by Pat Malin
AVA, NY — When he started raising beef 10 years ago at Quaker View Beef Farm in northwestern Oneida County, Paul Snider recalled learning through trial and error. Though he has left his novice mistakes behind and has made his business profitable, he feels it is important to pass on his lessons to others.
Snider and his wife, Mary, recently hosted a pasture walk at their farm with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County. As Paul showed off his Angus herd, he discussed his methods for rotational grazing, fencing, feeding and watering, bookkeeping and sales.
Quaker View Farm was established in 1867. Mary Snider’s father, Paul Kirk, grew up here and purchased the farm from his parents in 1965. He and his wife, the former Lou Ann Mumpton, operated Kirk Farm as a conventional dairy farm with their six sons and daughters until 2000. Kirk later sold the cows, but maintained the farm as a hay operation. He died in 2010 at the age of 66.
Paul Snider, 39, wasn’t always a livestock producer. He is a fulltime forester with Baillie Lumber Co. of Boonville, so when he took over his father-in-law’s farm and decided to raise beef, he had a large learning curve and not a lot of time.
He started with one Angus heifer and gradually acquired more. “I have just 20 heifers now, but I own a total of 55, including calves with Pete Donahue. I raise the yearlings in my barn, while Pete finishes them and keeps the dry cows at his farm (Delta Glen) in Westernville. He usually keeps them three years. Some are replacement and some we sell for slaughter.”
Each winter, about 12 animals are sent to a butcher in Lowville and come back generally as packaged meat (hamburgers, steaks, roasts, etc.), and sold to their friends and co-workers under the Quaker View Beef Farm name. “It’s all word of mouth,” Snider said of his marketing plan. “In fact, our customers are buying more from us.”
Donahue, 38, has a fulltime job as environmental compliance officer at Revere Copper and Brass in Rome. Snider takes the calves to Donahue’s nearby farm for vaccinations in spring and fall and to apply ear tags because Donahue owns a squeeze crate.
Snider and Donahue have a handshake agreement. They share pastures and barns and jointly own a red Angus bull. Snider kept the grain business, partnering in Quaker View Farm LLC with his wife, his brother-in-law Peter Kirk and sister-in-law Katie Favata to grow oats, corn and hay.
Snider started the tour by discussing the perimeter fencing. “This used to be barbed wire,” he said. “It’s been replaced with a high-tensile electric fence with six strands. It allows me to put more animals on less acreage.”
Temporary fencing allows the animals to transfer to different paddocks. He learned the hard way that research is crucial when buying farm equipment. “Quality pays off in the long end,” he noted.
Snider chose Williams Fence of Deansboro, NY, which sells some American-made products. Their sales staff recommended the fencing, and in addition they knew how much EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture would contribute.
Snider then introduced Margaret Fusco, district conservationist for USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) of Herkimer County, who advised him on rotational grazing, watering and grants. EQUIP helped fund the fencing in exchange for Snider’s 10-year grazing agreement.
The home farm has 240 acres and the Sniders rent another 70 acres. The acreage includes 35 acres on one side of the road and 25 on the other. “This used to be all pasture until I fenced it off,” he said.
Each paddock consists of five acres and there are approximately 25 animals per paddock. He rotates the herd every seven days to allow for fresh growth and to prevent erosion.
“The primary paddocks are only for pasture and used intensively,” Fusco told attendees. “Another use is to take hay in early summer and then there will be secondary paddocks when the growth in the primary paddocks slows down.”
Snider mows each paddock after the first grazing. Having pasture on both sides of the road complicates the farming, though. The animals have to be trucked to the other side for rotation. Nevertheless, it’s worth it to give them diverse kinds of grasses. “The other side is more rugged, so it’s good for feeder cows,” he said.
Quaker View Beef Farm has a natural pond, which Fusco noted is a watershed for New York City. Snider has weaned the cattle away from it. Taking advantage of a well, he installed five water tubs throughout the pastures and linked them with 1 x 3/4-inch pipes.
“Margaret and I discussed the watering system,” Snider recalled. “At first, I could only get information from dairy (advisers) and it wasn’t the same for paddocked animals. This is the third year of this system.”
Snider and Donahue have learned how to efficiently manage their time on the farm, and usually get their chores done on weekends. “We usually start calving on April 1 and we’re done by May if we’re lucky,” Snider explained. “We always vaccinate our calves. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. We haven’t lost any calves in three years.”
The cattle will stay in the pasture until the weather turns wet and cold in the fall. The animals have “free choice” to stay indoors or out during the winter.
Snider has learned the best method of bookkeeping is an Excel spreadsheet to record vital statistics for the cattle. He also believes in taking old-fashioned, handwritten notes while patrolling the fields.
When he first started his beef farm, Snider said he got invaluable advice from Bill Paddock of the Oneida County Soil and Water Conservation District, but that office is now closed due to a lack of state funds. “Bill helped me write a grazing plan and coached me,” he said.
Marylynn Collins of Oneida County CCE said the number of livestock farms appears to be growing in Central New York, but it’s difficult for farmers to get the advice they need. She said she hopes to schedule more pasture walks to connect dairy producers with livestock producers to share their experiences and offer solutions to their mutual problems.
by Pat Malin