Conn. Farmer Takes Advantage of Niche Market for Local Beef

5/17/2014 7:00 AM
By Sarah L. Hamby Connecticut Correspondent

THOMPSON, Conn. — Jonathon Eddy, a second-generation farmer at Fabyan Farm and the owner of New Boston Beef LLC, will be 31 years old on Wednesday. He was about 7 years old when his father, Ross E. Eddy, county executive director with the USDA Hartford/Tolland Farm Service Agency, sold the family’s herd of dairy cows.

From 1981-1991, Ross Eddy milked cows. That was until the “milk price was $11.35 a hundredweight. I enjoy work,” Ross Eddy said. “But I don’t enjoy paying to go to work.”

Taking a page from his father’s book, young Jonathon Eddy was an enterprising youth, selling pumpkins at a roadside stand when he was just 9 years old. When that no longer suited him, he started raising dairy replacement heifers. By the age of 16, he had a couple of head of beef cattle that he purchased from local farmers, and he just “went from there,” Ross Eddy said.

Today, Jonathon Eddy has 56 Simmentals and Simmental-Hereford crosses at the farm in Thompson, which his parents still own and is the place he runs his business, New Boston Beef.

The bulls, cows and calves were just put out to pasture last weekend on 25 acres of fresh grass. Jonathon Eddy rents an additional 100 acres in Dudley, Mass., for hay, which is about two miles from the home farm. His single show heifer, a Simmental heifer calf, is also kept in Dudley.

“There was dairy here when I was a kid,” Jonathon Eddy acknowledges. “These past four months, dairy products have been doing pretty well; they are actually getting paid for what they are doing right now.”

Eddy’s biggest issue with dairy is “the farmer is not dictating what they are getting for their product. Someone else is. Right now dairy is high, and beef is high, too.”

And locally raised, USDA-inspected beef is in high demand.

“It’s a niche market,” Jonathon Eddy said. “So when I hear that I am cheaper than Whole Foods, I know that I can go up in price It’s still working seven days a week, but at least I don’t have to milk them twice a day.”

His beef cattle are bred on-site, preferably through artificial insemination. It’s a busy time for Eddy right now; farmers markets are opening and he’s had 10 cows calve in the last eight days. To save time and money, Eddy hires out hauling — animals ready for slaughter are transported to family-owned and operated Lemay & Sons Beef LLC in Goffstown, N.H., which is USDA-certified in carcass and cut. Eddy picks the packaged meat up himself — 96 miles each way — every two to three weeks, from May through October.

In 2010, he put in a walk-in freezer so he could do more animals at once, cutting down on the number of trips he has to make.

“That’s why I outsource the hauling,” he said. “It’s just cheaper to pay somebody.”

Saving time and money is important to Eddy. He’s the face of New Boston Beef, and while he puts in a significant amount of time at the farm and spends a lot of time helping out neighbors and serving the community, he’s also at multiple farmers markets in the state.

The Coventry Regional Farmers Market summer market runs June through October. Eddy, along with many other local farmers, also takes advantage of the winter market, which runs from mid-November through the end of February. He also participates in the popular Ellington Market at Harvard Park on Saturdays and he’s in Putnam, Conn., on Thursday afternoons with the Northeast Connecticut Farmers Market.

“People prefer to buy local from the farmer; someone they can talk to,” he said.

Farmers market customers typically ask Eddy how the animals were raised, what they eat and if they are humanely slaughtered.

In the beginning, Eddy only processed a few animals a year. Now, he processes 25 or more. By the hanging weight, meat costs $5 a pound. The hanging weight in winter is about 800 pounds, while the hanging weight in summer is 700-750 pounds.

Being your own boss is self-rewarding, Eddy said.

“You’ve accomplished something at the end of the day. Unless everything goes wrong,” he said.

What could go wrong in an open field of brood cows and their calves? Eddy calls to them by name: Tulip, Daffodil, Myrtle, Daisy — a virtual garden of motherly mooing. They are wary, but trusting for the most part, nursing and cleaning their calves — Paddy, Blaze, Rocko.

“They’re brood cows,” he laughingly defends. “So it’s a little easier to get attached to them, I’d say.”

There are 20 brood cows with their calves. In another field, there are nine heifers with two steers. The breeders of those nine will remain on the farm. The others won’t be so lucky.

Cows can usually give birth on their own.

“Usually after the first calf, they are golden,” he said. “First-calf heifers, I at least like to be there.”

Cows are not used for meat at New Boston Beef. They offer a lower yield than the males, Eddy said, and the uterus takes up a significant amount of space.

Doing business in Thompson is pretty good, Eddy said. As a startup, there’s still depreciation, so taxes are not yet a concern.

“It’s kind of a trade-off with the land I rent in Dudley,” he said. “I do have more feed than I need. But I have beef in the summer, hay in the winter.”

The town recently passed exemptions similar to those in nearby Woodstock, Conn., offering tax exemptions on farm buildings and equipment valued up to $250,000. Eddy laughed and shared that in another local town, he had heard that having just three cows could be considered “industry.”

In February, Connecticut began enforcing a state law that requires metal tags for cattle and swine. According to the website, aphis.usda.gov, The National Uniform Eartagging System is a “numbering system for official eartags used for many years in specific animal disease programs. The NUES has been used primarily for metal brucellosis vaccination eartags, brite metal identification eartags, and Dairy Herd Information Association (DHIA) eartags.”

Aside from the headaches this can cause, Eddy says he’s doing all right, and the meat market’s treating him well.

He has an arrangement with his parents.

“I do all of the firewood and they don’t have to buy pork or beef,” he said. Pork and beef are mealtime staples at the Eddy household.

“I do eat my vegetables,” Eddy said. “I just prefer my beef and pork.”

Eddy even likes pigs.

“They have a lot of personality. More than chickens,” he said. He has no qualms about eating bacon with his eggs, instead of steak.

“Of course I eat bacon. Who doesn’t eat bacon?”

New Boston Beef is sold by the whole, half, quarter or select cuts. Beef is USDA-inspected, wrapped and flash-frozen.

Visit Jonathon Eddy and New Boston Beef at the farm store, by appointment only, at Fabyan Farm in the village of Fabyan in Thompson, Conn., or at one of several seasonal farmers markets.

Learn more at www.newbostonbeef.com or find them on Facebook.


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