Don-Sher Farm, located on a hilly stretch of land a few miles south of the Canadian border in Ellenburg Center, NY, has been owned and operated by Don and Sherry McNeil since 1986. Ellenburg Center is a rich dairy farming community, with its small downtown surrounded by miles of pastures. Since buying the farm the McNeils have raised three children and they care for their mixed herd of Ayrshire and Holstein cattle. The herd has been among the highest quality milk producers in New York.
"In 1984, we began renting the property, and quickly decided to purchase it two years later," says Sherry. "Don and I both grew up on local dairy farms, and after we married, we rented a few dairy operations before deciding on Don-Sher. As a child, my mother was fostered on the property, then known as Bilows Potato Farm. The place was perfect for us; the buildings were in great condition, and the property required little in the way of new construction or renovations, so we could get started on our dairy business immediately. And we did."
Shortly after moving in, the McNeils began building their herd, which was initially comprised of mostly Ayrshires. The couple loved the breed for their longevity and hardiness. The red and white cattle, which originated in the County of Ayr in Scotland, are known for having excellent udder conformation and being less prone to leg problems. Because they are hard to come by, the McNeils began purchasing and breeding more Holsteins, which now constitute the majority of their herd of 60 milkers.
"I love working with the animals," continues Sherry. "It is one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a dairy farm."
The McNeils take great pride in their purebred herd, showing animals at competitions, fairs, and expos in New York, New England, and even at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin. For more than a decade, they've won numerous awards for their milk quality from Agri-Mark, including the Super Dairy Award, as well as multiple Dairy Distinction Awards from the state. The McNeils are also committed to making their operation more environmentally sustainable. They employ an extremely efficient DeLaval Milking System, spread their own manure, and are in the process of adding wind turbines to generate electricity.
While Sherry spends most of her time with the herd, Don manages the property's 200 acres of gravelly, sandy soil, from which alfalfa, timothy, and clover sprouts vigorously. In his free time, Don is on the regional Agri-Mark Resolutions Committee.
Don and Sherry have three children, Glenn, Jenna, and Danielle, all grown and working off the farm, and are expecting their first grandchild in January.