The Dream the Drive the Distance
As printed in the Summer Purebred Dairy Breeders' Magazine and June 2018 Brown Swiss Bulletin
Success born from Perseverance
It’s a name that embodies integrity and success in the business world. It is a name synonymous in the dairy industry with champions like Griffin, Cameron, Blexy, Blanche and more. And, in the state of New York, it is a founding family with generations of visionary ideas.
The dairy industry is quite familiar with the name Peter Vail, but possibly only a few know the story of the man’s deep dairy roots or his challenges through the years building a successful agriculture business.
“It has been an inspiration watching Peter Vail develop his interests from a small dairy herd into various agricultural enterprises. He always kept a sweet tooth for quality dairy cattle….and as they say, ‘It now shows,’' said Wayne Sliker, Modern Associates.
Peter Vail’s roots run deep in the New York dairy landscape. His family settled in the North Salem area on the southeast end of Peach Lake, not far out of New York City, in the 1700s. In the 1900s they had a commercial dairy farm that shipped milk to Brewster Dairy and in the 1900s they had summer cottages for city folks on their edge of the lake. “My Grandfather Vail was quite a visionary,” Peter stated. “He had three barns each about two miles apart and milked 150-160 cows. He raised no heifers, he went to the cattle dealer and bought or traded beef for springers. In 1925, he built a nine-hole golf course, put tent platforms up around the lake and then built around 85 cottages that people from the city would come buy the cottages and pay us rent for the land they sat on. There were little streets, waterlines, bath houses, picnic areas and Pavilions, all behind my grandfather’s house,” he said. “The summer business employed most of the grandkids. During the weekends the land was packed with people from the Bronx.”
In 1954, as the direction of the country changed, the rentals and summer cottages went by the wayside, and in the mid-60s a new co-op bought the cottages and a large portion of the Vail farmland was sold around that time too.
Peter’s strong attachment to dairy that developed from the roots of his family continued as, at the age of 16, he began helping David Younger at the state fair in 1955. Younger, a horseman from Nebraska, was originally employed by Mr. Dreyfus, the music publisher who lived in North Salem. Younger eventually went to work for Mr. Crystal of Hanover Hill where the famed cow man flourished and excelled. Peter helped Younger for several years.
In 1959, while still in college, Peter married his childhood sweetheart, Lyn. “I met my wife at Peach Lake during a summer visit. I think we were 10. Her father worked in Yonkers. We’ll be married 59 years this June,” Peter said proudly.
After graduating in 1960 from Cornell, he applied for an area representative job with the Holstein Association ,and when he didn’t get it went home, with his wife, to help milk 80 cows in one of the three barns with his father. “At that time, we carried all the milk up the stairs into the milk house and put it through a filter, then put the cans in the cold-water cement tanks. The cans were later hauled out to the local dairy in Wilton, Connecticut.” A short while later, a dairy farmer in Carmel wanted to get out of milking. Peter and his wife Lyn purchased the herd of half Holsteins and half Brown Swiss and all the equipment. They purchased a farm approximately 60 miles north of his father and began milking on their own. “I was 21 in 1961 and milking my own herd of cows and by 1964 I was broke!” he exclaimed. Cashing in stock purchased by an aunt for him when he was young, he paid off his debts, sold the farm and he and Lyn and the growing family moved to Amenia, New York.
DEVELOPING THE ENTREPENUER
Peter took a job working for a machinery dealer and feed company. A fertilizer company, Hubbard-Hall expanded and built a fertilizer blend plant just down the street from where he was working. Peter went to work for them in 1965. Through a series of events, mergers, being in the right place at the right time and just good fortune, by 1968 Peter was a regional manager over 12 fertilizer plants for what became Agrico by 1977. As consolidation of the businesses began and plants were closed, work became challenging. On January 12, 1979, over dinner in South Charleston, he teamed up with the partners of Carolina-Eastern and Carolina Eastern-Vail was born. With personal investments and a loan, they began purchasing closed plants, starting in Niverville, New York. They purchased and hauled equipment in from other closed plants and by April 10, 1979 they began shipping fertilizer. Now, with eight locations, Carolina Eastern-Vail Inc., better known to the agricultural community as CaroVail Fertilizer, has been dedicated to servicing the farm community of New York and New England for almost 40 years. They believe their success is directly linked to the success of their farmers. Since its inception, CaroVail has grown from a simple field spreading business to providing a full range of service offerings including field maintenance, crop protection products, and state-of-the-art field mapping and soil analysis services. Beyond providing custom application, fertilizer, crop protection, and seed to the agricultural community, CaroVail also has active specialty divisions. CaroVail offers organic products and supports a strong Turf and Ornamental Division, which specializes in providing custom products for athletic fields, golf courses, parks/public greenways, and the custom lawn care business. CaroVail’s support of these specialty divisions spans across their market footprint — from western New York through New England. Peter’s son, Peter Jr., is now the President of Carolina-Eastern Vail.
Throughout this time of movement, raising a family and developing a successful fertilizer business, Peter’s love of dairy cattle and the industry did not die. As success grew and Peter Jr. became more involved with the business, Peter decided it was time to get back into dairy cows.
RETURNING BACK TO HIS ROOTS
In the 1990s, with sidekick Henry Beneke, they bought seven head in the Piedmont Sale. “I had the opportunity to buy Veronica (Huronia Centurion Veronica) around that time too and was the contending bidder on her up to $82,000 but really didn’t have the means to care for her,” laughed Peter.
Another dairy partnership began in 2002. “Ken Main and I had known each other for years and bought our first cow, which was Peggy 2 and we built a barn in Copake, New York. We’ve only been breeding Swiss since 2002, 2003 but there are a lot of Cutting Edge genetics across the United States now. Ken does a great job of breeding and mating cattle,” Peter said. Since Peggy 2, they’ve had multiple World Dairy Expo champion cows including Dublin-Hills Treats, Cutting Edge P Gretchen, Old Mill JP Grace, and Eloc Wagor Kandid, also the first cow of the breed to score EX-95; and the 2017 Reserve Grand Champion Cutting Edge Thunder Faye. They are milking 70 head at Elite Dairy with a rolling herd average over 21,000M. Ken makes the day to day decisions, but he says, “Peter is the best partner anyone can have. He is understanding, I try to keep him abreast of everything. He graduated from Cornell and was on the judging team and he knows a good one from a bad one. It just works really well.”
In 2005, Peter purchased the Jersey, Llolyn Jude Griffen at the Field of Dreams sale, through Norm Nabholz over the phone. “I told Norm, I’d buy her, but I had no where to put a cow like that and he said he knew of a young couple that could do it. Tom and Kelli Cull of Budjon were just getting started. So, I bought her. A few weeks later I went out to see her and I remember driving up the driveway and there was Griffen and Elegance (Krull Broker Elegance EX-96) in the same pasture. It was just beautiful!” And that was the beginning of a strong and lasting partnership. Griffen went on to score EX-95 and win multiple national championships under the care of Tom and Kelli and their Budjon crew.
“Peter is a cool partner to have,” says Kelli. “He trusts us 110%. He is in business to cash flow, but he loves the cows. He comes out a few times a year and it’s all about the cows and the people. He is as emotionally invested as we are. There is a lot of respect and trust there between us. It’s really so much more than just a partnership,” she said.
Tom, Kelli and Peter are best known under the Budjon-Vail prefix. Jerseys aren’t their only partnership as Peter is part owner of several championship Holsteins including the 2017 World Dairy Expo Supreme Champion and All-American and All-Canadian Rosiers Blexy Goldwyn-ET 2E-96, along with the Abbotts, Van Exel and Woodmansees. He was also an owner with the Culls, Abbotts and Woodmansees on Robrook Goldyn Cameron EX-95, a multiple All-American and All-Canadian and champion of the 2013 Royal Winter Fair.
Peter has a great eye for cattle, as evidenced by his many purchases that result in champions in multiple breeds. He has stood in the winner’s circle with the Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn, Eichlers MD Blanche-ET and Reserve Grand Champion Ayrshire, Bear Ayr Burdette Ray, both owned with Mike and Linda Hellenbrand, as well as Guernseys with Hellebrands, Morey Miller and Dan Basse.
“I like animals with deep pedigrees and production. There needs to be the ability to market calves from what we invest in. But I depend a lot on partners and the best people I know to analyze cattle and help make that decision to buy. Especially the top-notch ones,” said Peter. When asked if genomics plays into his decisions, he responded that they had tried that, and although they do have some high-index type animals, genomics wasn’t a fit for him. “The genomic market tends to be controlled by too few people and it is difficult for folks to get involved and make money. You get a group of four or five and only one is high-genomics then you have the balance to deal with. It just wasn’t the fit for me,” he said.
As Kelli stated, Peter does believe in not only buying good cows but selling good ones as well. In 2006, Peter and partner Henry Beneke held the Oblong Valley Celebration Sale where they dispersed the Jerseys. Topping that sale was Extreme Electra who sold just fresh that April for $40,000. Peter and partner Ken Main have hosted numerous sales in both New York and Wisconsin ,selling quality Cutting Edge genetics throughout the country and globe. Their most recent Elite Spring Selections, which they hosted, averaged 3,761 with animals going to 17 states and Canada. Within the last several years, Budjon Farm and partners, along with Peak Genetics have hosted the Define Your Destiny sales in Wisconsin selling top genetics and show type Holsteins and Jerseys. The 2018 edition averaged $7,563 with the high seller a Jersey owned by Budjon and the Vails at $89,000. Billings Impression of Booboo-ET EX-91 was the ABA All-American Junior 2-Year-Old in 2017. The second-high seller was Lingle Gold Freaky Girl-ET an EX-92 All-American that sold fresh in April for $50,000.
“With high level cattle in all dairy breeds, Peter has been a great asset to the purebred industry with big-time winners in all breeds and more that are sure to come. What is also to be appreciated is Peter’s willingness to sell from the top end to help promote each breed…a rare quality among successful showmen and breeders!” said Sliker.
“The registered industry needs to get its act together,” said Peter. “Right now, the emphasis should be components, but in Holstein and Jerseys, those breeds are not having as good a year in the proper perspective as other high component breeds. Our recent Brown Swiss sale had solid prices. The sale averaged $500 more than a year ago and our personal sales were $200 more. To me, that is indicative of the component breeds.
Also, the industry needs to work more cooperatively. There needs to be more efficiency with dollars and work and it needs to happen quickly. It is going to be more difficult for breeds to continue to go in separate ways. There needs to be more creative marketing and ideas for promotion. For instance, the Brown Swiss need promoted more for fat and protein,” stated Peter
Peter Vail has certainly seen a lot of rise and fall within his own life as well as the dairy industry in his 70 plus years. But his keen eye, business sense, integrity and passion have established him as one of the most profitable and successful dairymen in the United States. It will be interesting to see who his next champion is…..