Dairy farming in Dutchess: New ways to steward an old tradition at
Chaseholm Farm

Sarah Chase, owner of Chaseholm Farm in Pine Plains, with a bull she uses for breeding heifers that are well suited to grazing and organic production.

Janna Siller

Dairy farming in Dutchess: New ways to steward an old tradition at Chaseholm Farm

PINE PLAINS — Most mornings, you can find farmer Sarah Chase in the same place you could find her at the ages of 14, 10 and 6 — in the dairy barn her grandfather built.

Chaseholm Farm has weathered the immense challenges pitted against modern dairies to become the sibling partnership, local food presence and ecosystem steward that it is today. Chase and her crew maintain the organic, grass-fed dairy while her brother, Rory, turns the milk into Chaseholm Creamery’s line of award-winning artisan cheeses.

When Ken Chase bought three farms in the 1930s and combined them to start his business, there were over 40 dairy farms in Pine Plains. Today, Chaseholm is one of four.

Consolidation in the industry, price fluctuation and real estate development pressure have made business untenable for most family dairies in the region over the decades.

“Not everyone appreciates that the rolling, grassy hills people are drawn to in this region have been maintained by livestock farmers,” Chase shared last week, standing between two orderly rows of cows during morning milking. “As farms are sold off to development, a lot of brush is moving in.”

Chaseholm’s longevity is thanks to a combination of farmer ingenuity, vision, community support and luck.

When Chase returned to the farm after college, it was out of a longing to reconnect with the land and animals she had grown up with while her father, Barry Chase, was managing Chaseholm.

It was also with a new understanding that there was a potential market within local food economies.

“I had friends who were experimenting with small vegetable farms that sold directly to customers through CSAs [community supported agriculture] and markets,” said Chase. “I wondered if something similar might be possible with dairy.”

Ever since Chase took over the farm in 2013, connecting directly with customers has been central to the business.

Chaseholm now operates a small, on-site store mere feet from the barn where the cows march into their stanchions every morning. The store stocks raw milk as well as the farm’s yogurt, beef and pork, and other locally sourced groceries. The cheese Rory makes down the road out of Sarah’s milk is featured as well.

The farm also delivers to CSA pickup sites around the region and the cheeses are available at many local stores and farmers markets.

Most dairy farmers sell their milk to regional cooperatives that pick it up and bring it swiftly to be processed. While the co-ops play an important role in getting fresh milk to market on a large scale, farmers are at the whim of set prices.

“We used to sell that way, but prices are so low and volatile, we couldn’t make it work. There is just constant pressure that reduces the value of milk,” Chase explained while each of the cows waited patiently for a turn to be milked. “There is a saying that when prices are high, you buy more cows to reap the benefits, and when prices are low, you buy more cows to increase production enough to make any money.”

Sarah Chase, owner of Chaseholm Farm in Pine Plains, in the barn her grandfather built.Janna Siller

Getting bigger and bigger felt like a losing battle to Chase, especially with the grass-based practices she had in mind:

“I’m just like my dad — the reason I’m here is because I love the cows. The more I learned about the potential of grass-based grazing systems to regenerate land, it was like discovering that my favorite animal was a superhero.”

To explain why, Chase took a journey to the deep, carbon-sequestering soils of grasslands the world over where herbivores graze concentrated areas in short bursts before moving along to stay safe from predators. The animals stimulate root growth and microbial life by pruning the grasses and by dropping fertilizer in the form of manure.

“We intend to replicate the impact of the great migratory herds, but in miniature, on Chaseholm’s pastures,” Chase said. “We use electric fencing and some brain power to coordinate which plot of land the cows will graze that day and when and where hay will be cut to carry the herd through the winter.”

Rory sees the benefits of grazing on the flavor profile of his cheeses and Sarah sees it on the resilience of the land. “Moisture is being held better in soil. In drought years, we are able to continue grazing.”

Breeding is also a key component of the system. Dutchess County has long been known for its productive, high-quality Holsteins. Chase is adding compatibility with grazing systems to the mix of traits she breeds for in her Holstein-Jersey mixes.

The Chase family, with the support of local land trusts, state funds and local fundraising, has sold the development rights to almost 300 acres of their land, 100 of which are forested, and put it all into permanent conservancy. Chase leases an additional 500 acres of land for producing hay and baleage (think: pickled hay that is extra nutritious to cows).

While Chase is passionate about inviting customers to experience the nutrition, flavor and connection to land that the farm has to offer, she also wants to create access to the unique kind of good time that is only possible on farms. Chaseholm hosts events from June through November with bands playing in the pasture, burgers for sale on the lawn, and drag shows in the barn.

As for the future, Chase hopes to keep anomalously being able to employ farmers in the dairy industry — Chaseholm currently supports a combined two full-time, year-round positions. She also hopes to invest in the farm’s infrastructure with a new barn:

“I want to modernize our facilities so that we can spend more time doing the fun/creative/enterprising stuff and less time just doing chores. It will be a big morale booster around here to move away from our very manual 1930s-style winter feeding methods, and I think our cows will like the new system, too.”

Sarah Chase, owner of Chaseholm Farm in Pine Plains, in front of the farm store and the barn her grandfather built.Janna Siller

Latest News

Robert J. Pallone

NORFOLK — Robert J. Pallone, 69, of Perkins St. passed away April 12, 2024, at St. Vincent Medical Center. He was a loving, eccentric CPA. He was kind and compassionate. If you ever needed anything, Bob would be right there. He touched many lives and even saved one.

Bob was born Feb. 5, 1955 in Torrington, the son of the late Joesph and Elizabeth Pallone.

Keep ReadingShow less
The artistic life of Joelle Sander

"Flowers" by the late artist and writer Joelle Sander.

Cornwall Library

The Cornwall Library unveiled its latest art exhibition, “Live It Up!,” showcasing the work of the late West Cornwall resident Joelle Sander on Saturday, April 13. The twenty works on canvas on display were curated in partnership with the library with the help of her son, Jason Sander, from the collection of paintings she left behind to him. Clearly enamored with nature in all its seasons, Sander, who split time between her home in New York City and her country house in Litchfield County, took inspiration from the distinctive white bark trunks of the area’s many birch trees, the swirling snow of Connecticut’s wintery woods, and even the scenic view of the Audubon in Sharon. The sole painting to depict fauna is a melancholy near-abstract outline of a cow, rootless in a miasma haze of plum and Persian blue paint. Her most prominently displayed painting, “Flowers,” effectively builds up layers of paint so that her flurry of petals takes on a three-dimensional texture in their rough application, reminiscent of another Cornwall artist, Don Bracken.

Keep ReadingShow less
A Seder to savor in Sheffield

Rabbi Zach Fredman

Zivar Amrami

On April 23, Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield will host “Feast of Mystics,” a Passover Seder that promises to provide ecstasy for the senses.

“’The Feast of Mystics’ was a title we used for events back when I was running The New Shul,” said Rabbi Zach Fredman of his time at the independent creative community in the West Village in New York City.

Keep ReadingShow less