by Troy Bishopp
BERNE, NY — “Clean enough to eat off the concrete,” was echoed by many of the over 950 guests who visited Albany County’s CN Tommell Cattle Company during the 2nd annual Family Farm Day. Hungry for knowledge, agri-tainment, beef and a glimpse into a working beef cattle operation, from nose to double-decker trucks, capital region residents left learning the positive contributions farmers make to their communities every long day.
“CN Tommell Cattle Company is just one of the more than 6,000 beef producers who work hard every day to provide top care to their animals and produce high quality beef. It is important for beef producers to share their story and connect with consumers to answer questions about the beef industry,” said Katherine Brosnan, Director of Industry Relations and Consumer Promotions for the New York Beef Council.
Volunteers and the team at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County who worked diligently to put the logistics in place for this event, partnered with the Tommell family this year, because it represented a diverse, modern example of how beef production can be done in the Northeast and beyond. The Sunday showcase also highlighted a first generation farm family’s grit and determination to be successful in a very competitive market.
Growing up, Nick Tommell never wavered in his work ethic and enthusiasm for the cattle business as he mentored at the family’s Hilltop Farms in Voorheesville, NY. While many classmates chose other professions outside of agriculture, Tommell was learning to drive tractor-trailers, honing his cattle buying negotiating skills, feeding cows and studying commodity pricing. He earned a not-so-traditional bachelor’s degree in finance while cattle farming/buying on nights and weekends and turning wrenches on trucks. “We often wondered when he slept,” said wife, Theresa, a veterinarian at the “Just Cats” Veterinary Clinic in Guilderland, NY.
The Family Farm Day was more than educating consumers about the merits of beef; it was a celebration and an understanding on how much sweat equity it took by the young couple to arrive at this next chapter. Although the 120-acre hill farm only started 11 years ago, the origins, including a now retrofitted, hand-hewn, Dutch barn dates back to 1770. The former dairy farm is home to around 250 head on feed, purchased from neighbors who sell forage and grain.
Nick and his employees buy and aggregate pastured beef cattle from farms and sale facilities across the Northeast and bring them home to be “backgrounded” and put through a custom feeding and health preconditioning program before he sends them on his trucks to Kansas to be finished at 1,200 to 1,400 pounds for specific markets.
The savvy businessman has penciled his tight margins and benefits from the scale of the Kansas feedlots in driving down feeding costs. “The feedlots are located in parts of the Midwest where all the corn is grown and who gets about one-tenth of the precipitation that the Northeast does,” Tommel said. “This leads to fewer environmental regulations and less cost. There is also more competition for finished cattle in the Midwest, as there are about five major meat packers that bid on my cattle; as opposed to the Northeast, with only three.”
The heart of the farm is a new “state of the art” housing that is light, airy and open which contains the latest in hydraulic, silent working facilities and safe cattle loading chutes. It is equipped with weighing technology and camera viewing along with spacious pens, ample feeding area and a well-managed manure storage. “A lot of what you see speaks for itself. We take pride in what we do. It’s a mindset,” said Tommell. “When you walk through our barns, you’ll be able to see healthy cattle and see facilities that have been designed with best practices for low-stress handling in mind.”
Since the September Family Farm Day was a chance to bridge the disconnect between agriculture and the consumer, families got to tour the farm, check out the tractors and equipment used on the farm, pet other ruminants, visit with agriculture agencies and businesses, get a pony ride, experience a tractor-trailer rig, play in the large hay bale maze, snap a picture, listen to music, collect beef recipes and sample some delicious food while supporting the Berne and Knox Fire Departments.
The New York Beef Council offered children the opportunity to learn more about beef cuts and what part of the animal they come from through a hands-on and interactive puzzle. Many adults also enjoyed the activity commenting that they too need a refresher sometimes on all the various cuts available. Recipe brochures and meat cut charts were also available at the event and through the new website.
“The Family Farm Day was a great celebration and showcase of beef production in New York State. We are grateful to Nick and Theresa Tommell and their employees for opening their farm gate to visitors and openly answering questions about cattle handling, animal nutrition and care,” said Brosnan.
“Serving on the planning committee and participating in the Family Farm Day event since its inception in 2017 has provided the Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District staff the opportunity to engage with both the youth and adults. The venue provides them with information on how we can help to conserve our natural resources as we partner with other agencies to broaden our reach about the positive roles that agricultural producers have in our communities,” said Susan L. Lewis, Administrative Manager & Technical Assistant for Albany SWCD.
Ashley Pierce, an agriculture educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County, said, “Attendees really enjoyed being hands-on with the farm and various stations. I can say that everyone I talked to left feeling good about what they saw and experienced. We will continue to utilize this hands-on time to create teaching opportunities where people can have a deeper understanding of how food gets from the farm to their plate. This style of outreach seems the most successful with consumers, as well as being more memorable.”
“Making an intimate connection with actual people from the industry is so important as most consumers are several generations removed from the farm. A huge goal for this event was to help bridge that gap, creating a better awareness of the high animal welfare standards and environmental care put in place on the farm.”
For more information on local agriculture, please contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County with any questions at 518.765.3500 or