
Emily was crowned as Columbia County Dairy Princess in May 2015.
“This year our dairy promotion introduced ‘Junior Dairy Ambassadors’ and ‘Dairy Dudes’.” She explained, “Junior Dairy Ambassadors are girls 13 and under — and we have 10 this year! We also have 16 Dairy Ambassadors this year who are over 13!”
Five ‘Dairy Dudes’ round out Columbia County’s Dairy Princess Court.
“Throughout the spring and summer we pass out milk at various runs throughout our county, as well as educating a lot of elementary-aged kids about where their milk comes from,” Emily said. “We explain that dairy is something that people need to include in their diet three times a day, everyday. We discuss everything from crop work, feeding cows, milking and how healthy and nutritious milk is!”
“The number of kids that believe that eggs and soy milk are dairy products is way too high — not that eggs aren’t healthy,” she added.
Emily says she and her court manned a booth at the Columbia County Fair. “We sold different dairy themed items, from ‘Got Milk’ pencils to sweatshirts — and had our ‘Spin-to-Win Wheel’.”
She said the entire court took turns working the booth and in the Milk Shed at the fair, where milkshakes and ice cream were sold.
Proceeds from the sales benefit the Dairy Princess program.
Emily says she believes that dairy has a “bright future,” but because of the difficulty in finding employees who are willing to work the demanding schedule that all farms require; she believes more farms will turn to technology and robotics, as her family did.
“As for my future, I definitely plan to stay involved in ag! I’m planning on attending a 4-year college majoring in Animal Science with a focus in dairy, while minoring in Ag Business,”
And after that?
Emily plans to carry on the Ooms family tradition, with plans to “eventually return home to my family farm!”