APPLETON – The tidy dairy farm has been in the family for more than a century.
And the Sweeney family has always been dedicated to the preservation of agriculture and education.
So it’s no surprise that the family took Champion Herdsmen honors at the New York State Fair in 2012.
But the surprise came when the family took home the same honors again this year.
“We are honored to have won this back to back,” said Deborah Sweeney, whose husband, John, co-owns Maple View Dairy, located at 7371 W. Somerset Road, with his brother, Art Sweeney.
John, Deborah, and their children – Matthew, 21, Christopher, 16, and Melanie, 15 – earned top honors in the fair’s Dairy Cattle Colored Breed Division. Their stock was competing against more than 400 cattle from farms across the state, Pennsylvania and Canada.
The award is given to encourage the dairy exhibitors to maintain a clean, attractive, educational display to attract the public and promote the dairy industry.
Education is in the family’s blood, nearly as much as farming.
Deborah is a teacher in the Wilson Middle and High Schools; Matthew is a senior at Cornell University, preparing for a teaching career; Christopher is a junior at Barker High School; and Melanie attends school in Lockport.
All family members helped prepare and care for the animals they took to show at the fair.
“It was certainly impressive on our end to win this,” said John. “We had pretty good competition and we are humbled by the fact that we’ve won it two years in a row. We need to educate the public because there are fewer and fewer who come from an agricultural background, and especially dairy farms. We try and make it [the exhibits] fun. We want people to take away something positive from it. We like doing it.”
Deborah said the selection committee viewed the displays three times a day during the five days that the animals were on exhibit. The judging is based on general appearance and neatness of the area and the cattle, educational value of the herd display to the fairgoer, interaction with the public, the display itself, including decorations, farm and cow signs and farm pictures, and timeliness of chores – for instance, they earn points for how well the cattle are washed and how clean the aisles are kept.
The family received a $100 cash award and their farm name will be engraved on a plaque hung in the dairy barn at the state fairgrounds in Syracuse.
“There are not too many small farms left – they are mostly factory-type farms,” said Deborah. “But our farm has been in the family for 103 years.”
Sweeney’s great-grandfather, Romyne McClay, bought the farm in 1910, John recalled. McClay was dairy cattle superintendent of the Niagara County Fair and would take his Holsteins by train to exhibit at the state fair.
Sweeney’s grandfather, Arthur McClay, introduced Ayrshires to the stock, which already included Holsteins and Jerseys, and that’s what the Sweeneys exhibited the last two years.
Sweeney’s mother, Beverly, kept the farm in the family with her late husband, John, and their sons, John and Art, took over in the 1990s.
The Sweeneys said their son Christopher has shown interest in becoming the fifth generation on the farm.
He just returned from the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., serving as a New York State delegate at the National 4-H Dairy Conference there. He was also selected by Cornell as a member of the New York State Pro-Dairy Leader Program. This program provides an opportunity to experience the dairy industry along with personal, professional, and leadership development in a networking environment..
“The conference was tremendous,” said John. “It was great networking. Agriculture has come a long way from the time when anybody could do it to now, when it’s much more technical. There is very little room for error. You must be on top of the game.”
“Christopher has been sharing with Dad all that’s learned and Matthew does this, too,” said Deborah. “The boys are learning the newest, latest technology and sharing it.”
The Sweeneys maintain their farm of about 100 head of cattle by calling in nieces and nephews, siblings and spouses, during their busiest times of the year, Deborah said.
“We have a passion for agriculture, for education about agriculture and we do everything we can to let people know how important it is,” she said. “It’s not like years ago when everyone’s grandpa had a farm. Kids – and even their parents – are so far removed from the farm now.
“We just have to educate our kids,” she said.