When Jeff King graduated from Cornell University in 1993, the family farm on King Road was milking around 150 Holstein cows every day.
Ever since, the herd at Kings Ransom Farm has been growing, and it now may be the biggest dairy farm in Saratoga County.
Jan and Jeff King’s operation milks 900 cows every day; they have about 1,700 animals altogether.
The public will have a chance to see how such a farm operates when the King family hosts the 13th annual “Sundae on the Farm” from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Organizers expect more than 2,500 people to attend an event that includes food, farm tours, horse-drawn wagon rides, live music, demonstrations by Saratoga area chefs using local products, and a farmers market. And, of course, there will be ice cream sundaes.
Getting bigger has kept Kings Ransom Farm going in an era when dairy farming has shrunk and consolidated, with dozens of farms just in the Capital Region being lost in the last 20 years.
“We’re a large farm for our locality, but when you look at farms in the Midwest and West, we’re small. They’ll be talking about 4,000 or 5,000 cows,” Jeff King said.
Since two or three calves are born every day on the farm, there are certain to be newborns for children to see.
Kings Ransom, located at 311 King Road, is in the middle of a rich belt of farmland on the west side of the Hudson River in the towns of Northumberland and Saratoga — one of the few concentrations of agriculture left in the county, with much farmland in recent decades having been sold for development.
According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, there were 1,800 farms in the county 50 years ago, and about 600 now. Only about 40 of those are commercial dairy farms.
With the loss of farmland, agricultural organizations like Cornell Cooperative Extension have started events like Sundae on the Farm to emphasize the role of local farms in food production and open space conservation.
Jan, 39, and Jeff, 36, are the fourth generation of Kings to run the farm. In January, the farm received a Century Farm Award for being in the same family for 100 years. Their parents, former town supervisor Edgar and Carolyn King, live next door and remain involved.
Having such a large farm means the 24-stall milking parlor is running around-the-clock, seven days a week. There are 16 full-time and six part-time employees, in addition to family members, Jeff King said.
Raw milk — some 8,000 gallons a day — is loaded directly into a tank truck, and hauled every night to a milk processing plant on Long Island.
An open-air barn built a few years ago holds 550 cows, and a new barn next door is half-occupied, and still under construction.
“There’s nearly always something under construction,” Jeff King said. “You constantly have to be under construction to keep up with the herd.”
The family has 2,400 acres under cultivation — most of it rented from others. The farm rents land as far away as Argyle, Greenwich and Schaghticoke, meaning rising diesel costs are a big concern.
“Fertilizer is tied to the price of oil, the grain price is affected by ethanol production. We’ve seen feed prices go up 100 percent in the last year, and the forecast for 2009 is that it will rise another 100 percent in a two or three year time frame,” Jeff King said.
But it’s a life neither brother would give up.
“It’s a continual challenge, no doubt,” Jeff King said. “But whatever I do in life, I want to be challenged. There’s so many experiences I’ve had on the farm I wouldn’t trade anything for.”
“I really like the diversity of what we do,” said Jan King, a 1990 Cornell graduate. “Animals, crops, the tractors, construction. Every day’s a little bit different.”
Already, workers are clearing weeds and making other preparations for Sunday’s open house, which is at a different farm every year and consistently draws 2,500 to 3,000 people.
“We get people who come to it every year and look forward to it, and always people who say it’s their first time,” said Paula J. Schafer, agricultural economic development specialist for Saratoga and Washington counties.
Kings Ransom also hosted the event in 1997.
“They’re definitely a farm that continues to innovate, and hopefully they’ll be around for many years more,” Schafer said.
Both Kings have volunteered for Sunday on the Farm in other years.
“It’s a chance to see the farms in your community and what they do, the benefits they bring to the community,” Jan King said.
There’s a fifth generation of Kings on the farm, though it’s too soon to know if they’re true farmers.
Jeff and his wife Rebecca have three children, ages 8, 6 and 3. Jan’s wife is veterinarian Pandora Davis, and they have children ages 3 and 1.
“I think they all enjoy helping out,” Jeff King said. “What they will want in 12 or 15 years remains to be seen, but we’d love it [if they want to farm].”
Edgar and Carolyn King have two other sons, one an agricultural nutrition consultant in St. Lawrence County, one a financial consultant in Albany.
The farm shouldn’t be hard to find.
Schafer said there will be farm tour signs starting at Route 50 and King Road in Wilton, on Route 29 west of Schuylerville, and from Route 32 in the Bacon Hill area.
Farm Bureau and American Farmland Trust are other sponsors of the event, which Schafer said involves more than 100 volunteers.
“It’s a huge tremendous event for agriculture,” Schafer said.
Directions and information are also available at www.saratogafarms.com.
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