Life isn’t boring at North Harbor Dairy in Sackets Harbor, N.Y. Whether it’s milking cows, hauling grain or hosting tours, owners Ron and Nancy Robbins stays busy.
“It was always my dream in high school to own a large dairy,” says Ron Robbins, who operates the dairy with his wife, Nancy, son, Brian, and daughter, Julia. “I never knew quite what large meant. At the time, we were a 100-cow dairy for generations going back to my great grandfather, my grandfather and my dad. Over the years, the business just began to evolve. It became more dynamic. We diversified to take out some of the highs and lows the dairy business is famous for.”
Today, the family milks 1,000 cows in addition to operating a milk and grain hauling business and an agri-tourism business, called Old McDonald’s Farm. They also farm 7,000 acres of corn, soybean, wheat, alfalfa, grass and hay.
“I was a non-farm person who married the farmer and had three small children,” Nancy says. “I began Old McDonald’s Farm mainly because I enjoyed the farm so much and I wanted to share it with my city friends. Over the years, it has really evolved to educate the public about how crops are grown, how the animals are raised and how the milk is produced.”
Nancy opened Old McDonald’s Farm in 1986. The business started as a small petting zoo. Today, they are open to the public seven days a week from May through October, and the farm has nearly 250 animals. They have everything from goats, horses and rabbits to chickens, reindeer and even a camel.
During the spring and summer seasons, visitors play on the miniature golf course or watch pig races. The fall features a pumpkin patch and corn maze. Throughout the year Old McDonald’s Farm brings in nearly 50,000 visitors to North Harbor Dairy.
In 2001, Old McDonald’s Farm began providing dairy tours, which proved to be popular for school field trips and consumers who are interested in where their milk comes from.
“People are very interested in the dairy,” Nancy says. “When they get off (the trolley), they are so amazed at the technology and actually how we care for our cows. After we have done the tour and show how our calves are cared for and how they wear jackets and how they are fed by robots and how the cows have brushes that they get their back rubbed with, they are just amazed at how we do care for our cows.”
With so many people on the dairy each day, the Robbins family has a huge responsibility to make sure everything is always in order. Ron and Nancy’s son, Brian, is the fifth generation on the farm and plays a large role in managing employees and making sure visitors on the dairy are getting a positive view of the operation.
“We take an open-door, never-enough-communication policy with all of our employees,” Brian says. “We are constantly training, constantly updating protocols, and having the public come through the dairy really keeps us disciplined on that. There are thousands of people looking at all of our things every single day. Our employees know that, and we are on top of everything every day.”