Cornell Small Dairy Team Produces New Resources

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The milk from Taber Dairy in Mecklenburg, NY, is processed by Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company, which offers off-farm processing for several other dairies. Photo: A. Fay Benson

The Cornell Small Dairy Team has released a series of 6 new resources to help small dairy farms. The team, whose members include farmers and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) educators, received a grant from the Cornell Small Farms Program in 2011 to provide new educational resources and tools to small dairy producers.
“Small dairies have borne the brunt of the exodus of dairy farms from New York State. The goal of the project was to provide resources for dairies looking to adapt to ever-changing market factors,” says Fay Benson, leader for the team
The new resources and tools include:

  • Financial Bench Marks for Small Dairies:  Helps dairies identify the strengths and weaknesses of their farms compared to other farms of similar size in New York State
  • Off-Farm Processing Start-Up Fact Sheet:  Suggests first steps for dairy farmers considering adding direct sales of value-added dairy products to their business mix
  • Web based Geo-Map:  Shows all the small dairy processing plants in New York state
  • “Small Dairy Case Studies:  Highlights unique solutions of how four small dairy operators made decisions to keep their farms profitable
  • Production Record-Keeping Book for Grazing Dairies:  Formatted and distributed to Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offices statewide by Cornell Small Farms Program Small Dairy Team; printing funded by New York Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative; books are available to grazing dairies at no cost through local CCE office.
  • Organic Dairy Forage and Grain Survey:  Due to fluctuating precipitation in 2011, many farms were short of forage and grain. This is particularly stressful to organic dairies since they have limited options for buying replacement feed.

To download, visit
Small Dairy Team member Dana Markley operates a 100-cow dairy in Philadelphia, NY. Markley says, “As a small dairy farmer, it can be challenging to find time to explore new ideas and concepts.  This project compiled information to provide small farms with easier access to important resources. The information helps us take advantage of alternatives that can make our farms more cost-effective and helps us fill niche markets that larger farms may find difficult to reach.”
For example, the new Off-Farm Processing Start-Up Fact Sheet lists business planning, dairy production, direct marketing, licensing, and food safety resources.  It also includes links to a directory of cheese-makers and small-scale food processors.
Benson, author of the “Off-Farm Processing Start-Up Fact Sheet” says, “Direct-to-consumer retail sales of cheese, yogurt and other value-added dairy products by dairy operators seems like an easy way to increase profits, but research shows very few on-farm processors enjoy those increase profits. Through off-farm processing, there is less start-up cost in both capital and time.”
Benson suggests that farmers interested in direct marketing also use the new web-based geo map showing the on-farm processing locations in New York State to help find processors close to their farms.
Looking ahead to 2012 small dairy programming, the Cornell Small Farms Program is collaborating with educators and farmers to host a series of small dairy field days through late Spring and Summer.  Topics include everything from incorporating new value added products to improving nutrition to producing on-farm biodiesel.  To view the schedule or register, visit
For further assistance, contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office, go online to the Cornell Small Farms Program website:, or contact Fay Benson, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, 607-753-5213,

Violet Stone

Violet's work focuses on creating retreats, workshops and programs for the agricultural community centered on themes of connection, wellness, purpose, integrity and courage. She sees this work as contributing to a more inclusive ‘culture’ of agriculture where all voices are warmly welcomed, honored and celebrated, including the voices of our ‘inner teachers’, sometimes referred to as 'spirit' or 'soul'. Violet serves as the NY SARE Coordinator and can help farmers and educators navigate NESARE grant opportunities.
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  1. Avatar of Rosemary Redmond Rosemary Redmond on November 12, 2020 at 2:34 am

    Actually, came across this site while trying to glean information about my great-great uncle, William Mead, who had a farm in the Mecklenberg area, and passed somewhere between 1938 and 1945. I know Cornell U. has archives with much material about the area, but could not find him there, either. Was hoping somebody connected to the “Small Farms” would have knowledge of William Mead from the 1800’s in Mecklenburg, NY.

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