Just because winter is here is no reason to close the barn door to the public, says Shannon Dygert of Dygert’s Dairy in Montgomery County, New York, during a recent winter farm tour.
“We enjoy sharing what we do with people young and old,” said Dygert. “Today, so many people are so far removed from agriculture, that they do not know where their food comes from. By opening up our farm and showing people how we care for our animals they are developing a greater appreciation for their food.”
With the push for agritourism, winter would seem like an opportune time to give short barn tours to interested folks looking for short distance, day trips.
Retired U.S. Marshall Pete Vroman says he takes every opportunity to take his children to farm events and would jump at the chance to attend winter farm tours.
“Farming is a 24 hour/ 365 day a year occupation,” Vroman remarked. “It’s a lifestyle. Farming and taking care of animals in the winter is especially hard. People would really understand this if they would visit a farm during our northeast winters.”
Delaware County Dairy Specialist Erika Gogis agrees with Vroman and says it would be a good opportunity for the consumer to see an operating dairy farm during the cold months.
“Farms are operating 365 days a year no matter the weather,” said Gogis. “There are no holidays off and no paid vacations. The cows still need to get milked and calves need to get fed.”
Gogis says farm operations can change quite a bit during the winter months just to keep young stock warm and dry.
“Most tie stall farms keep cows in during the winter months making cow comfort an essential part of the farms duties,” Gogis explained.
Dellavale Dairy Terri Phillips-Nelson, ADADC District 5 Director, has held an open dairy at her family’s 4th generation farm in Pattersonville, NY.
“It is important that we make ourselves available to people during the winter months, as well,” remarked Phillips-Nelson. “But unfortunately, the weather makes things much more difficult — and it is time consuming. It’s bad enough trying to work around the weather during the other times of the year, but during the winter we are also dealing with potential health issues because of the weather.”
Dygert’s was one of the many dairies that lost their milk market when Elmhurst Creamery went out of business.
“When we lost our milk market with Elmhurst we were fortunate to be picked up by Garelick, which is part of Deans Foods,” reports Dygert. “They are good milk company to work with.”
Dygert says currently they are milking 150 cows, and employ two full-time employees on the farm. “We are still distributing glass bottled milk,” said Dygert.
Dygerts continue to search for and apply for grants while developing a market at the same time.
“We have high hopes of bottling milk in the future.”
The young, 13th-generation dairy farmers say they especially like to give farm tours to children because of the possibility of inspiring them to pursue a career in agriculture.
“They are so excited about everything that they learn,” commented Dygert. “Who knows if just by visiting our farm they will want to become a veterinarian, own a farm of their own or work in an agricultural related field?”