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Skaneateles Dairy Farm Resists Nation’s Trend

Katie Alexander

Skaneateles, N.Y. —Rose Burtless, head milker at Elmer Richards and Sons Dairy Farm in Skaneateles, said her farm is lucky. She said as a dairy farm, it isn’t as negatively affected by the poor economy as many of the nation’s other industries.
Burtless explains that jobs cannot be cut in dairy farming. There will always be a demand for milk, and the job of caring for dairy cows will never disappear. Burtless said she is optimistic about the financial future of dairy farming.
Yet across the country, the low demand for milk means the profit dairy farmers can receive for their products is shrinking. “Dairy farms are heading into one of their worst years ever,” according to an article in the Syracuse Post-Standard earlier this month.

When we spoke to her, however, Burtless was so confident about the future of dairy farming that she said the people who have lost jobs in the current recession should be looking for jobs on dairy farms –that is, if they can handle the workload.

Burtless describes herself as a jack-of-all trades because she does a little bit of everything on the farm. She’s involved in many aspects of caring for both calves and cows, including vaccinating, ear tagging, and, of course, milking.
When we visited the farm, she was marking cows in heat so the breeder would have an easier time finding them the next day. This system of marking involves using different color paint — green for cows that need to be bred this afternoon, and orange for cows that can wait until tomorrow morning.

Burtless says the gestation period for a cow is nine months, and each cow spends at least 55 days with its calf. She said when it comes to breeding and milking, it’s at least a 305 day cycle from one conception to the next.
As of November, Burtless said Elmer Richards and Sons was doing well, and she was sure she would have a job helping with breeding and milking, among other duties, in the future.

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