by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Abraham Lincoln said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
This school of thought is well practiced by Lindsey Dairy, located in Burlington Flats, NY.
“We’ve seen low milk prices three times since I started farming over 35 years ago,” said Lee Lindsey, Sr. “It’s like you’ve got a job making $600 a week, then the boss says, ‘now you’re going to get $200 a week.’ This is a time I see milk prices go down and gas prices go up.”
Lindsey, whose dairy herd consists of about 70 Holstein cows and 60 calves and heifers, manages his farm with his wife, Elaine, two sons — Gavin and Lee, Jr., and Lee Jr.’s wife Katie.
Lindsey and Elaine started out in 1982, with a small 30-acre farm, in Madisonville, PA.
They moved to New York State in April 2010, purchasing their 265-acre farm after a 3-year search, when their sons expressed desire to expand the dairy and stay on with the farm.
“Land development kept us from growing where we were, there was no land available around Scranton,” Lee Sr. remarked. “And land taxes exploded!”
“And the boys were really interested in farming,” said Elaine. “So, we relocated.”
Lee Sr. and Elaine say they see family farms falling apart.
“There’s a lot of farms that make bad decisions when the milk prices go down,” observed Lee, Sr. “It’s causing a lot of grief on a lot of farms. It tears families apart. There used to be family farms. Now, no one wants to take the farms over. The family needs to stick together.”
The Lindseys work together with a goal of being as self-sufficient as possible.
“Much of the time over the last eight and a half years has included renovations,” reports Katie, who joined the family in 2016 with her marriage to Lee, Jr.
“Changes to the tie-stall barn include new stalls, barn cleaners, mangers, barn structure and windows, tunnel ventilation, a pipe line milking system and a large front addition that includes utility rooms, a milk house, office and additional cow space. The Cover-All structure went through a complete renovation and is now an area for young stock, including individual calf pens and group housing for heifers. All of the metal roofing and siding came from Mohawk Metal, Westmoreland, NY.”
Fortunately the family has developed skills in carpentry, masonry, with the tenacity and belief that whatever needed to be done, could be learned. They say their focus is on producing high quality forages, milk quality and improving genetics.
The family believes in continuing with education and technology, such as blood testing the herd and soil testing the land, while still keeping restraints on the budget.
Charts depicting daily activities with the farm play a big role in keeping herd and field tasks documented. The family has refrained from implementing costly, high technology such as computer systems. This method works well for them and Lee, Sr. says this way “things are all hands-on.”
Katie notes it is important to use a system that works best for the people doing the documentation, as this promotes reliability, consistency, and lots less stress.
The dairy herd is given the same consideration and there is a focus on cow comfort, high components, and low somatic cell count.
The Lindseys realize that stress has an impact on all of those and observe the herd at all times for tell-tale signs of discomfort in the individual herd members.
“If you watch for signs of stress in the herd, it’s easy to just pick up on it by observing them,” explained Lee Jr.
Both he and Gavin attended hoof trimming school and share herd health duties.
Protocols for the herd are set by Leatherstocking Veterinarian Service.
Gavin works with the veterinarian and takes care of general calf, heifer and cow health treatments, while Lee Jr., who attended A.I. breeding school, takes charge of the reproduction program: breeding and record keeping. This helps keep veterinarian bills lower.
“Lee Jr. works with Select Sires in mating the females within the herd,” reported Katie. “Focusing on fat and protein, production and health traits. Over the last 4 years, the farm has invested more in genetics to improve the quality of the Holstein herd.”
Lee Jr. says heifers are bred at 14 months and re-bred 50-60 days after calving.
He is also in charge of milking, while Gavin and Lee Sr. are in charge of feeding and cleaning barns.
Lindseys grow their feed on the farm and feed no silage at all.
“The feeding philosophy here is a little different than on other farms,” Lee Sr. commented. “We’re not pushing the cows to make 100 pounds of milk.”
Baleage and corn meal are the primary sources of feed with vitamins and minerals added.
Production averages about 60 lbs./ day. However, the Lindseys are satisfied with that because their components are good.
Lindsey figures it costs about $1.80 to feed each cow per day, while he knows some other farms that are spending $4 -$5 per/day/cow. He explains that you pay more to get that 100 lb. milk production.
“My point here is you’ve got to do the math. It isn’t how much milk you make, it’s how much money is left over!”
“We don’t have those 100-pound milk expenses,” Lee Jr. acknowledged.
Lindsey’s are proud to note that they have received awards for their milk.
The farm received the Super Milk award in 2015, 2016 and 2017 — and also received Agri-Mark Cooperative’s Top Milk Quality Award for their region in the fall of 2017.
“To me, Agri-Mark is the best dairy co-op going,” Lindsey attested.
He notes seeing a great improvement in milk quality after installing a new pipeline milking system, purchased 2 years ago through Fisher Farms.
In addition to barn and building renovations, the family has cleared 40 acres of the property, providing 170 tillable acres used for pasture and hay fields. Another 60 acres are rented.
Hay is a mix of orchard grass, clover, and timothy; with orchard grass having been recently tested at 26 percent protein.
“We have good land,” commented Lee Jr. “We are getting five cuttings a year off of the 230 acres.”
The herd is bedded in sawdust that is sourced locally.
Mechanical repairs are handled by Gavin, known as “the mechanic in the family,” repairing diesel engines and providing complete machine maintenance.
“He has also attended welding school and has developed knowledge and strengths in welding,” reports Katie, who brings additional agriculture and dairy industry knowledge to the family, having grown up on a dairy farm as a 4-H member and an active member in the New York Junior Holstein Association. She currently holds a position as a Career and Technical Education teacher and Junior FFA Advisor at Mount Markham Central School, in addition to raising Lee William Lindsey III aka “Trey,” and being active on the farm.
Elaine plays an important role in the daily operations on the farm caring for and feeding the calves, while maintaining flower and vegetable gardens. Canning and freezing fresh produce throughout the summer months supplements winter meals.
Lee Jr., a carpenter by trade, has now established his own wood shop on the farm.
“Balancing farming, family and fun is key,” Katie realizes. “Being a small dairy farm with the current milk prices is challenging,” admits Katie, “but the Lindsey’s continue to plug along as a family – always working to improve milk quality, forage quality and the farmstead.”
Lee Sr. advises young farmers to “live within your means.”
“If you really want to learn about farming,” he says, “talk to someone who started with nothing and has become successful.”