Conard family will host NY Holstein picnic at Ridgedale

The Conard family of Ridgedale Farm, pictured from left, Isaac at the halter of his Ridgedale Raquel EX91, Cyrus and his wife Morgan, daughter Keaton and son Liam and parents Wayne and Jen.
 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 20, 2021

SHARON SPRINGS, N.Y. — Like many things missed last year, Holstein enthusiasts will be glad to know the New York State Holstein Picnic is back on track for 2021 and will be held at Ridgedale Farm, Sharon Springs, Saturday, September 11 at Noon. 

The Conard family will host the event, just like in 1984, when the state picnic made its original comeback. It was Wayne Conard’s mother on the breed promotion committee back then, who was instrumental in getting the state picnic going again almost 40 years ago.

“They had picnics in the early 1900s, but then it went by the wayside until 1984,” Wayne explains about that first modern-era New York Holstein picnic bringing 600 people to Ridgedale Farm that year.

The state association has had a summer picnic every year since, except for 2020, the year the pandemic cancelled everything.

Three generations of Conards look forward to welcoming members, friends, and peers from across the state, and Holstein enthusiasts are welcome from Pennsylvania and other states too.

Wayne and Jen Conard and their sons Cyrus and Isaac, Cy’s wife Morgan and their young children Liam and Keaton are the welcoming committee planning a fun day of fellowship for an estimated 300 attendees, including a catered meal, cattle judging, yard games and other surprise touches.

“We have local chef and caterer Mark Tuller coming from New Berlin. Wayne wanted beef brisket, so we’ll have that, as well as pulled pork and barbecue chicken, plus salt potatoes, baked beans, salads, fruit and a brownie sundae bar,” Jen explains the menu.

“We like good food and want to serve a nice meal,” Wayne affirms.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for children under 10. The extended deadline for meal reservations is Sept. 1 by 7:00 p.m. Call or text the Conards at 518-369-8358 about reservations.

“Everything will be cooked on site, so if you want to eat, please get your ticket ahead of time, so we can plan the food,” Jen reminds.

The picnic will also feature a silent-auction manned by the Otsego, Herkimer, Montgomery (OHM) Holsten Club selling semen from homebred bulls at Ridgedale, so “bring your tanks,” says Wayne.

Ridgedale Felix is one of the young bulls on collection at Ridgedale — a Diamondback by an EX-94 Fever by an EX-92 Shottle by EX-96 Folly. Also collected is Ridgedale Incredibull-Red with genomics and pedigree. He is an Unstoppabull by an EX-91 Luck-E Awesome 3-year-old by EX-94 Currvale Goldwyn Delicious. The OHM Holstein Club will man a silent-auction fundraiser of semen from both bulls during the state Holstein picnic in September.

Picnic-goers will get to see the bulls and their mothers hailing from the Roxys and Follys and an Apple grandson.

They’ll see daughters of 19th generation EX Golden Rose ABS Ginger, including a red daughter by Jordy. Ginger was the EX-94 grand champion of the 2016 New York State Fair.

“They’ll see milking daughters of Thunderstorm and Tattoo, and much more,” Wayne assures.

For decades, the Conards have raised their bull calves for the herd sire market. Deep pedigrees for type, components and long-lived cows – with special Red & Whites in the mix — have attracted buyers, even as the industry around them changes.

“Every calf here gets raised, and a little over a year ago we started collecting a few of the special ones,” Wayne explains. “Harry Zimmerman comes up from Pennsylvania to collect them for us. We keep units priced affordably, and it has really taken off.”

The Red ones are pretty special, he notes, explaining that their herd had Canadian breeding bringing the Reds in early-on. Wayne also notes that his father was big on butterfat, so that’s bred into the herd here.

Of the bulls being collected at Ridgedale, Wayne explains: “One is from the Apple we had, an EX Defiant out of a Goldwin from Apple herself. Another bull we’re collecting is an Unstoppabull out of a Diamondback from a 94-point Fever from a 92-point Shottle out of the 96-point Folly cow.”

Folly was a legacy cow for Ridgedale, cared for by four generations of the Conard family. The EX-96 5E Ridgedale Folly passed away in 2018, just a day shy of 16 years of age.

The Ridgedale prefix goes back to Wayne’s paternal grandmother’s side of the family. One of his father’s uncles ran the dairy farm in New Jersey before he was tragically killed by a bull. Then, during World War II, the U.S. Army took the farm because a railroad station was needed.

“Dad got started again on a rented farm and spent some time in New Hampshire too before coming to New York when I was 11,” Wayne recalls. His father purchased the original 212 acre-farm in Sharon Springs, and later built a 1980-style tie stall barn.

The Conards do some cover crops and no-till, but their most productive acreage is minimum-till. They entered a soybean contest for the first time last year and won with 83 bu/A. They grow mostly grass hay in the heavy soils and tough winters, placing a few times in the Forage Superbowl at World Dairy Expo.

Today, the Conards milk 102 cows. They farm 750 owned acres and rent additional ground, raising feed for their cows, and cash cropping corn, soybeans, grass hay and some small grains, with their own dryer on site.

Not only do dry cows graze rolling pastures here, the milk cows get out every morning on pasture.

Ridgedale milk goes to Midland Farms, a family-owned wholesaler of fluid milk and dairy products supplied by 20 dairy producers in the area.

In addition to the rebuilt heifer and bull facility up the hill, picnic-goers will see the elite cows of Ridgedale in their work clothes, all in one location.

The herd used to be split between Cy’s place and Wayne’s place less than a mile apart on the same road until a fire in early 2018 destroyed the barn where Wayne milked 30 head. The family expanded out the back of their main tie-stall barn to consolidate the milking at one location the next year, turning the other site into a pole barn for machinery.

The farm has evolved in its over 50 years.

“To cash flow today, as a family farm, we need to be diversified,” says Wayne. “We’ve bought five farms in my lifetime — all last generation dairies. We haven’t enlarged our herd, but we’ve definitely had to diversify the business.”

While the number of dairy farms has declined over the years, the region has maintained its dairy heritage as Amish families have also come in buying farms and milking cows. 

Ridgedale actually started selling bulls decades ago when Wayne’s late brother ran potloads to California every month.

“We’d put 6 to 8 bulls from this farm on a load,” Wayne recalls, noting they also sold bulls to Cow Town in Vermont in those days. “Then the Amish families came in locally, and we also sell bulls over to Lowville. We haven’t needed to advertise.”

The bulls offer deep pedigrees based on type and one set price gives the buyer choice of available bulls. They test for genomics, especially the ones they are collecting on the farm for semen sales.

“Genomics is a good tool, but we don’t play the genomics game,” says Wayne. “The bulls we use have got to be out of good cow families or it will come back to haunt you.”

Dick Witter has done the semen tanks at Ridgedale since he started Taurus in 1973. “He treats me like a brother and Cyrus like a son,” says Wayne.

Wayne reflects on 50 years of this friendship, and 50 years of breeding, which included early 1990 partnerships with Hanover Hill. Ridgedale has had some bulls with Taurus, and today they have a Goldchip out of Ridgedale Folly at Triple Hill Sires. His full sister went EX this spring as a three-year-old.

Wayne has lost count of the number of cows classifying Excellent over the years, estimating more than 300 homebred cows have gone EX. Of those, 20 have gone EX-95. 

In fact, Ridgedale is typically in the top 10 for BAA score among herds their size. They have a lot of two-year-olds milking right now, but even so, there are more than 60 EX cows milking, with the others VG. The entire herd is out of EX cows.

Ridgedale Raquel EX-91 pictured as a senior 2-year-old last year

A young cow Wayne is excited about is his younger son Isaac’s show cow — Ridgedale Raquel EX-91. She was All New York and nominated All American as a senior two-year-old last year with pregnancies this year by King Doc. Raquel is backed by nine generations EX. She is a Diamondback x EX-92 Windbrook x EX-94 Dundee x six more generations back to the Roxys.

She has been Isaac’s cow since she was a calf and was first-place senior 2-year-old at Louisville last year. Fresh with her second calf, Raquel was grand champion of the junior show at the OHM Holstein Club a few weeks ago and is headed to World Dairy Expo in Madison this fall.

A milestone for the family among the Reds was Ridgedale-T Raichu-Red EX-96. In 2016, Raichu and her full sister Ridgedale Runway Red-ET were the first homebred Red & White maternal sisters to be approved EX-95 and the first Holstein sisters to do this from the same herd on the same day. Then in 2017, Raichu went EX-96. Both were 7th generation EX back to Roxy with daughters in the herd today.

The Conards lost Raichu in 2020 at 16 years of age.  She had been nominated All-American six times in milking form, with sons in A.I. and a string of show wins with Cy at the halter.

In fact, Raichu inspired Cy’s passion for showing, fitting and genetics as they grew together into showing — earning grand champion three times in the Premier National Junior Show at the All-American in Harrisburg and twice reserve grand champion of the junior Red & White Show at World Dairy Expo in Madison.

2016 photo of Cy with Raichu and Morgan with Runway

It was through showing at Madison that Cy and Morgan (Behnke) met and married. Morgan’s grandfather and uncles have Burwall Holsteins near Madison. She and her sister grew up with their own small herd of show heifers, and she met Cy while serving as Holstein Princess handing out awards for the Expo’s International Red & White Show. Cy enrolled that fall in the University of Wisconsin dairy farm and industry short course.

Today, Cy and Morgan have two young children, with Liam, 5, successfully leading his own heifer calf for the first time at the recent OHM show.

Three generations (l-r) Wayne, Cy and Liam walk through the bull and heifer barn at Ridgedale. A feed mixing room was included for flexibility in feed ingredients, and this facility is a drive-through. Feed is mixed here and delivered by feed cart to the milk cows in the tie-stall barn down the hill.

As a family farm run by family members who enjoy the cows and the crops, the Conards are quick to appreciate Daren Moore and Cole Williams helping with chores and the aggressive 3x milking schedule – and helping them get ready for the state Holstein picnic Sept. 11 and the Sunday on the Farm community event the following weekend.

While Jen works off the farm in ag lending, and Morgan does graphic design for the area’s tourism industry, all-in-all, the Conards really enjoy everything about farming together.

“We just like working with good cows,” says Cy matter-of-factly no matter how many ways the question is asked, because it’s just that simple.

“We like the crops and tractors too,” Wayne adds. “We just like farming.”

In their spare time, they like to restore John Deere tractors and make them useful again. They also do custom combining and big square bales for other farms in the area.

In fact, calling them in from working on the rain-delayed second-cutting on the first dry day in a long while was no small feat for this interview.

However, as I waited with 5-year-old Liam, walking up and down the road and talking, it was easy to forget there’s a world beyond the hills and valleys of crops and hay, cows and pasture and a white fence he was proud to tell me he helped paint. Blue skies and puffy white clouds were framed by green fields of growing corn and soybeans. The sweet smell of fresh cut hay permeated the air from the hills above, and the lowing of cattle drifted out the barn, where the familiar rhythm and hum of milking was winding down.

Enjoy the New York Summer Holstein Picnic at Ridgedale!

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