Up close and personal at the dairy farm

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


Milk a cow, visit a farm, meet your farmer and get connected to where your food comes from!


Last week, Farmer Fred Barringer welcomed me to milk cows and shared the joy of farming — as well as the realities of sustaining his 60-plus year farming career despite the challenges of low pay, evolving food truths, recently raised rent on 400 acres he leases and a long list of overhead that makes balancing the books with commodity sales and low volume a true challenge in the business of agriculture. But he does it all with a fabulous disposition and has great knowledge to share.


Barringer has been farming since he was born influenced from both sides of his farming families. As a ninth generation American farmer, his legacy dates back to Johannes Barringer from Germany who settled in Rhinebeck in 1710. His grandfather, Ernest Barringer, and his father, Lee Barringer, owned family farms in Allegany County, New York. In 1971, Barringer continued the tradition and started his own farm on Center Hill in Craryville, where his maternal Uncle Ernest had also farmed registered Holstein cows for dairy production that Barringer continues milking today with his wife Donna.


Everyone pitches in to help at the Hill-Over Healthy & Fresh Farm located on Route 22, between Hillsdale and Millerton, in Copake. The two Barringer daughters — Hope and Vanessa, and their children Brock and Carli Sue, Colin and Allie, range in age from 6 to 17 years and assist with feeding, chores, marketing, sales and morale! The average age of the entire 160 herd at Hill-Over is 5 to 6 years old and it’s a very scheduled life. The cows don’t like change and the farmers don’t either. “People who are routine do better with cows,” Barringer said.


The barn is kept so fastidiously clean you could eat off the floor. The cows are in freshly sawdust coated stalls of super soft mats made of recycled sneakers. Four times a day new sawdust is added to each cow bed and constant “scraping” ensures cleanliness all day long in the stall and on the cows — even their tails are hand washed and brushed each day to keep manure and bacteria away from production.


Local quality dairy products should be on your weekly shopping list without exception. At Fred and Donna Barringer’s Hill-Over Healthy & Fresh Farm you have the luxury of drinking better quality milk — that means clean, comfortable happy cows that make milk taste better and are delivered to your door in glass bottles you will love. And they even make it convenient to shop — you can sign up online and add many other local meats, cheeses, eggs, maple or honey products to your weekly grocery list.


Barringer shared the secrets to quality milk. “The strip cup [a tin cup and screen to measure quality] and visually inspecting the cow before milking. If you don’t like the way anything looks or smells — don’t put it in the line — throw out any abnormal milk. When you are milking your own cows — you take time to know the animals and our attitude is different. Our fathers and grandfathers all used the strip cup not hormones.”


This takes time — which costs money but is the reason Hill-Over milk is among the lowest somatic cell count (a measure of bacteria in our milk) for dairy in the region. “Today in hurry-hurry and bustle, big dairy farms don’t take time to make sure the milk is quality — so we may be slower or less efficient but because we are paid pennies on the gallon we can’t afford to sacrifice quality and you get what you pay for. What we sell is a really good buy and we are building new clients in our small scale dairy farm production,” Barringer said.


Stop by Hill-Over Healthy & Fresh from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 24 — learn how to milk a cow, take a tour or sign up for their old-fashioned delivery service. Barringer’s milking herd of 72 Holstein and Brown Swiss dairy cows are “Dancing — Always Dancing” with Barringer as he empties their udders twice-daily producing fresh local milk with his workers Gary Hoffman and Willie — some of the happiest guys you’ll ever see milking — they whistle, sing and joke as they work!


The total of 160 cows on the farm are happy too. They feed on a locally grown diet Barringer works with a technician to formulate from crops he grows on the land that Junior Main cultivates. “What you see is what you get,” Donna Barringer told me. And you can taste the difference the milk is so fresh and nutritious.


Brock Barringer, at 17 years of age, said to Barringer, “I want you to teach me everything you know about farming,” a clear successor to this family farm and always eager to work.


“This is the greatest place in the world for kids to grow up — they learn a lot about real life with cows. My favorite cow “Beetlejuice” lived to be 16 years old and we buried her on the farm and have a plaque — so we all learn the cycle of life — they are family. The farm builds character and integrity and teachers you how to work and to embrace technology — farming has changed tremendously in 30 years,” Barringer said. And will continue to do so for the better we hope.


Carli Sue is also out feeding the cows even at 10 below zero, knowing all too well that farming is not a job — but a way of life for the Barringer family. Barringer told me “If you don’t like what you do you can’t do it — and you don’t do it for the money — you never quite have enough. Dairy farming for the last five years has been really bad and the last three months we are recovering but you can’t catch up five years of losses in three months — and when your rent goes up it’s harder.”


Barringer continued, “Eisenhower wanted cheap food so families could buy other things and travel — even a newspaper is a luxury item at the farm. Dairy farms got into trouble when we went to ethanol — from corn — we put all of our corn into gasoline and made the price of corn inflated — cost of goods went up and then grain became too expensive to feed 70 percent roughage to grain vs 60 percent grain to roughage. That’s when milk [pricing] fell out in 2009 at $11 per hundred weight — we couldn’t pay our bills so farmers borrowed or quit.”


When the cost of production exceeded the commodity price, consumers didn’t like it because food costs went up and instead of paying more for quality food we focused on convenience — sacrificing nutrition and relying on science to feed the masses.


Barringer follows his family tradition from the 20th century and his herd grazes on grasses roaming the countryside to supplement their diet with grass-fed benefits. This maintains a quality standard far exceeding other co-mingled milk sources and compels you to skip organic-labeled milk and buy fresh local products packed with nutrition. It just makes sense.


After milking, Donna pointed to all of the cows lying down in their beds chewing their cud, “Look at the girls, they have been milked and are resting happily. Imagine most don’t know even where our food comes from.” Well WE do now! Thank you Donna and Fred for working hard to feed us good food, honestly made that makes us happy, too. That’s what we all want. Get involved and eat local. FarmOn!


To contact that author, email tessa@ or follow @FarmOnFarmOn on Twitter.


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