Nathaniel Richmond would be surprised to learn that the Erie County, NY farm he founded in 1837 is now seeing the seventh generation of the family milking cows on the same farm. If he met Leila Richmond, he’d be proud to see the young woman who grew up on the family farm managing an important segment of the operation.

Despite being raised on the farm, Leila said she was afraid of cows when she was young, but a Brown Swiss heifer turned that fear around.

“I would always pick out a calf to raise at the farm, but when they got big, I was afraid of them,” said Leila. “My mom gave me a March Brown Swiss heifer calf named Daffodil and I worked with her every day since she was little. She became my show cow – I showed her every year and showed a lot of her offspring. I wasn’t afraid of cows anymore – she’s the one that started it for me.”

As she competed with Daffodil in 4-H and open shows, Leila learned more about dairy cattle and the importance of promoting dairy. When Leila became a dairy princess, she had the opportunity to talk with consumers about dairy farming and dairy products.

While Leila wasn’t always sure about what she wanted to do after high school, a future on her family’s farm in North Collins, NY, became more appealing when she started driving and got her first job. “My dad went to Cornell and worked on the farm there, but he didn’t work anywhere else,” she said. “He always told us we couldn’t come back to the farm until we worked somewhere else first.”

Today, the farm is owned by Leila’s father Charles Jr., who serves as the herdsman, and his brother John, who oversees equipment and crops. Other family members active in the business include Charles Jr.’s son-in-law Anthony, who also works on the crop side, and Charles Jr.’s daughters Magdalene and Leila.

After high school, Leila attended SUNY Morrisville where she earned an associate degree in animal science with an emphasis on dairy. As a student, Leila worked on several dairy farms, including one in Tennessee. Leila returned to the family farm in 2018 and became the first full-time female family member on the farm.

Although Leila described her role on the farm as a “general worker” who’s able to fill in wherever needed, she quickly found she likes working with calves. “I didn’t go into caring for calves thinking I would enjoy it,” she said. “But no one was there to do it and we needed someone, so I started reading up on calf care and talked with our vet. I self-proclaimed myself the calf manager and now it’s my favorite job.” She said keeping up with the latest in calf care can be challenging, but she knows how to find the answers to her questions, including following calf care experts on Instagram.

Leila’s calf protocol begins with a passive antibody treatment at birth to protect calves against common calfhood illnesses such as E. coli, coronavirus and rotavirus. Calves’ navels are dipped, then they receive one gallon of colostrum that’s been tested for quality with a refractometer. After vaccination, calves are moved from the maternity pen to the calf barn.

“After the first colostrum, calves get three quarts twice a day so they don’t get scours,” said Leila. “I gradually increase the amount to one gallon and keep an eye on them. If they scour, they get electrolytes with charcoal powder two hours after the morning milk feeding.”

As calves approach two months of age, Leila begins to decrease milk quantity for slow weaning. “If their grain intake is high, I’ll wean them completely,” she said. “They’re eventually moved out of the calf barn to a group pen. It’s nice to have a slower transition and small groupings.” Weaned heifers are raised on other nearby farms as they mature and approach breeding age.

Enthusiastic young dairy farmer encourages others

Although Leila Richmond described her role on the farm as a “general worker” who’s able to fill in wherever needed, she quickly found she likes working with calves. Photo courtesy of Richmond Farms Dairy

In addition to registered Holsteins, Richmond Farms Dairy is home to quite a few Lineback cows, which Leila said are her uncle John’s preferred breed. “He takes them to the Erie County Fair,” she said. “One was Supreme Champion at the fair, and since then, we started flushing her and breeding for more Linebacks.” She added that Lineback components are similar to those of Holsteins, and while some in the breed are small-framed, most are the size of larger cows.

Charles Jr. selects sires based on a variety of traits and uses bulls from several AI companies. “For the Swiss, we work with New Generation a lot,” said Leila. “We ask them for advice because we’re still new to those bulls.” Because Richmond Farms is home to numerous top producers, embryo work helps with genetic preservation and advancement. Holsteins, Brown Swiss and several Linebacks are flushed.

Recipient cows are used for embryos, some of which are owned by other farms who rely on the Richmond family to calve out cows and provide the first several days of post-calving care to both cows and their calves. Richmond Farms also retains bull calves with superior genetics and makes them available for dairies that use bulls for breeding.

The 200 milking cows at Richmond Farms go through the double-10 herringbone parlor thrice daily. Leila often begins her day preparing the parlor and milking, then heads to the calf barn to feed and care for calves. She also helps with daily cleaning of the heifer barn. Manure in the free-stall barns is scraped daily for field application.

The farm manages 720 acres of corn and hay on both owned and rented land. “We don’t make a lot of dry hay,” said Leila. “It’s mostly for dry cows and to take to shows. The rest is for silage.”

Despite her busy schedule, Leila shares her daily life on the farm and actively promotes dairy on social media. She believes providing information about dairy farming is an opportunity to help the non-farm public understand animal agriculture.

Leila has had to deal with animal activists on social media, but often determines negative comments aren’t worth a response. “I usually delete those comments,” she said. “If someone is an activist, there’s no convincing them. But if someone has a question, I can tell them the facts – how everything we do is for the cows and how cow comfort is our top priority.”

Leila has words of encouragement for anyone who’s considering a career in dairy farming. “Just jump in and do it,” she said. “Everyone is hiring now, and they’re willing to teach you. The opportunities are endless – you can do anything anywhere. It’s a rewarding career.”

Follow Leila on Instagram @wnyfarm_her.

by Sally Colby