There are some afternoons when the sun casts a golden hue over Dan Marchaland’s cattle farm in Greenwich, NY. Birds of prey are gliding. Sometimes deer, coyotes, and foxes explore the pasture, mingling with his cows. These are the quiet pleasures of running a small farm: getting to know your livestock and the surrounding wildlife. “The foxes are cute as hell,” Dan said with a smile.
Dan is 60 years old and a third-generation farmer. He’s got about 125 “mama” (his word) or cows, along with their calves, on about 600 acres. He tends to the animals with help from his 23-year-old nephew, one employee, and a couple of retired friends. He’s weathered a transition from dairy to cattle farming, belonged to grazer co-ops, and currently sells triticale, sorghum, Sudan grass, rye, and hay—not to mention lumber—with an eye toward preserving his operation for the next generation.
“There used to be hundreds of dairy farms in Washington County. Within 10 years, I don’t think there’s going to be a three left,” he said. “And they’re going to be 3,000 to 4,000 milk cows per farm. That’s the trend all across the country. It’s just going to be industrialized.”
But he doesn’t fault the farmers for doing what’s necessary to survive. He knows that, with thousands of head of cattle on small lots, farmers are forced to use antibiotics and growth hormones and still struggle to achieve financial solvency. “The price of beef has dropped a dollar in four years,” he said. “So pretty much scrabble for economics right now.”
But for farmers concerned about the health and environmental impact of factory farming, Walden members provide one of the best income alternatives. “[One of the] only ways a small farm is going to economically survive is through groups like you that pay us a better price,” Dan said. “I think your protocols also make it a safer beef and a better beef than you get in the local retail stores.”
Each morning, he spends a little time in the pasture with each of his cows, before putting up hay or working on one of the older tractors, depending on the season. It’s still his favorite part of the job. “They all have their own little personalities,” he said. “And the wildlife. You just can’t imagine the wildlife when you have all open country with cattle on the pasture and the wildlife right there with them.”