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Raising Cattle Instead of Cows

CORNWALL — Bill Hurlburt has never strayed far from his roots. His Hurlburt Farm & Forestry business, mostly logging and haying, is right down the road from the dairy farm where he grew up, on Hautboy Hill Road.

His heart has remained true to farming. Five years ago, he gave in to the urge to once again have cows in his backyard. He bought five Herefords, those furry brown, white-faced, gentlest of cows. He is slowly establishing a beef herd.

Like his brother Buddy at Hautboy Hill Farm, he recognizes there is little economic future left in small dairy farming. Fresh, naturally raised meat is a viable alternative.

Hurlburt turned the corner on his fledgling business with the recent announcement of an award from the state’s Farm Reinvestment Grant Project.

The $40,000 won’t be enough to cover his plans for a new beef barn, but it’s a good start and opens the door to financing.

His cows are currently housed in a portion of the barn he built himself, of local hemlock and pine that he logged himself. The new barn will be about 42 feet by 72 feet and be situated near the Fox Road home he shares with his wife, Becky, and their family.

A beef farmer is an enigma. An emotional attachment to the herd goes without saying. Hurlburt is no exception. Yet, those large brown eyes that look back at him don’t belong to dairy cows that are sustained for what they give. These winsome animals are due to be butchered and eaten.

It’s not a moral debate. People eat meat, and someone has to raise the animals that will be slaughtered for the beef. It’s part of the life of a livestock farmer. Still, Hurlburt says his three elementary school-age children are too young to be exposed to the butchering process.

"The boys, I’m sure, wouldn’t mind, but it’s not something they need to see yet."

Today, Hurlburt’s herd is up to 50 animals. He has bred his Herefords with Angus cows, to try and come up with a genetically superior meat.

"It’s not organic, but the cows are grass fed and I give them grain as a management food. Everything they eat is natural," Hurlburt said.

The application he wrote to earn that state grant forced Hurlburt to do something he admits he probably wouldn’t have done otherwise: write a business plan.

"I didn’t bother before because I don’t really know what it costs for things like hay. I make my own. I listed my cost as what I sell it for.

"I’m so thrilled with this grant. I applied for it last year, but the bonding was not approved. I was sort of surprised when I got a letter saying I got the funding. This is such a good boost."

Hurlburt doesn’t anticipate having to do much (if any) advertising. Northwest Corner beefeaters are already buying quarter and whole sides for their freezers. In New York City, beef from independent farmers has become trendy.

Beef is a growing business in this corner of the state, which used to be dominated by dairy farms. The Blums of Salisbury have long had beef cattle on their Route 41 property. Alan Cockerline sells his own grass-fed beef at White Hollow Farm on Route 112. The Gurleys of Sharon raise belted Galloways, a special type of beef cattle that produces meat with very little fat.

When asked, half jokingly, if people like to boast that they knew the cow their dinner party roast came from, Hurlburt laughs, then says that it’s true.

"One of the big things about healthier eating is knowing where your food comes from. What’s better than saying your steak came from a cow you saw out grazing in a field?"

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