Running a Farm Gives Committee Director a Unique View Into Farming

5/24/2014 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

MOREAU, N.Y. — Todd Kusnierz understands the big picture when it comes to challenges faced by New York's farming community.

Sometimes he even gets a bird's eye view of things when flying about in his small plane as chief of staff and director of the state Senate Agriculture Committee for Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, the committee chairwoman.

When not busy at the state capital in Albany, Kusnierz spends early mornings, nights and weekends taking care of a 39-head herd of black Angus beef cattle at his family's Candy Cane Farm in Moreau, N.Y.

"Here in New York as successive generations of family farms, primarily dairy, seek off-farm employment, there is a greater abundance of fallow farmland," he said. "While the more productive land typically becomes part of a neighboring farm operation, the marginal land is ideal for beef cattle.

"Raising beef cattle is an excellent way to put this land back into production and provide income for those who want to be involved in agriculture, but don't want to operate a labor-intensive dairy operation," Kusnierz said.

Brought up on the farm, he learned how to take care of animals at an early age and has been involved with beef cattle for almost 40 years.

"I started off by raising dairy replacement heifers when I was 10 and switched to raising registered black Angus in my early teens," Kusnierz said. "The original brood cows and breeding bulls were purchased from the Bent Lee Farm in Brant Lake, N.Y., which is now a girls summer camp in the Adirondacks. The farm was highly regarded for raising world-class breeding cattle dating back to the early 1950s."

Kusnierz belongs to the American Angus Association. The animals account for about half of the farm's revenue stream. The rest comes from an extensive Christmas tree business.

The cattle are primarily sold for breeding purposes.

"We typically sell to six to 10 farms or individuals in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont," Kusnierz said. "Some are also sold to feedlots where they are finished; fed to slaughter weight."

The herd consists of one breeding bull, six yearling bulls, 25 cows and seven heifers.

"After graduating from Cornell, where I learned how to do artificial insemination, I began purchasing semen from other farms and companies and performed all the breeding, employing estrus synchronization so the calves would be born very close together, timing wise," Kusnierz said.

His biggest challenge is simply finding enough hours in a week to take care of the animals, especially when it comes to raising a newborn calf to weaning when he can't be at the farm. Following a long day dealing with legislative matters, Kusnierz has to make an hour's commute home to the farm in northern Saratoga County.

"A typical day means making sure cattle have hay in front of them and that yearling livestock are fed grain twice a day with access to salt and minerals," he said. "Cattle are checked for overall health and injuries, and breeding status. For example, are they coming into heat or estrus after they have calved? Plus, the barns are cleaned out weekly on weekends until the cattle are turned out to pasture.

"There is a consumer trend eliciting a demand for leaner, grass-fed beef," he said. "Cattle are turned out on pasture to graze once the grass is sufficient to maintain the herd. They remain there until late fall or early winter. Only weaned calves receive grain, usually 2 percent of their body weight or about 10 pounds per day, for a targeted average daily gain of 2.5 pounds."

So Kusnierz not only works on behalf of New York's agriculture industry, he's personally involved with a hands-on operation, giving him a deep appreciation for what other farmers are faced with, too.

Thankfully, his grown children lend a helping hand whenever possible.

"Our son, Ted, and daughter, Jacqueline, have graduated from college, but they help out when they visit," Kusnierz said. "Ted is an RIT graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering and works for General Dynamics in Groton, Conn., and Jacqueline is a Cornell graduate and works as a supervisor in quality assurance for Agri-Mark in Chateaugay, N.Y."

Summer brings some relief from state duties after the Legislature concludes business in late June. However, there's always something to do and Kusnierz knows from experience the importance of following the age-old farmer's adage.

"Make hay while the sun shines," he said.

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