Cowles Dairy Farm
Family, Faith, and Farming
As Thurlow Cowles’ son Stephen harvests corn on a sunny fall day, Thurlow takes a moment to watch the progress, and look out at the acreage that makes up the Cowles family farmstead, sitting high above Otisco Lake. A photograph of that exact same view is on display at Hancock International Airport – introducing people from all over the world to the natural beauty and pride that make up this part of upstate New York.
The picturesque 700-acre Cowles farm has been a Byrne Dairy farm since the 1980’s and the family hasn’t looked back since. Theirs is one of the many Upstate New York farms that excels in farming. The Cowles’ cows – most of them registered Holsteins – continue to produce great quality milk, while the Cowles maintain a quality appearance, which is something Thurlow also appreciates about Byrne Dairy. “They are excellent in their appearance,” Thurlow said.
The Cowles family has farmed this land as long as Thurlow can remember and then some. His grandfather bought the land in 1917, and his own parents kept it running as a dairy farm, and eventually the farm business was passed onto Thurlow. “I knew I would be a farmer since Day One.” Thurlow said. “I used to sit on my Farmall F-20 and pretend.” As he talks about his family’s history, his sons, Jon and Steve, and wife, Alyce, listen intently, and respectfully. On occasion they break in with insight and humor. Alyce grew up on a farm and loved the farm life – you can tell she still does. She’ll set up a mid-morning snack for the men in her family as though she were feeding them a full meal. And while everyone sits at the kitchen table saying grace over their food, the sunlit colors of Alyce’s well-cared-for flowers pour in through the windows.
The Cowles raised four children… all while milking cows, tending to calves, cutting hay, harvesting corn, and keeping up a farm home and garden pretty enough to grace the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. Today, sons Jon and Steve, who have early memories of doing chores on the farm when they were about 5 years-old, work alongside their parents maintaining the farm, and keeping it a business that they are proud to call theirs. Both boys went away to college, studied farm management, and chose to come back to the farm and work. Jon and his wife Lydia are raising their two children just next door to their parents, in the same house that Thurlow and Alyce built when they were first married. Jon hopes his children will enjoy farming the way he has his whole life.
All told, there are 270 cows at the farm, 240 being milked, which is about as big as the Cowles family would like their farm to stay. With a farm this size, they can sustain their family and keep the work divided between themselves. Jon’s focus is on the cattle, while Steve works with the machinery.
Working with Byrne Dairy has been a positive experience for the family. “They’ve been there for us and treated us very well,” Thurlow said. He remembers dragging the heavy old milk cans out to where the milk truck used to come. Now the Byrne Dairy truck comes every day, and they can depend on that truck – no matter what the weather is like. Thurlow said he appreciates the personal connection that Byrne Dairy offers. “They will go out to the farm and help out whenever there is a problem.”
Both Jon and Steve chose to stay with the family farm because it is a business they have grown up to love and to appreciate. “The other day there was a gorgeous sunset,” Jon said. “Those are the little things you enjoy as a farmer.” Though their days are filled with hard work before sunrise until well past the sunset, Steve agrees, “We get to enjoy it every day.”