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Sheep at Downing Acres in Burke
Sheep at Downing Acres in Burke

Trading the dairy for sheep farming

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Today there are half the number of dairy farms in the North Country than there were twenty years ago. In recent years dairy farmers have been hit especially hard by record low milk prices.

While some farmers are completely leaving the field, others are trying new ways to make it in agriculture.

Producer Julie Grant recently met Patrick and Elizabeth Downing of Burke. They tell their story - of getting rid of the cows, and almost inadvertently finding their way into the sheep market.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

“I’m Pat Downing with Downing Acres and this is my wife, Beth. We bought the farm in 2003 and shipped milk for several years. Upon running out of money and low milk prices, we basically sold the herd and rented the farm and land out.”

“The market went mad so we got out of it,” Beth said. “We sold the herd but the farm started growing up so we needed a way to just keep the pastures clipped. I mean the barnyard, you couldn’t even walk through it back then, so we got the sheep to eat everything down. It wasn’t that big of an additional job and then I worked at the cheese plant in the lab there. I got laid off and we decided to get bigger and that’s when we started getting the other flocks.

“I think we are going to make as much money with the sheep as we did with the dairy business for us because it’s a little less work, you don’t get the big outlay that you get from dairy and when we were shipping milk the money you get in a check is bigger but your outlays are bigger too.”

“Our primary market is in the Boston area,” Pat said. “There’s a farm down there that does a CSA; they do a lot of beef, turkey and pork but don’t have good luck with sheep. It was just coincidence and a lot of luck that the two of us got together and they buy between a 150 and 200 lambs a year from us.”

“The animals that are in there are going to be meat sticks in a couple weeks,” Beth said.

After only a few years of operation the Downings won an agricultural and environmental award from the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District for fencing their pasture to protect a tributary of Allen Brook that runs through their two hundred acre farm. It’s the second such award ever given.

Their story was produced by Julie Grant.

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