The Farms of Washington County: Battenkill Valley Creamery

December 01, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Located in Salem, NY, Battenkill Valley Creamery is a fifth generation family dairy, run by Seth McEachron and his family. “A 130 plus years ago we started farming in this valley,” said McEachron. “My grandfather, Leon McEachron, moved the farm to where we are today. We still farm the land behind the original farm, but moved in 1945. He had 12 cows and then gradually expanded from there. Right now we’re milking around 700 between two farms. We bought a second dairy farm in 2015 from the Skellie family, which was the biggest expansion in all the generations.”

McEachron has spent most of his life on the farm, but did take a brief hiatus for college and several years after. “I grew up here with my parents Don and Tracy,” said McEachron. “Dad recommended that I go do something other than farming and go for something non-agricultural based for college, to make sure that farming was what I really wanted to do. That led me to Skidmore College in Saratoga. I studied business and economics there. I worked for Farm Credit East for two years after graduating in 2003. The plan was to work for four, but back in 2003, we were already looking around at the possibility of bottling our own milk. The dairy industry pricing is volatile, and lately it’s been just as bad. It got put on the back burner until 2006 when it was another bad year, and that was when we decided if we were going to to do it, we wanted to be the first ones in the area to start bottling our own milk. We started working on the creamery in September 2006 and by February 2008 we were bottling milk. We spent that time researching the process. We went to different places in the Northeast to see the process, and decided we were going to do it. We were already milking 350 cows and figured if anything, we would downsize the herd for the creamery. That didn’t happen though. By 2012 we were using all of the milk from the cows at the creamery. In 2013-2014 we were buying milk to supplement, and in 2015 we bought the second farm so we didn’t have to do that anymore. The parlor at the new farm was outdated and labor intensive there, so we decided to put robotic milkers in place in 2016. By 2019 we had 6 robots installed, which lets us milk 300 to 330 cows.”

For Battenkill, the growth was meteoric. “For the first eight to ten years, I don’t know how we grew as fast as we did and kept our head on straight,” said McEachron. “We already had a farm that was operating at a higher capacity than the creamery did which helped. The creamery just needed to run more and more. So we added more employees and grew the infrastructure needed to provide delivery options. Once we grew beyond the original size of the farm, that’s where the expense came. When I add 50 cows, that’s a $500,000 investment. That’s the cost of cows, the milking equipment, barn to house, land to feed, labor to manage, etc. It’s extremely asset intensive to produce more milk than we currently are. We doubled in size for the first three years, and didn’t have a year under 25% for the first ten years. And that 25% growth from year nine to ten was bigger than doubling the first two years. We’re really starting to growing again post Covid-19 too.”

Even with the growth, Battenkill remains family run. “My dad manages and oversees the home farm, he works down there majority of his time,” said McEachron. “I’m in the plant and harvesting crops. I mostly focus on the creamery and oversight of the other farm, but the farm manager down there makes it mostly self-sufficient. My mom Tracy does all the books. A few employees help out with receivables, but she does all the payables. It’s still pretty much all family, but good employees are what make it possible. We have around 40 employees between the creamery and two farms, with a few more in the summer for part time help. We’re born and raised doing it. It’s what we’ve always done. When you have the infrastructure for a 400 cow dairy, what is the other option. You either make it work or you have to sell. It’s easier to transition a 40 cow dairy to something else. But we have so much infrastructure it would be difficult. I felt that there was an opportunity to be successful if we could diversify and cut out the middle man and bottle our own milk, and that’s what we decided to do.”

Despite his father’s push to explore other options, McEachron always knew that the farm was where he wanted to be. “I always planned on coming back,” said McEachron. “I didn’t see anything else that drew me in the way this does. It was my gut feeling that I wanted to continue. I’ve never felt like there was a time where I didn’t want to go back to the farm. It’s rewarding that we can make something from scratch from the ground up. We grow the crops to feed the cows that we’ve raised since calves. We take care of them, and then they provide the wonderful product that we sell to the public. It’s nice to hear the feedback from people that they love what we make.”

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC).
 


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