George and Mary Lue Mueller began dairy farming 60 years ago in Clifton Springs as Willow Bend Farm was founded in 1957. Today, under the leadership of Mueller’s son, John, and several other family and non-family partners including the Nedrow Family, the farm has grown from a single location milking 80 cows to three separate dairy farms milking over 4,000 cows. Information about all three Ontario County dairy farms, Willow Bend, Spring Hope, and Bonna Terra, can be found at www.WillowBendFarms.com.

Along with their team, John Mueller (left) and Tucker Coryn (right) focus on the health and comfort of the herd at Willow Bend Farm. Photo provided by Willow Bend Farm.

An important person on that farm is Tucker Coryn, the Herd Manager at the original farmstead where it all began – Willow Bend Farms. At this location, employees are responsible for milking 1,400 cows which results in producing more than 12,000 gallons of milk EVERY DAY (nearly 200,000 glasses of milk)! This milk is processed at Upstate Niagara Cooperative and can be found at Wegmans and Tops and is even the milk in the popular Intense Milk lineup! Tucker and his crew are also responsible for the heifers (young, female cows that haven’t had a calf yet) for all three farms which includes over 400 calves at any given time! By concentrating the labor and management to one facility for their heifers, the team is focused on securing the health and future of their herd. At Willow Bend Farm, they take great pride in being at the leading edge of cow comfort even allowing their cows to have 24 hour a day access to a sandy beach for their bed.

Let’s hear what Tucker has to say about his role in the agriculture industry.

Why do you farm every day?

Although I did not grow up on a farm, I grew up around the business of farming. My family has operated Coryn Farm Supplies in Canandaigua, NY for 80 years, selling tractors and machinery to area farmers since 1937. Spending a great deal of my childhood riding around with my dad, delivering equipment to farms, I was always fascinated by visiting local farm, and farmers. I was amazed by what nature and nurture, when combined by a farmer’s knowledge, can produce. I think most kids struggle to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, but for me it was always simple – I wanted to be a farmer.

The team at Willow Bend Farms is responsible for developing the future of the herd by ensuring the health and well-being of over 400 calves is top-notch. Photo provided by Willow Bend Farm.

If you didn’t grow up on a farm, how did you become part of the dairy industry?

I found part-time jobs on any farm that would give me a chance, and spent a good chunk of my after-school and weekend time stacking hay and milking cows. I followed my passion for farming to Cornell University, eventually landed an internship, and later, a full-time offer upon graduation, at Willow Bend. My desire to farm doesn’t end when I leave my day-job each afternoon. My wife and I also operate a small beef farm in Canandaigua called Sunshine Beef. We raise Angus and dairy-breed steers, and market our beef locally, to adhere to the growing demand for locally-produced meats.

What are you doing at Willow Bend that leaves a positive impact?

At Willow Bend Farm, we concentrate a great deal of effort upon being a cornerstone of our community.  We offer farm tours to groups and host hundreds of school children, teachers, and parents annually.  As a first grader at Canandaigua Primary School over 22 years ago, I can even recall my own field trip to Willow Bend Farm! We try to give our visitors a full and enriching look at all aspects of our farm.  Additionally, we try to open our doors to neighbors and other visitors, and we publish a newsletter for the community and non-farming neighbors.  Being situated right next to the Thruway, I’ve found myself showing around curious people who simply found their way off the interstate to check out the farm! Feel free to check out Farm Tour information on our website and stop by for a visit!

Can you explain a few things that you put into practice on your farm that impacts the future of the industry?

On our farm, we devote as much effort as possible on animal welfare, as well as environmental stewardship. We spend time each year conducting employee training on how to properly handle animals, farm safety, and calf care.  We have fans and sprinklers to cool our cows throughout the summer heat and inject our cows’ manure via drag hose resulting in a reduction of odors and runoff. These practices have done wonders to improve our animals’ well-being, our farms’ sustainability and project a positive image of farming to the community.

What is the biggest challenge you face in dairy farming?

I believe that the biggest challenge dairy farmers’ face is the changing marketplace for our dairy products, and the tidal wave of product differentiation being pitched to consumers.  Take a look at the yogurt case in your local supermarket.  Chances are, you’ll find dozens of different products being marketed with labels of all sorts: organic, non-GMO, hormone-free, etc. At the end of the day, all of these yogurts contain one common ingredient: milk. While consumers have the right to vote three times each day with their meal choices, I think it is up to farmers and the dairy industry as a whole to educate consumers that no matter what type of dairy product they choose, all will contain fresh, safe, and wholesome MILK.  

What do you see as the biggest opportunity as part of the future of Willow Bend Farm?

I believe that the biggest opportunity for the future of Willow Bend Farm are the advancements in technology becoming available to farmers.  With individual cow monitoring systems, similar to your FitBit, and rumination monitoring, we will have the ability to keep a closer eye on the health and well-being of our cows.  We will be able to attend to her needs hours or even days before she presents outward symptoms of a sore foot or a case of indigestion.  On the cropping side of our farm, technology that will allow us to monitor our harvest will allow us to provide a consistent and high quality supply of feed for our cows.

If you could tell consumers one thing about what you do on your farm, what would it be?

I would like for consumers to know that we at Willow Bend Farm take great pride in producing high quality milk, and being a positive influence within our community and our industry. Our mission statement says it all: “To strive for excellence in producing large quantities of high quality milk, and be among the best in the care of our animals, our land, and our people.”