Like many generational dairy farms, Breezyhill has faced its share of challenges. The most recent was dealing with the sudden onslaught of snow that plagued a good portion of upstate New York. Brad Almeter, who is back on the farm after studying Animal Science and Ag Business at Cornell University, talks about how his family’s Sheldon, NY, dairy farm has progressed over the years.
“My grandfather Charlie took over the farm in the 1970s,” said Almeter, adding that the farm included 60 cows at the time. “He put up some freestall barns and Harvestore silos. He died in a tragic tractor accident three years later and my dad Roger took over the farm. I grew up on the farm and came back in 2002 after college.”
Breezyhill’s biggest growth spurt was in 2004 when the family took over the neighbor’s dairy operation; a farm that was actually part of the original farm. “We went from 300 cows to 600 cows overnight,” said Almeter. “We’ve grown internally ever since.”
Almeter says that part of acquiring that farm was learning how to juggle two milking facilities. “They had a really nice parlor and we had a really nice barn, but you can’t move either one of them,” he said. “We operate two parlors, which presents a challenge.”
When the family first started working with the two herds on what was now a single farm divided only by a road, there were plenty of headaches, including trying to manage two milking crews for the 3x milking. The two parlors, one a double-16 and the other a double-12, are similar, although one is rapid exit and the other is conventional. The cattle are managed as one herd, with pre-fresh, fresh and high cows in one group on one side of the road and the remaining cows in another group.
“It works out well,” said Almeter, explaining how milking is handled. “It takes about two and a half hours for the crew to milk one group, then they get a break. After that, they milk another shift in the other parlor. It works out well.”
Cows are comfortable in the farm’s five freestall barns, and receive a ration of homegrown feeds that is carefully balanced by a nutritionist. Manure is stored in a Slurrystore and injected on the 2,000 acres farmed by Breezyhill. Almeter’s wife Carolyn cares for the calves, which are housed on the fresh cow side of the road. After receiving colostrum, calves are raised on pasteurized milk. “We keep them for the first two months, then send them out to another farm until they’re a month prior to calving,” said Almeter.
Almeter spends most of his time working with crops and in the farm shop. The herd, which is primarily Holstein with some Jersey crossbreds, are bred by an ABS technician who helps select sires.
When the major snowstorm hit several weeks ago, the entire farm crew (except for milking staff) were busy keeping lanes open and removing snow from barn roofs. With schools closed, family members and neighbors provided the labor necessary to shovel snow off the roofs. “What made the storm unique is that the band didn’t move,” said Almeter. “Lake effect storms usually weave a little bit but this just stayed in one place. The band of snow was only 30 to 40 miles wide — we’re on the southern edge of the band. We got about four to five feet, but it shrunk down fast because the ground was warm.”
Almeter is quick to point out that while Breezyhill saw about four to five feet of snow, his neighbors to the north fared far worse. “They got several more feet than we did,” he said, adding that although it was a memorable storm, it probably wasn’t the worst ever in his immediate area. “The worst storm I remember was my first year of college when 60 barns in the county went down.”
Keeping snow off the roofs was a priority throughout the storm, but Almeter says that’s a tough safety call. “The newer, more modern barns are so tall, and they’re dangerous to be on,” he said. “If you’re up there shoveling the roof and the snow lets loose, you’re riding an avalanche and could easily suffocate at the bottom.” Almeter says that in 2011, they lost a barn when heavy snow fell, then temperatures rose and caused the snow to become extremely heavy. Excessive stress on the trusses resulted in a collapsed barn.
Throughout the storm, Breezyhill was fortunate to not have any trouble shipping milk. However, Almeter says that a lot of neighbors didn’t have the same luck and had to dump milk. He realizes how fortunate Breezyhill was to not have issues with hauling milk.
Although the 800 cows and 800 replacements keep the family busy, they’re always thinking ahead. Almeter says that the five to 10 year plan includes a new parlor and consolidating the cow herd on one side of the road.