The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Client Spotlight:
Tiashoke Farm is a fifth-generation dairy in Buskirk, New York, that has been thoughtfully expanding into beef production over the past six years. Recently they began working with HVADC through the Incubator Without Walls (IWW) program to strategize further expansion. The Ziehm family’s farm is strong now but they are working with HVADC to make sure they’re strategically diversified to ensure that the farm they hand off to future generations is even stronger.
Frank Ziehm moved the farm enterprise, which he had assumed from his father, from north Albany 50 years ago when he saw the encroachment of suburban sprawl. He and wife Terry were enticed by farming friends to settle in Washington County. They moved 35 cows to Buskirk. In the ensuing half-century the herd has increased to over 2,000 cattle, 1,050 of which are active milkers. The farm itself is over 2,000 acres on three properties in Buskirk and Easton, including cropland used to produce their own feed and a pumpkin stand. All three of Frank and Terry’s sons, Brian, Eric and Stuart, work on the farm, now having taken over management of the business, with Frank working part time.
While the dairy has been and remains Tiashoke’s focus, six years ago the farm began a beef production program for retail. The program made sense, as they already had the infrastructure to care for the animals in place. It was initially started as a college fund for the ever-growing multigenerational family, according to Jessica Ziehm (Frank’s daughter-in-law with son Brian) but the success of the beef project has opened their eyes to a number of other opportunities, with the dairy always as the “mother ship.”
The biggest change brought about by the meat endeavor, according to Jessica Ziehm, was the difference in the types of sales tactics they use. Their dairy is sold as a bulk commodity while the beef is sold direct to market. The beef is offered for sale at the farm and other retail locations. She says that while she does see beef production as a viable expansion for other dairies, it’s incredibly important to make sure farmers consider the major sales and marketing tasks that go along with it. Luckily that’s her expertise, and she is also the daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter of dairy farmers.
Another major consideration was access to processing. There are two USDA certified plants within proximity to Tiashoke. While things had been rolling smoothly for Tiashoke beef, 2020, unsurprisingly, posed unique challenges as increased beef sales created a bottleneck at the slaughterhouses.
“COVID took everybody by surprise. As farmers our lives didn’t change that much. The world around us changed,” She said. “Sales have easily doubled but it’s been a challenge too. Now we are thinking about how we could do more. It’s forced us to get creative with our marketing.”
Through HVADC’s IWW program, the Zeihms have been working with business advisor Brian Zweig to find new ways to utilize the farm’s three Washington county properties and farm spaces to their maximum potential.
“Brian has been great to work with. He challenges me,” Jessica said. “He shares with me things to work on and think about. We’ve worked with him for two years and we have frank conversations. It’s nice to have someone who’s not family to be a great, unbiased source of advice. It’s been extremely critical for us. He’s like a coach.”
Zweig said he’s impressed by the forethought of the family to go about expanding in such a deliberate way so the farm stays viable for the future. “When you do business planning you see if the idea in your head works on paper,” Zweig said. “Does it still make sense? You have to justify everything. The Ziehm’s represent a new generation of farmer. Jessica is bringing an interest in marketing that is extremely valuable. It has not traditionally been the path taken by dairy farms and it has served them well.”
For the first time, this year Tiashoke began raising pork, farrowed two sows in April and harvested them in the fall. They said it was a much steeper learning curve than just raising cows for a different purpose.
“Along with adding additional revenue, beef and pork production is allowing us to have a face with consumers,” said Jessica. “We’ve been working with HVADC on plans to expand our diversification. Our pumpkin stand was also very successful this year. COVID nearly doubled sales there. The question now is, how do we keep them coming back?”
Though Jessica and Brian Ziehm’s son and daughter are still young, their kids, and five nephews are always in mind when undertaking new endeavors.
“Not all of them are going to want to be dairy farmers,” she said. ”But they do love customer service and marketing. So as we diversify we can say, maybe there is something else you are passionate about on the farm.”
The multigenerational approach to business growth being taken by the Ziehm family at Tiashoke Farm is a deeply inspiring personal story but it’s also an example for other farms looking towards their own agricultural future in the Hudson Valley.
For more information about the Incubator Without Walls program, visit https://www.hvadc.org/iww