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SAVOR THE SEASON: Retired surgeon lives a farmer’s life raising beef in Ray Brook

June 22, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

RAY BROOK - Looking for a challenge? Try farming at 1,600 feet above sea level in the Adirondack Mountains, where the soil is thin, poor and acidic and the growing season is short.

Oh, and pick a windy, rocky knoll surrounded by woods where the nearest farming supply store is 50 miles away.

That's what Craig DuMond did when he bought his property in the western Essex County hamlet of Ray Brook in the town of North Elba. He's been raising Hereford beef here for 39 years.

Article Photos

Craig DuMond raises Hereford beef at his Windy Knoll Farm in Ray Brook.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

"We call it Windy Knoll Farm because the people that used to have Arctic Cream restaurant at the end of the road used to play here when their family was young," DuMond said on Thursday afternoon, June 14, taking a break inside his log cabin while it was raining. "This was a field. They would picnic here and sleigh down a little knoll, and they said, 'Yeah, the wind was always blowing here.' They called it Windy Knoll."

But DuMond didn't plan on raising beef in the harshest Adirondack environment he could find. It was a happy accident. An orthopedic surgeon, he had moved to Saranac Lake in July 1978 after his residency at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He went to medical school in New York City and was tired of the traffic and congestion. His brother Eric, a dentist, was already here.

"I am here because I came here for professional reasons, and agriculture was a hobby," he said. "My professional life supported my agricultural life. If I had to do the reverse and have my agricultural life be my primary support, I wouldn't be here."

Instead, he'd be in a place with fertile soil and a longer growing season.

DuMond knows farming. It's in his blood. He was raised in the village of Walton, just west of the Catskills and 60 miles east of Binghamton. Growing up, he worked on his uncle's farm, the place where his father was born and raised. So buying his first herd of Hereford cattle was instinct.

"It's just natural for somebody with a little farming background to see open land and grass growing on it and say, 'What are you going to do with it?'" he said.

DuMond's happy accident happened one day when somebody gave him directions to take a dirt road off the Ray Brook Road that crosses the railroad tracks. He got lost and took a driveway instead that led to a log cabin built four years earlier by Lake Placid News owners Ed and Bobby Hale. Nobody was home, so he peeked through the windows and liked what he saw.

"This was just a house and a field," DuMond said, adding that the property was part of the former Oseetah Farm Dairy.

It was also near the federal prison that was being built, which housed the athletes during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, and the owners were eager to sell. So DuMond bought the place in January 1979.

It didn't take long for DuMond to buy his first cattle. In the spring, he saw a newspaper advertisement from a man in Peru who was selling some Hereford calves.

"So on a Sunday afternoon, my brother and I put our families in the car and went over there," he said. "We told them we would buy three heifer calves and a bull calf. He delivered them here the next week, one week later on Mother's Day."

Soon, with some help, DuMond built fences and a barn. For the next 22 years, he juggled family life, a medical career and farming. He couldn't get away from farming. It was the lifestyle he enjoyed.

"It was just a way of life," he said. "It was pretty demanding to take care of animals morning and evening and still be committed as a physician. ... And it certainly takes a tolerance on the part of your family to make that happen."

After retiring from medicine in 2001, DuMond increased the number of animals he raises. He had eight brood cows during the time he was working, and now he has about 25.

"The way the system works for me, if I've got 25 brood cows, then I get ideally 25 calves every spring and I keep them until they are about 18 months old and harvest them in the fall a year-and-a-half after their birth," he said.

That means in the summer, DuMond has a total of about 75 heads, counting the calves, and in the winter he has about 50. It's a lot to manage on this 85-acre farm. But he gets some help when it comes haying time. He cuts hay at Heaven Hill Farm and on Dr. George Hart's old farm on Averyville Road in Lake Placid.

DuMond also raises chickens.

"I started doing pasture-raised poultry in order to give my younger son a job in the summertime when he was a freshman in high school," he said. "He used to raise about 500 chickens a summer ... roasting chickens."

When his son got older and moved away, he kept the chickens, only raising about half that amount now.

"We enjoy the chickens," he said. "If you're going to do 20 or 30 for yourself, you might as well do another 150 for some other people."

Then DuMond tried a pig or two, and he really liked that, so now he has about 10 pigs. But beef remains his focus.

"Is your beef grass-fed?" That's a question a lot of people want to know, but it's not always an easy question to answer, especially on this mountain farm.

"We just call ours natural," DuMond said.

He doesn't use hormones or antibiotics with his animals. And they eat as much grass and hay as possible. The cattle are outside every day of the year and have access to come into the barn whenever they want. That's where they get fed, twice a day.

"I give them hay, and they get all the grass they want when the grass is growing, but they don't eat snow real well," DuMond said. "So in the wintertime, we have to rely solely on hay."

He also supplements the diet for the cattle with corn, about 6 pounds of it every day for the adults, which grow to about 1,000 pounds when they are harvested. Each animal eats about 28 pounds of hay a day. DuMond buys his corn in Malone, about 18 tons every year, and it's ground up in a hammer mill before being fed to the cattle.

"But you have to recognize that in this environment, in the North Country where you have an exceedingly short growing season, we have acid soils, we have very little fertility in the soil," he said. "It would be exceedingly difficult to grow a good quality carcass of beef in 18 months without some higher energy inputs than just grass."

At harvest time every November, DuMond brings his cattle to Tri-Town Packing in Brasher Falls, six head at a time. He sells it by the carcass weight, the dry hanging weight when the animal is slaughtered.

"That's really the only time the animal gets weighed, so that's the basis on which I sell it," he said.

DuMond sells his animals directly to customers. He has no wholesale operation, no storefront, no website, just a membership to the Adirondack Harvest marketing organization, a Facebook page and word-of-mouth testimonials from his former customers. He is at 72 Ray Brook Road. Just look for the Adirondack Harvest sign next to the driveway.

As for the agricultural challenges in Ray Brook, some things are getter better. DuMond no longer has to travel to Malone or Plattsburgh for farming supplies. The Tractor Supply Company opened a store 1 mile from his farm in October 2015.

"They know me well," he said.

DuMond is happy on his windy little knoll. He's a farmer and enjoys the farming lifestyle, no mater what Mother Nature throws at him.

"It's not that Mother Nature is bad," he said. "It's just that Mother Nature is what it is, and we try to push the limits and get a little more out of it than what Mother Nature wants to give us. So it's always a struggle. ... That's really what the farmer's life is all about - trying to adjust his program to what Mother Nature gives him and compensate for what it doesn't."

 
 

 

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