Sean Quinn’s family has always put an emphasis on not only farming the right way, but also on doing the business of farming right. He grew up on his family’s farm in western New York, which was started by his grandparents and then run by his parents. His grandfather graduated from Cornell University and put a premium on education. “Granddad always said, ‘Nobody can ever take an education away from you,’” Sean explains. Sean’s father earned an MBA and also worked as an administrator for the local school district; his mother was a registered nurse. In addition to milking 100 cows, they managed a flock of 500,000 laying chickens and partnered with another farm to raise feed crops. “My dad knew they could be more efficient working together,” Sean says.
Sean followed the family tradition and headed off to Cornell. “It opened my eyes to outside the Northeast, that dairy is global,” he says. “It gave me broader view of world and connected me to so many people, to a vast infrastructure of knowledge.” After school he worked for a short while as a farm appraiser but “it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I like being my own boss. I like being outside, like the animals, the diversity of work.” About 15 years ago, Sean established Easton Dairy near Albany, which he now operates with his wife, Melissa Murray, a doctor of veterinary medicine, and their young son, Levi. In addition to managing a dairy herd of 100 mostly Holsteins with some Jersey and Brown Swiss, he also runs a cropping business with another partner. Although he always keeps an eye on the bottom line, Sean says, “It’s not about money. It’s about enjoying what you do. That’s why I’m still doing it.”
Melissa, a North Carolina native, wound her own way to Cornell after earning an engineering degree elsewhere and working in that field for several years without finding full satisfaction. “I had explored everything in engineering but not found what I loved,” she explains. Refocusing on her passions, she took pre-vet courses and was accepted into the very competitive Cornell DVM program. While there, she worked on the university’s dairy farm and went into mixed practice upon graduation, working with animals from “cows to cats,” a range not unusual in rural areas, although now she works mostly with cows.
The couple agrees that late spring is a favorite time of year when the cows can get out to pasture and “they run around like crazy. That’s fun to watch,” says Melissa. “I love the smell of the soil and all the leaves are coming out,” adds her husband. “In early June, the grass is turning green and I can start working the ground and everything’s really pretty and the blossoms are out.”
Sean’s two grown daughters from a previous marriage have kept the Cornell legacy going and the oldest has returned to run the independent heifer operation with her mother on the same property. The girls help out as needed with the dairy and their little brother also does chores. “Every now and then I’m supposed to do them,” he admits. As Levi explains how he helps feed the calves and finds eggs from the family’s laying flock, he grows more excited. “I name the cows!” he exclaims. “They give us milk and help us make money.”
Clearly, that business sense has made it down to the youngest Quinn.