Northland Sheep Dairy Farm Tour – Student Post by Ben
As part of TC3’s integrated pest management (IPM) program for the summer of 2017, the class went on a field trip to Northland Sheep Dairy. Located in Marathon NY, amidst beautiful hilly countryside, Northland is “a 100% grass-fed seasonal sheep dairy powered by draft horses & mules and some committed, hard-working farmers,” to quote their website’s welcome page, which you can find at www.northlandsheepdairy.com. We were joined by a class from Binghamton University Acres Farm and the VINES program from Binghamton, and we made for a very large group altogether.
We were introduced to the farm by Northland Sheep Dairy co-owner Donn Hewes, the man with a passion for and in charge of the draft animals used for power in the fields and property. He showed us the barn where the animals are kept and explained a bit about the nature and nurture of these horses and mules. These included Percheron and Belgian varieties of draft horses, and Suffex mules and Cleveland Bay mule crosses.
It was a treat to be able to see an operation that implements work animals on a farm, as we have learned that there are a variety of benefits of an integrated farming system. The horses and mules not only provide work in return for calories taken directly from the farm they live on (in grass and hay) but also cycle those nutrients through their manure, and reduce the need for external sources of energy (diesel for tractors, grain based feeds). The horses and mules are fed on a permanent pasture system, which means that the land for grazing is always for grazing, as opposed to cropping it one year and grazing the next or some permutation of the like.
Then, Maryrose Livingston, the other co-owner of Northland Sheep Dairy, and the woman with a passion for sheep and in charge of the dairy portion of the operation, took us to see the small herd of 33 crossbred sheep. They were in a field a ways off, merrily nibbling at the grasses and weeds in their movable grazing block.
This flock is milked twice daily, morning and evening, and is kept separate from the young, who go generally to 100% grass fed meat production. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see any of the cheese making operation or facilities, but good photos and descriptions are available on the Northland Sheep Dairy website.
Among the more technical aspects of the operation, at least to an outside observer, was the machinery used to make the hay on the farm. The machines were all of the horse-powered variety, and they ranged from a hundred years old to quite modern. These included mowers, tedders (a machine used after cutting to fluff and aerate the hay on the ground), rakers, and balers.
These pieces of equipment are integral to the production of the hay feed that all of their animals eat. Their newly raised barn is just right for storing it from the elements. There is a good video on YouTube that shows the mowing process. It is not from Northland Sheep Dairy, but the machine and setup would be nearly identical. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coNMQIdPYnQ.
There was so much to see on this trip to Northland Sheep Dairy, it was a shame that we actually had a schedule to keep and could not take it all in. What we did get to see was enjoyed, I think, by all of us there. We at TC3 farm were very thankful to them for opening their doors and their time to us, and for all that we learned that day, which was much and valuable.