Creek's Edge Elk Farm proves that dairy farms can be about more than just dairy. The 300 acre farm, located just south of Adirondack State Park in Fort Plain, NY, is home to nearly 20 elk in addition to their herd of Holsteins. In 2003, Susan Keith along with her daughter Stacy Handy, decided to portion a plot of their land to raise elk, selling the meat at their farm store and at local farmers' markets.
"My husband Joe and I have been dairy farmers all of our lives," says Susan, "but we saw an opportunity to raise and sell elk meat, so we purchased our first elk from a farm in Buffalo. We quickly realized from speaking to our customers that there was a real desire for healthy, locally raised meat. That encouraged us to continue growing our elk business, and got us thinking about how we could continue to grow. In 2007, our daughter Stacy and her husband Israel began raising and selling beef on their farm. In 2010 we formed Crum Creek CSA, adding pastured hogs, lamb and chicken. Our sales from our farm store, farmers' market trips, and website, have been growing since."
Unlike the farm's cows, who come and go as they please from their freestall barn, the elk prefer to spend their days outside, especially looking forward to the winter, when they can bed down in the snow. They roam the 30 acre plot, grazing during the day and taking shelter from the sun under the property's maple trees. Susan and Joe grew up on dairy farms in Massachusetts, but with the local population growing and available farm land becoming more scarce, elected to move to New York in 1990. Susan left her childhood farm in Brookfield - the same one that produced Elsie the Borden Cow in the 1930s - and purchased the Keith Dairy Farm, which later included Creek's Edge Elk Farm.
"For the first 13 years, we were your traditional dairy farmers," continues Susan, who also serves as the chairman of the Montgomery County Agricultural Economic Development Committee. "At our peak, we had 115 milkers, but in 2002 as Stacy was nearing her college graduation, we began researching the elk business. In 2003, while Stacy was planning for her wedding, we decided to go for it. That was a busy year; we had a wedding to plan, a mile of new fence to put up for the elk farm and a full-scale dairy farm to run at the same time. In the end, we had a beautiful wedding and a profitable elk meat business."
Family is everything to Susan and Joe, who are grateful to get to spend so much time with their daughter and son-in-law, and their four grandkids.
"Getting to spend time with my family is the biggest payoff," says Susan. "I handle the hands-on animal and farm work, while Stacy takes care of the website and marketing. More than anything else, I look forward to our farmers' market trips; the car packed with my daughter and four grandchildren, talking and laughing and playing games the whole time. It makes all of the hard work worth it."
Visit Us: Creek's Edge Elk Farm and Crum Creek CSA