SACKETS HARBOR — Old McDonald has a farm, and it's bigger than you might think.
The 4,000-acre farm at 14471 County Route 145 (North Harbor Road) has been a working dairy and crop farm as well as a site for educational tours since 1986.
“When we started, it was to give people a taste of agriculture,” said Nancy M. Robbins, owner of the farm along with husband Ronald C. Robbins.
That taste of agriculture has expanded to include everything from miniature golf to goats, and it caters to a diverse range of tastes. For a $7 admission fee, children and adults can enjoy a Wizard of Oz-themed hayride, a corn maze, more than 200 pettable animals and a visitors center that includes a cafe, ice cream bar, gift shop and screened-in pavilion.
Extras include a pony ride, a bounce house slide, a tour of the family's North Harbor Dairy and a pumpkin patch.
The animals on Old McDonald's Farm range from reindeer and alpacas to cows and camels and all are raised for food or fiber.
In 2001, the Robbins family replaced their small dairy with a 650-cow facility across the road, so it's convenient for tours conducted on the “Mootown Trolley.”
Mrs. Robbins stresses education as an integral part of the Old McDonald's Farm experience, and informational signs about the various animals abound. One interesting tidbit: in 2008, the trickle-down profit for one dairy cow in the local community was $13,700.
“It's so important that people understand our agriculture practices, especially the manure issues, because our cows not only make milk, they make fertilizer,” she said.
Old McDonald's Farm began when Mrs. Robbins, originally from the city of Watertown, married a farmer and began showing off her children's 4-H pets to friends and visitors.
“My husband said ‘If you had a dollar for every pony ride you gave, you wouldn't have to go to work,'” Mrs. Robbins recalled. She ended up taking his suggestion to heart, and though it took her 18 years to turn a profit, she said the venture has been worth it.
The farm, which has been in the Robbins family for 150 years, hosts birthday parties that include the amenities of a regular visit and sees thousands of schoolchildren visiting on field trips every spring and fall.
However, Old McDonald's Farm isn't just for kids, and Mrs. Robbins is working hard to change this perception.
She explained that the business is more like a zoo on a farm property, and added that she sees many military families without children visiting the farm. In her perspective, agriculture is for all ages: “If you like animals, you'll love Old McDonald's Farm,” she said.
While plans for the farm's future include enhancing the existing facilities and preserving it for the Robbinses' children, adding to the menagerie is probably not in the works.
“No more animals! We have enough mouths to feed,” Mrs. Robbins said. “We want to live on this farm forever.”
The farm's fall hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. It is open May 1 through Oct. 31 every year. To contact Old McDonald's Farm, call 583-5737.