Battenkill Valley Creamery: All Natural Milk
Closing the Loop on Milk Production
By Amy L. Stock
The days of having your milkman replace the empty glass milk bottles left on the front porch with fresh ones seem long past. But Salem-based Battenkill Valley Creamery has brought back the tradition of home milk delivery.
The full-service dairy farm, processing and bottling plant offers delivery of fresh milk once a week (in glass bottles) — just one of the farm’s many efforts to continue to carve a niche in the Saratoga region for fresh, all natural, locally-made dairy products.
Donald and Seth McEachron, a father-son duo, launched Battenkill Valley Creamery in February 2008 after several years of research on how to construct and operate their own bottling plant. Fourth- and fifth-generation dairy farmers respectively, the McEachrons sold their milk to other processors before opening the processing and bottling plant. In a business subject to fluctuating milk prices, the McEachrons decided investing in a plant would create a more stable, sustainable business.
They first considered the idea of constructing their own milk bottling and processing plant in 2003, when milk prices declined. "We went around to a bunch of different processing plants in the Northeast to figure out costs,” Seth McEachron said. "But then the price of milk got better, and I was still in college.
"When I graduated, my father wanted me to work off the farm for four years before deciding if I wanted to work on the farm full time,” he said.
So, they put their business plan on hold.
That changed in 2006, when milk prices dropped again. Seth, who was working as a loan officer for First Pioneer Farm Credit, now had experience in financing. Though the four years hadn’t passed, father and son felt it was time to reconsider building the plant.
"Our goal was to become more self-sustained,” Seth said. "Rather than get bigger and bigger, which is what a lot of dairy farms do, we decided to close the loop on the process and have a more stable product.”
They started construction on the bottling and processing plant in 2007 and bottled their first milk in February 2008.
"I remember our first week we processed 13 invoices. It’s hard to sell when you don’t yet have a product,” Seth said.
Since that first week, the business has grown exponentially. In addition to their milk — whole, reduced fat, fat free, cream top, chocolate, half and half and heavy cream — the McEachrons also make all-natural homemade ice cream and sell it at their Creamery and Ice Cream Parlor in Salem, as well as at a number of other retail locations in the region.
They also sell other products from nearby producers, including cheese from Argyle Cheese Farmer and Maplebrook Farm, maple syrup from Mapleland Farm and eggs from Thomas’ Poultry and other local free-range egg producers. All their products are available for sale at the creamery and through home delivery.
Battenkill Valley Creamery’s approach to the business aims to close the loop on milk processing. Their cows are born and raised on the farm. The McEachrons grow their own feed — a mix of hay, corn, alfalfa and other forages — on 1,000-plus acres. The cows are milked on the farm, and the milk is then processed, bottled and sold on site.
The farm includes about 600 cows, with about 300 in milk production. The McEachrons invest a lot of time and money in the care of their cows, which are milked three times a day.
"People don’t realize how much we pamper the animals to keep them healthy and cared for,” Seth said.
A nutritionist comes to the farm every other week to consult on the cows’ diet and health. If a cow gets sick, it’s kept in a separate pen and cared for, and her milk isn’t used until she’s healthy again. They use no growth hormones, pesticides or insecticides.
"Our main goal is to provide the freshest, all-natural, local, highest quality milk at an affordable price for our customers,” Seth said. "Our milk can go from our cows to our bottling plant and in the store for sale within 12 hours.”
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Battenkill Valley Creamery recently received the Highest Quality Milk in New York State Award given out by Cornell University, based on flavor, bacteria, butter fat, purity and shelf life.
"We’re the first farmstead (where the milk is bottled directly on the farm) to receive this award,” Seth said. "This is something I’ve strived to win since starting. To be able to do so only within our second year was really exciting.”
Battenkill Valley Creamery now processes about 200-300 invoices per week.
"We’re busier than we ever thought we’d be, being out in the middle of nowhere, so to speak.”
The creamery is bottling about 8,500 gallons of milk per week — in both plastic and glass containers.
This summer, the ice cream parlor was busier than ever, and customers regularly make the drive out to the creamery to purchase milk and cheeses.
They currently deliver to more than 100 households in Saratoga Springs, Wilton, Greenfield, Ballston Spa, Glens Falls and Schuylerville.
They sell regularly at three local farmers’ markets — Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Troy — in more than 30 retail and grocery stores in the region, including Price Chopper and Hannaford, as well as 70 area restaurants. They’ve also teamed up with the distributor Basis Farm to Chef, selling products in more than 100 restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores in New York City, in addition to home delivery there.
Seth attributes their success to their employees and a loyal customer base.
"What gave us the ability to build a business like this is we had an efficient farming operation already in place with excellent employees. That made it possible to put time and money into operating a creamery,” he said.
Different members of the family contribute to the business’ success in their own way. Don oversees the farm, while Seth oversees the processing and bottling plant. Seth’s mother, xxx, does all the bookkeeping. Seth’s younger sister Amber manages the ice cream shop in the summer, and Yvonne Steiert — Seth’s girlfriend of five years — does all the marketing and outreach.
They employ 18-25 full- and part-time employees, depending upon the season.
Customers are encouraged to come and see the operation, and, while there, sample some ice cream or any of their other products.
"We are 100 percent grateful for our customers, who often say they tried our milk once and decided it tasted so good they’ll buy nothing else,” Seth said.
To get there:
Battenkill Valley Creamery
691 County Route 30
Salem, NY 12865