CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — Courtney Smithling describes his Stanley, New York, operation as “a hobby farm exploded.”
His dairy herd more than doubled from 25 in 2019 to 55 currently.
Courtney, his wife Brooke, and their children, Samantha, 7, and Emmett, 10, recently spent time at the Ontario County Fair where the children showed.
“Some of our animals, I’ve brought in some really good genetics,” Courtney Smithling said. “The county fair is the kick-off to our showing. It’s knocking the dust off. Our animals did well in their classes and the kids did well in their showmanship classes. At the county fair, it’s more the interaction with the other kids they’ll grow up with and show with every year.”
He thinks that the children may attend college and work in some facet of agriculture someday, especially since they have learned to respect and care for animals at an early age.
The Smithlings raise 60 acres of dry hay to feed the heifers and sell the excess to offset the feed cost. He feeds ground corn feed enhanced with minerals to the heifers and dry hay for the calves and heifers. The milking cows get a grain supplement, baleage and dry hay.
He has three milkers currently at Hilton Farms in Hopewell and keeps the calves, show cows and heifers at his place.
“We get the calves back, market some and the kids get to show them,” he said. “The farm gets a few free replacement animals without incurring any of the raising costs. They get the milk and we get the calf back. We try to get good genetics in them.”
He breeds for production, show type and reproduction.
“I want cows that make milk, look good and breed back,” Smithling said.
He provides an open barn for the heifers with bedded packs, sand-based in the summer. For his few show cows that are milking, he has a five-stall tie barn with sand bedding. This space was an addition so he could provide mature animals for his children to show. Their milk is for the family’s consumption and for feeding calves.
He encourages anyone raising calves to show to “take advantage of the off months and push the feed. Get them growing big. It takes just a few weeks to get them lean for the ring. Some keep them too thin year-round. Work with them constantly. An animal that’s not afraid of you, one used to you handling them is much more cooperative. The more you work with the animals, the less likely they are to have those freak-out incidents where something catches them off guard. You’re desensitizing them the more you work with them.”
In addition to the thrill of showing, he likes that exhibiting helps his children understand how to work with animals and learn the discipline of caring for them all year.
“When you raise your children with animals and responsibility, consider how much more structured of an individual you’re raising,” Smithling said. “That’s the biggest part of what I do. Everyone has a dog, cat or a goldfish, but that doesn’t require you getting out to the barn every morning and evening.”
This year, the Smithlings have the New York State Fair in Syracuse, and the World Dairy Expo in Madison in their showing plans.
“We hope to do well, but I just want to be a participant out there,” Smithling said of the Wisconsin show. “It will be our first venture out there and I hope to just be competitive.”
Last year, Emmett received a New York State Guernsey Scholarship calf.
“They give you a calf you have to show at the county and state level two years,” Smithling said. “As long as you meet the requirements, the calf is yours.”
The family heard about the program at the New York State Fair from a 4-H judge in 2019. Emmett received the calf in 2020. Since many other shows were canceled because of COVID-19, he was able to show it only at an abbreviated county show and a new exhibition, the Guernsey Gold Showcase, which returns this year.