By Herbert Grommeck
Andes once again lost an operating dairy farm when the cows left the Grommeck Acres farm in May, and the equipment was auctioned on June 2. Grommeck Acres, located in Gladstone Hollow, has been operated by the Grommeck family for 3 generations. 65 of the cows were sold to a Pennsylvania Dutch farm near Reading, Pennsylvania; some went to Hamden; and a few stayed in Andes.
Paul and Emma Grommeck, purchased the original farmstead in 1936 from Jim Doig. They milked 12 cows by hand, raised chickens and pigs, and grew a big vegetable garden. Since then, the farm has expanded to its present capacity of 110 milking cows and 90 heifers and calves.
Paul Grommeck, like the many other farmers in Andes, shipped his milk to the Andes Co-operative Creamery in 100lb. milk cans. The milk was cooled at the farm with water from a spring. At the creamery, they were weighed, dumped into large tanks, and processed into butter, powdered milk, or shipped as fluid milk. Dairy farming at that time was quite simple and labor intensive for the whole family. Milking machines and horse drawn implements reduced the manual labor required on the farm.
In 1945 they purchased a tractor. This and other large labor saving equipment made it feasible and more profitable to have larger farms.
As the neighboring farms became available they purchased more land for grazing and crops. In 1947 Paul Grommeck bought Harry Jackson’s farm, which had some sheep, as well as cattle and pigs. It included many acres of woodland located on Mt. Pisgah, which was later developed as Catskill (Bobcat) Ski Center. Later they added farms once operated by Karl Dehmel and Corby Bouton.
As the farm expanded, they accommodated the milking cows in the original barn by lengthening it with three additions. Improved technology equipment for the milking, feeding, and manure systems were installed. These could be paid for by the increasing milk production.
However, in recent years, with milk prices at 1950s level, and the cost of fuel, equipment, and other expenses going higher and higher, the family dairy farmer came under great pressure to survive. This is especially true in hilly areas with narrow valleys such as Andes. As agriculture technology advanced, the hundreds of small dairy farms in Andes consolidated or closed down until there are now only 8 remaining.
The fertile fields and slopes of Gladstone Hollow were great for grazing cattle and cultivation using horses or small tractors. However, plowing the soil to grow corn using large tractors is tricky in the rocky and sometimes wet soil, and causes long-term erosion problems. Spreading manure in the harsh winter climate, and making hay in the unpredictable summer weather is difficult.
Through selective breeding, dairy cows have become much better milk producers. However, this change in genetics has also created weaknesses. The modern cow is larger and less mobile. She has a shorter productive life span, requires more attention, and uses more medication. She is more finicky in her diet and prefers a large amount of corn and other grains with the proper amount of fat, protein, and minerals. She has a harder time getting to her feet. Losing her strength and ability to get up is usually fatal, as for a horse that breaks a leg. She has birthing problems and may require medication for “milk fever” or even surgery. An infectious disease such as mastitis, which is common in dairy barns, constantly needs to be controlled using pre- and post- milking udder dips.
The original Grommeck barn was designed and built to hold two rows of cows on the main level with a very large haymow above. A horse-drawn wagon would be pulled through behind the cows and the manure removed from the gutters using a shovel. Horses would also draw the hay wagons into the haymow driveway and the hay was thrown into the haymow using a pitchfork. Later, tractors and square bales of hay were used causing much greater stress on the barn structure. The use of silos presented difficulties in feeding within the limited space in front of the stalls. The barn was also not suitable for feeding the large round bales, preferred by many farmers. As cows became larger over the years, their stalls were cramped and could not easily be expanded.
When Paul Grommeck started farming, business transactions were done using cash and deals were made with a handshake. Today’s family farm is a complex business. Financial accounts and records must be kept, bills and taxes must be paid, data on individual cows must be maintained, equipment monitored, and contracts signed. Proper records must be kept for hired labor, contractors, and inspections. Conformance to difficult regulations from the Department of Health and other governmental agencies is required and high tech equipment must be operated and repaired.
Working on the family dairy farm closely with nature and friendly animals can be very satisfying, but the cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year, and may require attention any time of day or night. It is easy to understand why these conditions have discouraged young people from going into small-scale dairy farming. ~