Elliot farm going strong after two centuries
By Joe Moskowitz
Jim Elliott’s great, great, great grandfather moved here from Canada in 1817, cleared the land and started a farm in the New Kingston Valley. He wasn’t alone. Back then, this was cow country. At one time there were more than 50 dairy farms in the New Kingston Valley. Today there are only two; the Elliotts and their neighbors, the Grays, in the entire Town of Middletown. They call themselves “barn door” neighbors. You can tell you are headed toward the Gray family farm because there is an official sign that tells you that you are on Winter Hollow Road. You know you are headed toward the Elliott farm when you see a hand-painted sign that says, “EGGS.”
For nearly 200 years, the Elliotts have been raising chickens but mostly milking cows. Crystal Brook Farms, as they call it, is run by four Elliotts; Jim, Andrea, and their kids, Brittany, and Brian. They are generations six and seven on the land.
A big herd
They have about 100 cows. That’s rather large for an area dairy farm.
“Too large,” says Jim Elliot. He says they are above capacity and will have to pare the herd back to about 82. The size of the herd is based in part on how much it costs to feed them. Last year was tough because drought wiped out large amounts of corn and soybeans in the Midwest. Brittany says when grain prices go up, you need more cows to give more milk to make more money. But if grain prices go up too much, then it costs too much to feed that many cows.
Hard work is key
They make the math work by adding in another factor. Hard work. They plant 50 or 60 acres of corn and harvest as much hay in as possible so they are not as dependent on grain. It is a family business so they don’t have to rely on hired hands. That’s assuming one can even find experienced farm workers. Technology helps. They can take care of the haying by themselves, thanks to the large round bales most farmers now use. And if it rains it’s not the disaster it once was. If it rains on round bales, one fourth of the hay in the bale is ruined. That’s bad. But if it rained on the old rectangular bales, all was lost.
They have also diversified. In addition to their milk cows, Brian takes care of the grass-fed beef cows, which are butchered and sold as beef or veal. He is hoping that the move toward local food will help that part of the business catch on.
Meanwhile, they go about their chores in much the same way the Elliotts have for nearly two centuries. Jim says it’s a struggle, but as long as they can keep paying the bills, the Elliotts will have a farm in New Kingston.