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Hill-Over Holsteins and Swiss disperses, but owners keep passion for dairy

Ellie Steensma for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 September 2017
Fred with one of his award-winning cows, Bugsy.

Fred and Donna Barringer, co-founders of the recently dispersed Hill-Over Holsteins and Swiss herd, are longtime dairy farmers in Copake, New York, with a passion and dedication to the dairy industry.

In June, the Barringers sold their registered Holstein and Brown Swiss herd and charted off on a new adventure. However, even with the herd gone, their passion is still as evident as it has been for many years. They leave a legacy of what it means to be strong-willed, determined and successful dairy farmers.

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Their story begins over 40 years ago. Early in his career, Fred Barringer was interested in breeding and genetics. He worked for various cattle breeders, which influenced him to breed his own Holsteins. He started with just five registered Holsteins purchased from a local cattle dealer in 1971.

Fred with three of his daughters by their family farm sign.

From these five cows, he developed his own registered Holstein herd with five major families, eventually building himself up to 80 milking cows on 200 acres. Keeping these key breeding families created a reputation for the depth of pedigree in Barringer’s herd and reflected Fred’s lifelong love for breeding and raising dairy cattle. Later on, he purchased a few Brown Swiss to add higher carotene and butterfat levels to the milk he sold.

Barringer’s passion for breeding and all aspects of the dairy industry are clearly evident. His cows became like family to him and, with such a small herd, he got to know his cows as well as one might know a close friend. Like many small farm owners, Barringer milked his own cows and made the farming life a cherished piece of his lifestyle.

“Milking the cows was truly the best part of my day,” he says. If he could, Barringer would surely milk cows and farm for a lifetime; however, he decided to end his four decades of dairying due to low milk prices and other challenges of life.

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The cover of Hill-Over Holsteins and Swiss’ sale catalog from the May 6 dispersal.

Yet Barringer is still optimistic. Fortunately for him and his family, many of the cows in his award-winning herd were purchased by local farmers and close friends of the Barringer family. These friendly cohorts will report news of the former herd members and even ask for breeding advice. This is a testament to Barringer’s passion and credibility with breeding skills in the eyes of his peers.

When it comes to genetics, Barringer has wise advice for fellow dairy farmers. “The whole secret to [breeding] is finding the bulls that work best on your cows,” he explains, pointing out popular bulls aren’t always the best ones for the herd. According to Barringer, good genetics, topped with ideal breeding techniques, maximize milk production and longevity. This is why it was so important in Barringer’s mind to keep purebred families.

Alongside their successful dairy herd, the Barringer family operated a small farm store selling local cheese, ice cream and eggs, and offered home deliveries of products. Although the family did not own their own bottling plant, they were able to bottle their milk at a neighboring creamery and sell it in the store. The store was small and not enough to make more than a supplemental living, but it was something for which the family enjoyed working hard.

The dairy industry has played a major role in the family life of the Barringers. Selling their herd made for a rapid change of pace. Barringer is proud he had the opportunity to raise his four daughters on a farm and teach them the importance of hard work. Although only two of his four daughters are pursuing dairy careers, all were actively involved on the farm and in 4-H as youth.

Hill-Over Arlift Tootsie, shown by Allison, Fred’s granddaughter.

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A 20-year 4-H leader himself, he continues to advocate for agricultural education. Several years ago, Barringer helped found what he calls the “Borrow a Calf” program. This program provides calves for kids of all ages, teaching them showing and fitting skills as well as animal care.

Many of the calves used in this program come from Hill-Over Holstein and Swiss lineage. In fact, though his herd was sold, Barringer did keep a few calves on the farm in order to keep the program running and also to encourage his grandkids to continue showing.

Barringer hopes that with this program, he and other farmers can educate young people and help them gain important skills such as responsibility and perseverance. His incentive is the joy he feels when he sees how much the kids have grown from the program, and the work he has put in is inspirational.

Hill -Over GPS Baja, shown by Colin, Fred’s grandson.

For the next few months, Barringer and his wife plan to continue selling local products and pursuing new ways to work in the dairy industry. With plans for full retirement still far on the horizon, Barringer is interested in looking for employment in some agricultural aspect or possibly starting his own niche market venture with a few cows and a small bottling plant.

However, when asked specifically what doors he’d prefer to open, he sounded unsure. Since there are so many opportunities to get involved in the dairy industry and elsewhere in agriculture, he has decided to leave his options open and see what the next few years have in store. And then there is the possibility of filling up the barn and milking cows again.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Fred with one of his award-winning cows, Bugsy. Photo by Dieter Krieg, Farmshine Newspaper

PHOTO 2: After four decades of breeding and developing their herd, Fred and Donna Barringer decided to disperse it. Photo provided by Fred and Donna Barringer.

PHOTO 3: The cover of Hill-Over Holsteins and Swiss’ sale catalog from the May 6 dispersal. Image provided by Graves Arbor Graphics

PHOTO 4: Hill-Over Airlift Tootsie shown by granddaughter Allison

PHOTO 5: Hill-Over GPS BAJA shows by grandson Colin. Photos by Frank Robinson, printed with permission from Fred Barringer.

Ellie Steensma is a freelance writer Based in Washington.

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