William Harrigan runs Eagle's Nest Farm in Chateaugay, New York, and it's quite an operation. In fact, it might feel like you were in Australia or New Zealand instead of New York if you visited for a few days. The farm itself is actually two farms, four miles away from each other. Bill has about 150 milkers and 110 young stock on 420 acres.
Unlike most dairy farms in America, the Eagle's Nest Farm is seasonal. That means Bill milks cows from early April until late December each year and then lets them go dry during the winter. Bill was raised on a more standard dairy farm where they milked year round, and it was a big decision to change to a seasonal operation. Says Bill, "The first two years we did this, I held my breath every day. Everything worked out fine at the end of the day, however, and given the topography of my land, this is the best way to do dairy farming." The cattle stay outside during the winter instead of in barns, and they get their warmth and protection from a cluster of pines trees near a hill on the property. "This works out perfectly," says Bill, "and the cows seem to like it. The land is not tillable, so I pasture the cows and supplement with some grain. I have never lost a cow, our vet bills are very low, and the cows produce great quality milk. It's all very close to nature, and the model works well for my farm." In fact, the cows remained in the pasture during the great ice storm of 1998 and weathered it without incident.
Bill's wife Angela is a teacher, and she helps out whenever needed. Bill also owns Bill's Bait and Beer Shop, which remains open throughout the year and caters largely to local fisherman around Lake Chateaugay. As a hedge against the wild fluctuations in milk prices, the family also manages five rental properties. Their four children, Angelica, Jamie, Austin, and Olivia all help out when not in school. Angelica occasionally works at the bait shop, Jamie drives the tractor and helps with haying during the summer, and Austin and Olivia help with the young stock. For the Harrigans, dairy farming is a family affair, and Bill likes it that way. "We have been dairy farmers ever since my grandfather emigrated from Ireland. My mom and dad raised ten sons and three daughters on the family dairy farm, and my three brothers still run the family homestead just one mile from here. It's a great place to raise a family."
Check out our interview with Bill: