5/25/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
PHELPS, N.Y. — Farming may be a life full of hard work and personal sacrifice, but you wouldn’t know it by the gleam in Dick Day’s eye nor the spring in his step as he oversees the maple operation and helps with the dairying at Day Brothers Dairy & Maple Farm.
Added to the rigors of farm life, Day also reared his six children alone from the time his youngest twins were toddlers. Both boys and girls pitched in around the farm while growing up.
Now they’re adults with their own children, some of whom also farm.
“It wasn’t easy but you don’t think about that at the time,” said Day, without a bit of resentment for his fate. “You just take care of your family and your farm.”
A solid work ethic and grit seem traits inherent to the Day family. Founded in 1889 by Dick Day’s great-grandfather, Day Brothers has been recognized as a New York Historical Society Century Farm.
Though the family is proud of the recognition and their ag heritage, they’re not stuck in the old days and the old ways. For small dairies to thrive, they have to add another revenue stream to see them through tough times. Diversifying the farm by adding maple syrup production has helped keep the family on the farm, especially as milk prices fluctuate.
“We have several farms around us, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 head, and it’s getting to the point where you wonder if you’ll make it,” Day said. “It’s rough being a small dairy farm.”
Day helps with the dairy side of the operation by milking the 160-head herd on Sundays.
Starting with just 25 taps and a homemade evaporator made from an old water heater four years ago, the farm now produces more than 500 gallons of syrup per season. Some of the syrup is from sap purchased from other farms. It takes about 45 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
Day gathers sap using 25 buckets, 300 gravity-fed taps and 2,700 pump-fed taps. Replacing the water heater evaporator with a professional evaporator has also increased efficiency.
The farm produces mostly darker grades of syrup, which have a more robust maple flavor than the lighter grades.
Day employs five people who help with milking the 160-head herd and the seasonal maple operation.
“ We’re a family farm,” Day said. “We can’t afford to hire many so we do most of the work ourselves.”
The farm also grows corn and soybeans on 1,000 acres, 320 of which Day Brothers owns. Day Brothers also harvests 15 cord of wood per year to burn a wood-burning boiler, which heats the maple sap evaporator as well as the farm shop.
“No sense in bulldozing it and letting all that wood rot in the hedgerows when it could be used for something,” Day said in his characteristically pragmatic fashion.
He had considered using an oil burner, but balked at the cost of oil when he can cut wood almost for free.
Day Brothers keeps the farm open to the public to sell syrup and offer tours year-round. About 75 percent of the syrup is sold in the little shop in the sugarhouse.
Maple Weekends, sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers Association during each sugaring season, draw hundreds of visitors to the farm and help promote syrup sales.
“We could probably sell more if we went to every county fair, festival and yard sale all year, but we do alright without it,” Day said.<\c> Photo by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Steve Day, Dick Day’s grandson, tends the wood boiler during sugaring season at Day Brothers Dairy & Maple Farm.