by Katie Navarra
Growing up in a non-farming suburb of Boston, Matt Cannon, owner of Cannon Cattle Ranch in Pittstown, NY, admits, “I was supposed to go to Yale and become a lawyer.” Summer jobs as a teenager, first at a chicken farm, and second at a dairy farm in Lowville, NY, sparked a passion for the farming lifestyle.
His first fulltime dairy job was working for a farm in Tunbridge, VT. He went on to Vermont Technical College, where he earned a degree in dairy herd management. A week after graduation, Matt purchased 18 Holsteins and rented a farm in Royalton, VT.
Matt’s landlord invited him to attend an Agway dinner where he remembers, “the cutest little red-head sitting at my table.” The red-head, Peggy, was one of eight children raised on a family dairy operation. Six months later, Matt and Peggy were married. “I didn’t know how we were going to make it, but we had the cows and heifers, $1,000 and a pick-up,” she said.
The couple farmed in Vermont for five years and in 1979 purchased the property in Pittstown now known as Cannon Cattle Ranch. The name for the farm was inspired by Matt’s first employer, the chicken farmer in Massachusetts, who once sent a postcard addressed to Matt and Cannon Cattle Ranch.
Today, Matt and Peggy milk around 100 cows and maintain 90 young stock. Heifer calves born on the farm are raised and used in the milking herd when old enough and the bull calves are sold. Most are registered Holsteins, but a few Ayrshire are mixed in the herd as well. On average, the herd produces 70 pounds of milk per cow per day.
Using a unique, eight cow, step-up milking parlor, Matt milks between 30-35 cows per hour. “Some of the cows (those milking for the first time) walk right in and step-up,” Matt explained, “others take a look at it and don’t think it’s such a good idea.” The milk is sold to the Dairy Farmers of America Co-Op .
Production at Cannon Cattle Ranch is not limited to milk. In 2004, the farm added maple syrup to its list of crops produced. Last season, the farm produced 40 gallons of syrup, collected from 120 sugar maple trees on the property and another 300 trees on a neighbor’s property.
“We had a pretty good year last year,” Matt said, “it will be even better this year.” Gravity directs the sap through the tubing system into a holding tank for transfer to the sugar shack. The system is left in place year round and a pressure washer is hooked to the end of the line to clean the lines. “The biggest problem we have is the squirrels chewing through the tubing,” he said.
Protecting the farm
The farming lifestyle is important to Matt and Peggy and conservation for their 358 acres seemed like a natural fit.
“I drive school bus for the Hoosic Valley School and every day I see beautiful farm fields. Now there are houses in many of them and I think, why are they ruining perfectly good farmland, it’s never going to be productive again,” Peggy said.
Working with the Agricultural Stewardship Association, Matt and Peggy do not have to worry that their land will succumb to local development pressure. Funding through the New York State Farmland Protection Program, which was awarded in 2007, allowed the Cannons to protect their property from future development.
At the same time, neighbor Theresa Baum, who rents property to the Cannons was also awarded funding to protect 33 acres, which then provided the Cannons the opportunity to purchase land they rented from Baum at its reduced, agricultural value.
Additional funds provided by the Castanea Foundation helped cover a portion of the transaction fees associated with the conservation. The Castanea Foundation, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, based in Montpelier, Vermont is dedicated to the conservation and protection of agriculturally productive and environmentally significant land and water resources in select areas of Vermont and New York.
In addition to the agricultural easement, a portion of the property is also protected as wetlands through the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), formerly U.S. Soil Conservation. Development is also restricted on protected wetlands.
“I really love the farm,” Matt said, “we don’t have any kids to take it over and we always want it kept as a farm, no matter what.”
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From Yale law to dairy farmer
by Katie Navarra