Valley Mound Farms
Scipio Center, NY
When it comes to shining examples of the dedication and hard work of family farmers, the Whitten Family surely fits the bill. Valley Mound Farms in Scipio Center, NY has been in the same family for more than 100 years. Today it is run by the third and fourth generations of the Whitten Family – Gary and Gloria – and their son Michael. This close-knit group works together every day and continues the dairy farm family traditions that make their farm so special.
The Whittens have a history of striving to improve their farming practices and embracing new technology and practices. Their farm was one of the first in Southern Cayuga County to have a milking parlor way back in 1964. This kind of innovative thinking was thanks to the second generation of Whittens, William and Marge.
Their journey has presented them with many challenges along the way. When Michael returned from studying at Cornell in 2003, the farm had expanded to 270 milking cows. In 2008, one month before Michael married his wife Heather, their parlor and dry cow facility burned to the ground – a catastrophe that many might not have recovered from.
Their dedication to family, dairy farming, and the land they loved caused them to gather themselves and their resources and rebuild what they had fought so hard to achieve. Their new facility allows them to milk 380 cows. The herd is made up of about 300 Holsteins and 50 Jerseys, with about 30 crossbreds.
The jerseys are all registered with the US Jersey Association and they are regularly shown at area and state shows. The Whittens welcome the opportunity to talk with the public about their lives as dairy farmers. It is the real motivation for showing their animals. Spreading the word about the importance of dairy farming and family farms has always been an important mission in the Whitten family.
And it seems the tradition will continue. Michael and Heather’s daughters, Payton and Lauren, love their lives on the farm and may well grow up to become the fifth generation of Whitten farmers.
We asked Heather Whitten to answer this week’s Friday Farmer questions. Here are her answers:
What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farm family?
Personally, my favorite part of being a dairy farm family is being able to share our passion with others. I love when people want to tour the dairy or have questions. I feel that as an industry we need to embrace the public’s curiosity for dairy farming. You never know what may be the result. As a matter of fact, I now have two teens that are planning on majoring in dairy science and management that were not farm kids. Their progression of passion for cows is an amazing story.
What is your family’s favorite meal? Care to share a recipe?
Well, that would be grandma’s mac and cheese. I don’t do a lot of the cooking. As a farm family we all help with chores and my mother-in-law, Gloria Whitten, does the bulk of the cooking as well as being the calf manager. She makes excellent mac and cheese. Of course the secret ingredient is lots of Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar.
What is your least favorite farm chore?
My least favorite chore is moving heifers in the heifer barn. Heifers are spunky and curious and I do love that about them. However, curious and spunky animals that have to change pens equals a VERY dirty Heather at the end of the chore. I don’t mind getting dirty, but I’m VERY dirty after moving heifers.
What is your favorite time of year on the farm?
Summer is the best time on the farm, without a doubt. There are two main reasons. First, the smells of summer are amazing and reinforce my love for farming. Fresh cut hay is great! Then too, we show cattle so going to the shows and talking with the public is my other favorite thing. The public truly is just looking for information and who better to answer their questions than a farmer with a real live cow right there beside them?
What is the one thing you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?
The one thing that I wish everyone knew about my job and my life with cattle is that no matter how big a farm is and how many cows they have, we understand the importance of each and every cow to our business. We form a love, respect and relationship in one way or another with every single one. We milk 380 at Valley Mound! There are so many examples of how close to our cows. My husband proposed to me while I was sitting on my favorite cow Jewel, and Jewel came to the wedding! Very often, my daughter Payton uses the cows and farm as the subject for school projects. At the age of nine she already has a true appreciation. In addition, even at our size, we have great cow families and name the babies with the same letter as their mom to keep track of them. It’s great to see the families develop through the years.
It’s truly tough to lose a cow no matter the reason and we, as farmers and animal stewards, do everything we can to save them and get them feeling well and back on their feet. We never like to see them go.