Challenges Aside, Dairy Family Hopeful for the Future

6/8/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

NORTHUMBERLAND, N.Y. — Chad Barber drives a large chopper around a field of freshly-cut hay, filling load after load onto trucks that haul them back to his farm a few miles down the road.

A companion, his pet dog Bella, lies peacefully at his feet inside the air-conditioned cab as Barber operates the huge farm equipment for hours on end.

“She’s my co-pilot,” he says, smiling.

There isn’t a second to lose, but the job still gives Barber time to think about the reasons he likes farming.

“The nice part is when you get all done and there’s a big field all nice and clean,” he said. “You can see what you’ve accomplished.”

That’s one part of it.

He also likes it when one of his three young girls comes out to watch what their father is doing. Guys who head to a business office in a suit and tie don’t get to share their careers with their children very often. For Barber, 35, and his wife, Amber, 32, it’s a way of life, which they wouldn’t have any other way.

“One of the best things is being able to raise kids on a farm,” Chad Barber said. “That’s how I grew up.”

At a time when many young people are getting out of the business of farming, the Barbers are constantly making plans for the future. The past year hasn’t been easy, following the passing of Chad Barber’s father, Clint, last Thanksgiving Day.

However, there’s a family legacy that Chad Barber is determined to carry on.

“He’s so driven,” said Linda Barber, his mother and the farm’s business manager. “Chad has a goal and a game plan.”

Barber Brothers Dairy was founded in 1939 by Chad Barber’s grandfather, William, and a great uncle, Elton. “They sold eggs and did contract work, anything to make a buck,” Linda Barber said.

When Clint Barber graduated from Cobleskill College in 1967, the farm had 60 milk cows. Since then it’s increased tenfold to almost 600.

Barber Brothers is one of the roughly three dozen farms that sells milk to Stewart’s Shops, a Saratoga Springs-based company with 325 convenience stores. In addition to fresh local milk, the firm is also world-famous for its award-winning ice cream.

In 2009, in the midst of the nation’s economic downturn, the farm was doing everything it could just to make ends meet. Having survived, it’s now set a path toward success, still fraught with challenges, but with more hope of reward for all the hard work that goes into it.

Recently, under Amber Barber’s direction, the Barbers set up a new calf-feeding operation after she and Chad Barber took part in a class hosted by Cornell University. Instead of housing calves in individual hutches and hand-feeding them, the animals are grouped by age and allowed free run inside pens where they drink milk from mounted bottles any time they want.

“They can drink all day and all night, so they’re never hungry,” Amber Barber said. “A calf that isn’t hungry is less likely to get sick. Plus, they grow way faster.”

Calves are fed waste milk with a formic acid additive that acts as a preservative. By installing a radiant heat floor in the room where milk is held, calves are always getting a nice warm supply to drink.

“It took some time, it took some money, but the calves are so much more comfortable; they’re happy,” Linda Barber said. “Plus, it saves us a great deal of time and labor. Instead of having to feed them twice daily, they can drink any time they want.”

The 1,000-acre dairy operation is located on Route 32 in eastern Saratoga County, a rich agricultural area surrounded by several other farms.

“Everybody helps each other out,” Linda Barber said. “There’s unity in numbers. If you were the sole farm, they’d be trying to push you out. Neighbors wouldn’t like things like tractors and farm smells.”

Even in this environment there’s still plenty to be concerned about.

As nearby farms get bigger, there’s more competition for land, which is also threatened by pressure from residential development. Saratoga County is the fastest growing area of upstate New York, primarily because of a booming high-tech industry based about 10 miles away where a $6 billion computer chip company is located.

That firm, GlobalFoundries, has brought many high-paying jobs to the area whose people are looking for high-end homes on large parcels.

As a kid, Chad Barber just did what his father told him to and that was it.

Now, as the farm’s operator in charge of the dairy herd and crops, his role has changed significantly. “You’ve got to look at the big picture,” he said. “There’s more management.”

However, the family works as a team with help from more than 20 employees who are needed to keep things running smoothly. Of all the reasons he likes farming, for Chad Barber, one stands out above all the rest.

“I was born and raised into it,” he said. “I like being my own boss.”<\c> LF20130608N_post-barber-01-04

Photos by Paul Post

1.

Chad Barber harvests hayload from the comfort of his modern chopping machine. The cab is air-conditioned and has computerized equipment.

2.

Getting in a load of fresh-chopped haylage.

3.

Linda Barber points out the new concrete lining at the farm’s manure lagoon. The project was done to comply with state environmental regulations.

4.

Linda Barber and son, Chad, owners of Barber Brothers Dairy in Northumberland, N.Y.


Will the new Dairy Margin Protection Program eventually pay off for farmers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

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9/21/2014 | Last Updated: 4:01 PM