The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

WORKING WITH THE LAND

by John D. Hubbard

The corn is going in and Barry Chase '64 feels pretty good.

It has been a cold, wet spring, but the apple trees are finally in bloom, the cows were turned out for the first time just the other day and now Doug, the hired man, is planting corn.

A south wind has dried the fields, but it will likely blow in rain, too. For now, though, the sun is shining as Chase lurches up a hill in an old pickup truck, checking fences on a pasture where the breeze is chasing through the new grass.

“The cows can't wait to get in here,” says Chase, keeping an eye on the line that will keep them in once they are moved to this higher ground. They had kicked up their heels days earlier when the barn door was finally opened after the long winter. Exhilarated, the cows raced twice around the meadow but already they are seeking greener pastures.

A love of farming

Barry Chase is a dairy farmer who grew up in town — Pine Plains — the son of a dentist who instilled in the boy a love of farming.

Chaseholm straddles the county line. Two-thirds of the 466-acre spread is in Columbia County, with the rest in northern Duchess County. The Berkshires are to the east and the Catskills just beyond the Hudson River to the west. Both ranges, and some of New York State's loveliest countryside, are visible from the upper fields.

Established in 1935, the farm originally was the home of three- and five-gaited horses, but Dr. Chase eventually traded in the fancy high steppers for dairy cows. Today, Barry milks 60 cows and has a herd of 125 registered Holsteins. Cattle sales make up a good portion of the operation's income, but farming is no get-rich-quick scheme.

“We make about a million pounds of milk a year,” explains Chase “and are getting a dollar two a gallon. It takes a hell of a lot of work for that dollar two.”

Friends point out the obvious. “This doesn't make sense,” they tell Chase. “You have to be paid more for what you do.”

“Quarter to four is when I wake up,” says Chase. After reading a bit, he heads to the barn, where Doug is already feeding the cats — there are 63, counting the trio of week-old coal black kittens. The cows — who also eat hay, corn silage and whatever grass they can during good-weather grazing — are given grain and before 5 a.m. the milking begins.

Efficient beasts

The average Holstein produces 65 pounds of milk a day and the top cows at Chaseholm make up to 110 pounds. “They are an efficient beast,” says Chase of the black and white cows. He admires the members of his herd and is tickled by the assortment of personalities he deals with on a daily basis.

Some are pesky, some helpful and some are show quality and seem to know it. Regardless, all the cows are more than milk manufacturers to Chase. The herd traces back 14 generations to Chaseholm Segis Pontiac. “I didn't know her,” says Chase, “but I knew most of her daughters.”

“Com' on, girls,” Barry calls out later in the day as he moves the herd from the pasture to the barn in anticipation of the afternoon milking, which will begin with another generous helping of grain. An FFA high school student readies the milking machines while Chase moves along the stanchions, talking about one cow after another, affection and pride alternating in his voice.

The days are long, and they will remain long until late fall. Once the planting is done, it is crucial to get a first cutting of hay in. A second and third cutting will follow during the course of the season. Corn will be chopped at harvest's end — if the weather holds and the equipment doesn't fail. The likelihood is slim, but farmers are not a skittish lot, and breakdowns and too much rain are expected.

Winters are devoted to repairs, special projects such as building a hay wagon, and visiting area farms to talk business and just catch up. The cows, of course, are a constant.

With April the process begins again.

“This time of year is magical,” says Chase with spring unfurling all around him. “The sights, the smells. Some days I feel like Zeus. Of course, I feel like Sisyphus plenty of days, too.”

Settling down

Barry Chase entered Colgate after a stint in boarding school, where he had been sent to acquire study habits and learn self-restraint. The results were mixed, admits Chase — a little dance in his blue eyes — who further cultivated an expansive lifestyle in college.

In time and with some trepidation (thanks to a Dean Bill Griffith ultimatum), Chase graduated and had plans to enter Navy Officer Candidate School. A friend from the Peace Corps urged Chase to consider that kind of service instead, telling him his agricultural background would be invaluable. Convinced, Chase applied and was accepted and assigned to Ecuador. “To be outside my own culture was a wonderful experience for me. The people sure gave me a lot more than I gave them.”

Chase also discovered during his time with the Peace Corps just how much he missed the farm. “I had to get back to those cows. When I left they were just little calves.”

Work on the farm was interrupted a few times. Chase spent three months in Hawaii conducting a Peace Corps training program. That was followed by his pursuit of a masters at Montana State. By the time he returned to Chaseholm, Barry's father had taken sick and the title passed to the son.

In addition to all there is to do on the farm, Chase has been active in his community. He is a member of the planning board that faces issues for a rural area that is now much closer to New York City than ever before. He is president of the board of one small insurance company and sits on the board of another. Chase gives time and effort to farming organizations and is active in the Duchess County Agricultural Society, which sponsors the second largest fair in New York State. He is also involved in showing animals and programs for children.

“It's a great place to raise kids,” says Barry Chase of the farm. He and Rosemary, a professor at Columbia Community College 20 miles down the road, have three children. Farley works for the New Yorker, Rory has finished his first year at New Paltz and Sarah will enter the fourth grade come fall. The family home is a handsome old house guarded by three “comical” ganders, “peaceful” chickens (“You don't need a psychologist if you own 10 chickens”) and Raven the black Lab.

“Kids learn very important values on a farm. They learn early not to be afraid of a day's work and to see a job through.” It is a family affair, too, in which everyone knows the role the other plays. Barry and Rosie don't force the lifestyle on their children, but in amongst all that needs to be done, opportunities abound.

Farming isn't a good business,” says Barry Chase, who has put in 12 hours and still has four hours to go, “but it is a good way of life.”