At the new Wm. H. Buckley Farm in Ballston, cows and their calves wander in the woods and chickens roam in a fenced yard with two dogs to chase away nighttime predators.
Chickens, turkeys and pigs follow the sound of Mark Sacco’s voice as he visits them in their respective areas of the 289-acre farm at 946 Route 50, the former Cappiello farm that Sacco and his family bought in January for $1.05 million.
He owns Wm. H. Buckley Farm with his wife, Elizabeth Sacco — they live in Niskayuna — and his parents, Kathy and Peter Sacco. His children, ages 6, 8 and 10, help on the farm too, and the family has a hired farmhand.
But Mark Sacco does much of the farm work himself, despite also having his own law practice in Schenectady.
The company started raising grass-fed beef in 2005 at a farm in Valley Falls, Rensselaer County. That farm was formerly called the William H. Buckley farm, so the family took that name for the business.
Vendors and customers snapped up the beef, and “We realized they also wanted other stuff,” Sacco said. So the family began raising other animals in the same natural way, eschewing the growth hormones and antibiotics fed to some commercially raised livestock.
Most of the animals roam in large areas, grazing and foraging as they wish.
“I’m not a big confinement guy. In my mind, it’s harder to
[keep livestock penned up],” Sacco said. By letting them roam, “You cut down on your vet bill; the offspring are happier.”
Some of his customers say eating the natural meat has eased their symptoms of various disorders.
“It’s real, switching your diet to affect your life,” Sacco said.
The family runs a farm store from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday, selling fresh sausage, chicken, steaks, pork, bacon and eggs. Visitors are welcome to take a look around, he said: “We let people see what we’re doing.”
The farm also sells directly to customers on its website and sells meat through several local food stores.
At the Ballston farm, the Saccos have 80 cows and calves, 650 egg-laying chickens and 300 young turkeys that will be ready for Thanksgiving.
They also have three young female pigs that will birth market hogs. There are also a few sheep to keep the grass down in the chicken pen, a ram that will father spring lambs and Willie, a docile orphaned calf with a bum leg who lies on the cool cement floor of the barn and is bottle-fed a gallon of milk a day.
Buckley Farm raises all of its livestock, birthing beef cattle, pigs and lambs and raising chickens from day-old chicks rather than buying the animals mostly grown like some farms do.
The Valley Falls farm has 175 cattle and 100 hogs that will be moved over to the Ballston farm, which will become the company’s main site.
The various animals complement each other, Sacco said. The fowl chow down on bugs, including grubs, insects and ticks. Their appetite for ticks and fly larvae helps the cows. And the cows help feed the chickens, because cow dung attracts flies, which lay eggs in it. The chickens eat the maggots and also help break down the manure by scratching and spreading it around to get at the bugs.
The farm’s high ground and rolling hills offer views of Ballston Lake and the Green Mountains in Vermont.
The Cappiello family sought for years to develop or sell the high-profile farm, including offering last summer to sell most of it to the town of Ballston for $600,000 for use as open space.
But some town officials were reluctant to take the plunge, and the family first raised the price to $879,000 and then pulled the offer and began negotiating with the Saccos.
Since the January settlement, there’s been a lot of work to do on the farm, which had not been cultivated for years, Sacco said.
The Saccos cut brush from fields, installed new roofs on the barns, erected countless fence posts, stabilized the barns and replaced some rafters.
“You couldn’t even walk down here on foot when we started,” Sacco said of an area that was covered in brush and is now cleared.
The 200-year-old Cappiello dairy barn was falling down when the Saccos bought it, and they shored it up.
“We’re working 20 hours a day right now,” he said.
Plus, Sacco has a second life as a criminal defense lawyer. His recent cases have included such high-profile clients as Llenroc owner Annie George, who was convicted of harboring an illegal immigrant, and Timothy Kaufman, a former U.S. Marine who was charged with killing a couple in the Philippines and was arrested in Clifton Park.
But Sacco said he keeps his two professions separate.
On a recent afternoon, the Belted Galloway cows and their calves blinked at him from the edge of the woods near the meadow where they graze, the younger calves fleeing deeper into the trees at the sound of the all-terrain vehicle Sacco drove.
“They like the woods in the warm weather,” Sacco said. “They usually graze in the morning and evening and hang out in the woods during the day.”
The cows are 100 percent grass-fed, he said.
Belted Galloway is a hardy Scottish breed that has been spared from inbreeding and retains its natural instincts, Sacco said.
For example, if a calf lies down after birth instead of standing, the females will encircle it to keep it warm until it can stand, he said.
The breed thrives on grass and yields high-quality meat.
“They have very rich milk, so their calves do well,” he said. “They haven’t been bred to just be big.”