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Raising the Barn

By Rachel Dutil

Photos by Jessica McCafferty


When Shane St. Cyr joined Jon Rulfs as a partner in Adirondack Farms, LLC. in January of 2019, there were no plans to expand the farm on Brown Road in Peru. “Our plan was to milk cows and make this the best operation we could,” Rulfs recalled. “There was no talk of growing the herd or growing the business. Everything that has happened up north since was unplanned.”


Farmers helping neighbors and other farmers is not uncommon, and in 2015 when a fire destroyed the milking parlor at Bubbins Farm in Beekmantown, that is exactly what happened. With no parlor, the milking herd of 700 cows needed to be re-located. Adirondack Farms was one of ten local farms that took in animals displaced by the fire. The parlor was rebuilt and in 2020 when the Bubbins family was looking to sell their farm, they contacted Rulfs and St. Cyr.


Barn Building 

Adirondack Farms closed on the sale in July 2020. In early October of that year, another fire devastated the cow and heifer barns. The property, located on the Pardy Road and visible from Interstate 87 southbound in Beekmantown, has been under construction since shortly after that fire.


“We were insured for the fire, but we weren’t insured for COVID,” Rulfs said, adding that the pandemic led to increased building costs, delays and limited availability of materials. “It was not a fun time to be sourcing materials.”


Adirondack Farms contracted with Luck Brothers for the building project. St. Cyr said that the firm has been great and they are pleased to work with a local company. Deso’s Concrete in Champlain has been supplying the concrete for the barn projects. 


There are countless other local businesses that are supported by this construction process, Rulfs pointed out. “It’s not just lumber, it’s the electrical side, it’s the fasteners, the plumbing, the concrete. All that touches a lot of businesses.”


“We’re extremely fortunate to have a lot of good people,” St. Cyr said of the 114 Adirondack Farm employees. “Up there at the Bubbins Farm, we have a number of people who work for us and with us to keep things rolling at the construction site.” 


The barns that were destroyed by the fire were a traditional six row free stall barn design, St. Cyr explained. “Because of the footprint of the land, we tried something different for the new facility. The new barn is a little wider and shorter with an extra feed alley and an extra pen for the cows.”


The new barns are also designed with a different ventilation system. Dairy barns often have temperature-controlled curtains on the side walls that are opened up during the warmer months. “With this barn, the curtains will be closed, and end wall fans turned on to produce a 12 mile-per-hour wind through the barn in the summer,” St. Cyr explained. The barns are fully climate controlled, meaning that even during hot days with high humidity, the temperature in the barn is much cooler than outside and more comfortable for the animals.


Cow comfort and labor efficiency were two key factors when designing the barns, Rulfs said. He also noted that improved technology will allow for easier and more efficient animal sorting and management. 


Consolidation

Adirondack Farms currently milks cows at four different locations in Clinton County and produces enough milk for 1.5 million people annually. They plan to consolidate down to two milking locations once the construction at the ADK North location is complete. There will be two milking parlors at the north location – one will ship milk to AgriMark and one to Dairy Farmers of America. Neither milk cooperative allows for a shared parlor, so there must be a designated one for each cooperative.


While smaller dairy farms are still the majority across the country, the numbers decrease annually. The industry is consolidating into fewer farms that are larger in size. “Recently there has been significant and rapid consolidation within the dairy industry,” St. Cyr offered. “It seems to have become noticeable with the shutdown in 2020. Here in New York, we’re seeing labor laws come into effect that aren’t conducive to agriculture so that also drives us towards consolidation,” he explained. Aging farmers who have no successors and need an exit strategy also factor into the move toward consolidation, Rulfs added.

“We’re a dairy farm making milk, but we’re also making energy,” Rulfs said. “We’re taking the manure, removing the fiber to make bedding and we’re storing those nutrients to be used when needed for fertilizer.” Consolidating more cows to one location is helpful for milking efficiency, but it is also beneficial for collecting manure and capturing the methane gas.


Renewable Energy 

In 2017, Adirondack Farms installed a methane digester at its Peru farm. “That decision was based on neighbor relations relative to manure odor,” Rulfs said, adding that the economics were a break-even best-case scenario. “The driving force was reducing odor and being more responsible to the people that surround us.”


At the time it was installed, the digester used the biogas created to run a generator and put electricity on the grid. Because New York State does not have any programs in place that help digesters to be more economically feasible for farmers, Rulfs and St. Cyr researched other options. “We made the decision to transition from using our gas for electricity to renewable natural gas,” St. Cyr said. Now the biogas generated from the digester goes through clean up equipment to pipeline grade gas which can be put right into the pipeline and used to heat homes and cook. 


“Manure is aggregated and pumped into the digester with a theoretical holding time of 21 days. It’s not actually manure that gives off methane, its bugs that process the manure that give off methane. We try to create an environment within the digester conducive to those bugs. Temperature, pH, percent of solids in manure are all important to optimize methane production,” St. Cyr explained. Rulfs likened the digester to a cow’s digestive system. “It’s a sensitive rumen that if you don’t feed it right it will get sick. It’s a live process that, if treated right, does what it’s supposed to do naturally.”


Solids are removed from the digester and used for bedding for the cows. The remaining liquid is directly injected into farm fields with a dragline. “We have underground lines so we can directly inject that manure into the ground to get to the roots,” St. Cyr said.


“If we look at the real numbers, animal agriculture is a small percentage of methane production. Dairy is less than two percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, so dairy has an opportunity to be a significant part of the solution,” St. Cyr offered. “The reality is that methane from cows is a regenerative cycle. We’re not bringing it up from underground. We’re not creating more methane than was here before. And it’s a renewable energy source that’s right here.”


Farmers are stewards of the land and consistently seek ways to improve management, reduce their carbon footprint and increase efficiency and profitability. “We have an opportunity to help with our regenerative methane and with all this open crop land that can actually sequester carbon. Many of the feeds we use for these cows are by-products of human feed that if we didn’t use would be going into the landfills. Dairy is a primary solution to the problem. We strategically use our manure to minimize commercial fertilizer. We are always looking for those opportunities to use what we have or use what someone else is throwing away,” St. Cyr concluded.


Adirondack Farms

193 Brown Road

Peru, NY 12972 

518 643-7958





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