Farm Series: My three sons and Fat Cow Farm

Photo by Cindi Robinson

Editor’s note: In an effort to support local farmers the Charlotte Grange has volunteered to feature a new farm story each month in The Charlotte News. Here is part five of the series. If you would like to be a featured farm in a future issue please contact Lynn Monty.

What’s a dad to do? Peter Trono has two businesses and three sons. Lucas, son no. 1, is running the fuel business. Derek, son no. 2, has the apartment rental business. And Zach, son no. 3, will soon graduate from college. Plus, Dad is too young to retire, and neither Lucas nor Derek need him anymore as they have the two businesses under control. What to do? How about raise a few fat cows?

Peter’s dad started the fuel business in 1946, and Peter, already busy with apartments and real estate in the Burlington area, took it over in 1982. Managing both businesses kept him busy, but as his sons grew and started working with him, Peter realized a time would come for him to step away and let Lucas and Derek run the fuel and real estate businesses. That time came in 2011.

Zach liked farming, and Dad, a UVM College of Agriculture graduate, needed something to keep him busy. At the time, Clark Hinsdale’s plans for a “mega” farm did not get approved, and Peter bought the 82 acres on Bingham Brook Road that had been earmarked for this project. Already on the property were large feed bunkers and a barn. It was now simply a matter of what to raise that would be productive, provide a sense of purpose and, hopefully, become profitable.

Peter and Zach started with Scottish Highlanders but soon decided they would prefer to deal with a breed that didn’t have such prominent horns. Enter Scott Barnes who had some Herefords and was willing to trade 20 of his herd for the Highlanders. Scott also had a bull, so Peter and Zach started a breeding program with an eye toward producing local beef.

Always exploring different avenues and educating themselves in the farming industry, the Tronos learned about Kobe beef, which is a product of the Wagyu breed. This Japanse breed is prized for its superior meat quality and ease of calving. The beef has a buttery, tender texture and is known for its superb flavor. The fat from Kobe beef is also high in Omega 3s and 6s, and a steak of the same weight as a piece of swordfish has the same fat values as the swordfish. Peter and Zach decided to add Wagyu to their herd and four years ago purchased two bulls to breed to their Hereford heifers.

Later this year the Tronos’ second generation of Hereford/Wagyu crosses—75 percent Wagyu and 25 percent Hereford—will be processed and marketed as American-style Kobe beef. All their beef is processed in Milton at the LaPlatte processing facility. They sell it at the farm store on the property and at Spear’s Corner Store, and La Villa Restaurant buys the ground beef.

Fat Cow Farm also has a unique breed of sheep, Dorper, which are raised for meat, not wool. These sheep, which Trono got from Roland Ayer in Ferrisburgh, have hair as opposed to wool so require no shearing. The breed originated in South Africa by crossing the Blackheaded Persian sheep from Arabia with Dorset Horn rams, which produced the high quality lamb the consumers desired. Maintaining a small breeding flock, Fat Cow primarily sells their lambs to the local Muslim community.

Trono has also added pigs to the farm, buying piglets in the spring, letting them free range for seven to nine months when they will dress out at about 200 pounds.

To accommodate 130 to140 head of cattle, another couple dozen sheep and the pigs, Trono purchased another 20 acres in Charlotte on Hinesburg Road, leases 60 acres by the solar farm on the same road and has another couple dozen steer at Dylan Preston’s farm.

The Farm Store, also on Bingham Brook Road, is not only a showcase for Peter’s propensity for hunting, it has a working wood stove and a commercial kitchen along with a cooler and freezer from which to sell product. Wendy and Gen manage the store, and Gen handles the website. Even the grandsons are involved as they, when they have chickens, collect eggs!

With Zach’s passion for the farm taking over, Peter once again finds himself without a job. He has discovered that the only place he is his own boss is when he’s alone, driving his truck. What will he find to do now?