LEDYARD — Once he and his family took over a local beef farm, Tim Pallokat said protecting the lakes has always been a priority.
Cayuga View Farm, located in Ledyard, was awarded the New York Beef Producers Association's Environmental Stewardship Award at its 2019 winter conference for the practices Pallokat has implemented to protect the environment since taking the farm over around 2012.
Wilson Mitchell Jr. began the farm years ago and transitioned to a black Angus beef herd in 1965 when he left the dairy business, Pallokat said. Living down the road from one another, the farmers began to work together in 2008. Pallokat asked Mitchell for some hay and he was told he could have all the hay he wanted as long as he helped bail it the next year. The farmers then chose to merge their cattle herds.
“That’s how it all started,” Pallokat said. "He died at the age of 94, so he was a young spring chicken when we met him,” he laughed. He added that Mitchell donated two acres of his land to create the Evergreen Cemetery, so now he rests on his own farm.
Adhering to Mitchell's No. 1 priority of "quality over quantity,” Cayuga View strives for "really good genetics and progressive cattle," Pallokat said. The 50-cattle herd, producing natural beef, is given extreme care. "They get treated like queens sometimes. Ours are above and beyond spoiled.”
In an effort to also control how the cattle treat the environment, Pallokat did multiple projects on Cayuga View Farm with the help of about $92,000 in federal grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and about $170,000 in state grants in partnership with Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District. The farm was on a priority funding list due to being on karst soil, Pallokat said. Karst soil breaks up easily and allows water and contamination to leech into the lakes quickly, he said, adding there's not much sand or gravel in the soil to filter the water.
Originally, the main barn facility consisted of a single indoor barn dating back to the late 1800s, Pallokat said. As of 2017, the farm also has a covered manure storage area and a covered barnyard.
The covered facilities have a roof system designed to collect rain runoff that is then directly routed to a creek on the property via an underground 10-inch drain pipe, Pallokat said. The creek is part of Great Gully tributary and water may take about 10 minutes or less to flow from the farm to Cayuga Lake, so keeping the water clean is important to Pallokat.
“What those facilities do, is that this time of year, provide a place for the cows to go out, they exercise, they eat, there’s (beds) out there, and the manure is contained,” Pallokat said. “And then we spread when we can, when the ground is right.”
Manure is spread in accordance to the farm's Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, which Pallokat said is optional for a farm his size. The farm's roughly 125 acres is more than enough land for the 50 cows' manure, which allows all of it to be spread on crop ground and not on hay ground.
As another water protection measure, Pallokat also started a grazing plan that fully operated for the first time last summer. Funding helped Cayuga View pay for a new well, fencing to create about 12 pasture areas and a laneway and bridge for the cattle to cross the creek that runs through the farm. With the laneway and 40 acres of land dedicated to be a grassland buffer, the farm is containing and preventing runoff.
The 1,000-foot-long laneway is 12-feet wide and helps prevent erosion by leading from the barn to a bridge. The bridge allows cows to access 20 acres on the other side of the creek. Pallokat also laid out water lines so he can provide water from the barn to the pasture areas on both sides of the creek.
Last summer, Pallokat moved around a single wire, creating a new fence line, to rotate the cows to a new pasture area within his three large fields. The cows were moved every three days with 30 days of rest for each pasture.
"They got so accustomed to it, it was the coolest thing. When they heard the four-wheeler coming, they would run to the laneway and be waiting for me to drop that wire so they could get in the fresh grass,” he said. “The grass would grow, and it worked out really cool. And it was the best thing we did."
Since the cows were relocated to a new pasture when the one they were in still had about three inches of grass left, the plants grew back faster, Pallokat said.
“The most important thing I can tell you is: We all have to work together around here. For us — it became very important — the No. 1 thing was leaving the water better than we found it for our kids to use the lakes," Pallokat said. "It can be tough to work with (grants), but if you’re conscious of the environment and that’s what you want — you can do it. ... I wish a lot of the smaller farms would do it.”
Due to receiving the state's Beef Producers Association Environmental Stewardship Award, Cayuga View Farm is now nominated for regional recognition.
“I think it’s really cool that this part of New York gets to represent the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, or have a nomination for that,” Pallokat said. “That’s very unique because ... we’re competing against ranches from Arizona, from California — we’re competing against big, 20,000 acre ranches. But, the difference is, they have 20,000 acres out there (but) what’s the population their watershed affects? 100,000? This watershed affects millions. Because it affects Cayuga Lake which goes to Lake Ontario which affects all the watersheds around.”
While the changes made to the farm were huge, Pallokat said, it benefits everyone when manure isn't headed into the lakes from farms.
“This is your tax dollars. It might benefit Cayuga View Farm, but it also benefits everybody in the county and everybody in the state and anybody who uses the lake.”