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Baskin Livestock

Investigators believe they know where fire at Baskin Livestock started, just not why

By Howard B. Owens


There is no definitive cause that fire investigators have determined for the fire Sunday at Baskin Livestock, 9778 Creek Road, Batavia., said Tim Yaeger, Genesee County emergency management coordinator.

Yaeger said the origin appears to be in a bay area of the facility where paper -- typically paper that contained waste food items being converted at the factory into cattle feed -- is stored prior to shipment to a landfill. 

If that is the origin of the fire, what could possibly have caused the ignition of the fire is undetermined at this time.  There is no obvious ignition source.

There were no employees in the building at the time of the fire, Yaeger said.

Because Baskin Livestock is self-insured, fire investigators are unlikely to return to the scene for further investigation unless requested by the company, Yaeger said.

There is a fire suppression system installed in the building, Yaeger said, and Baskin Livestock is going to investigate to try and determine why is seems to have malfunctioned.

Photos by Howard Owens



Barn fire reported at Baskin Livestock

By Howard B. Owens


A barn fire with flames showing is reported at Baskin Livestock, 9778 Creek Road, Batavia.

Bethany, Alexander, Town of Batavia dispatched.

Second alarm, Stafford, Pavilion, Le Roy, and City of Batavia FAST Team dispatched.

Photo by Howard Owens.

Fire reported at Baskin Livestock

By James Burns

Town of Batavia, Bethany and Alexander fire departments responded to a fire at Baskin Livestock. The fire is in a silo at the east end of the building, located at 9778 Creek Road in Bethany. The fire is contained and under control. 



Murder of Douglas Mess a big loss for Baskin Livestock

By Howard B. Owens
File photo of Douglas Mess by Howard Owens.

There's nothing Bill Baskin wants more right now than justice served in the murder of his friend and key employee Douglas Mess.

The body of the 52-year-old Attica man was found buried under a manure pile on his farm at 1229 Exchange Street Road on April 20.

Baskin, owner of Baskin Livestock on Creek Road in Bethany, seems to know a lot about the case, but he's not sharing any of it for publication for fear divulging more than Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O'Geen is willing to disclose himself and jeopardize the prosecution of Charlene Mess, Douglas's wife, who has been held without bail since her arrest April 20.

A grand jury is hearing the evidence against her today and we should know within days whether she will face a trial as the alleged murderer. It may take a trial to publicly unravel the mystery of how Douglas Mess died and why. Some news reports say his death was a culmination of an argument that got out of hand. Some people who know Charlene Mess say she was domineering within her family. Friends of Douglas Mess, including Baskin, use words like "Teddy Bear," and say he was a man who just loved to farm and work on machinery and rarely had a cross word with anybody.

Farming and fixing things were pretty much how Mess spent all of his time, said friends and family. When he wasn't in a shop shoulder deep in steel and grease, he loved to be alone on a field driving a tractor, and about his only hobby was collecting models of the tractors he owned or repaired.

Mess was born in Rochester and spent the first 10 years of his life in the Town of Victor before his father bought a dairy farm in Castile. That's where Mess fell in love with farming, working with animals, driving tractors, but most importantly, learning how to fix farm machinery.

Like a lot of farmers, the Mess family liked to save a buck by repairing their own equipment and keeping it operational longer than perhaps normal wear and tear would dictate. 

By the time he was a teenager, by all accounts, Mess was a natural at the kind of tinkering that kept heavy equipment in tip-top shape.

After his father sold the farm, Mess took jobs at other farms before landing at a dealership in Alexander. He worked there 18 years, establishing himself as the go-to-guy on all kinds of repairs.

The job afforded him the chance to get manufacturer training, particularly on skid loaders, and further hone his own skills.

He may have had a photographic memory, according to Susan Blackburn, Baskin's wife and business partner. She said Mess could look at a part and tell you on what page it could be found on in a particular parts catalog.

"I've spent a lot of time at a lot of universities," Blackburn said. "He had a high school education and he was the most intelligent men I've ever known. The guy was very, very intelligent and just as humble as anybody you've ever known."

Baskin first met Mess while he worked at the Alexander dealership. At the time, Baskin Livestock was still a young company with just a couple of employees, but already, Baskin knew he needed somebody full-time to work on his farm equipment.

When Mess let Baskin know he was ready for a change of scenery, Baskin hired him on the spot.

At the time, the repair shop was Mess and one other guy who worked on the delivery trucks used in the feed side of the business.

"At one point in time he thought we did not have enough work to keep him busy," Baskin said.

By the time of his death, Mess supervised a shop of six people repairing farm equipment, trucks and all the machinery used in the feed operation. He was Baskin's go-to-guy on nearly all aspects of the business.

"About every decision I had to make, in some way shape or form, I had some input from him," Baskin said. "Not every decision, but a huge percentage of the decisions I had to make, I relied on him for some percentage of the input to make that decision. He had a good feel for the big picture and the details."

There was little Mess couldn't do with machinery, from design of equipment used throughout the operation, to the creation of parts and tools, to taking something that was out of service and getting it to run again.

"He was a MacGyver type," Baskin said. "If there was something he couldn't fix, we had a problem, a real problem."

Mess had four sons, all of whom in one form or another have followed in his footsteps. Three of them work for Bill Baskin. Douglas G., the oldest son at 29, said he admired his father's love for what he did and how well he did it.

"He loved taking something that was broken, not even running, taking it apart and putting it back together like it was new, even better than new," Douglas said. "He was proud of that. 'I fixed it. It's usable again.' "

The oldest son said he'll never forget his father's mischievous smile. He loved a good practical joke and he enjoyed watching trainees trying to figure out how to fix something Mess could easily piece together himself. 

"He'd let you work on it a little while and then come over and show you," Douglas said. "'Hey, this way's a little quicker and a little easier,' and he was always right."

A frequent target of Mess's joking around was Jackie Murphy.

Murphy and Mess worked together daily over the past four years, starting with Murphy's transfer from the front office to an office in the repair shop, at about the time Mess's supervisory duties had him sitting at a tan metal desk a little more and spending a little less time loosening or tightening bolts or welding this part to that.

Mess teased Murphy about her boyfriend's loyalty to International Harvester (Mess was a John Deere man) and one of his favorite jokes to play on her was to make up names for new truck drivers, letting her use the made-up name for weeks until she figured it out herself, such as the Marty she called Theodore until she finally met him in person.

That joke would be worth at least two days of laughter.

"He was a funny, amazing guy," Murphy said.

And helpful. Clearly, nobody knew more about what parts were in the shop than Mess. At inventory time, he helped Murphy with the task. He would teach her anything she needed to know to do her job better.

He was always big-hearted with everybody around, she said.

That's how Douglas remembers him, too, and how he was recalled at his funeral service, Douglas said, which was attended by more than 350 people.

"You know the saying, give somebody the shirt off your back, he was the guy who did that," Douglas said. "He met other people's needs before he met his own."

How do you replace somebody like that, Baskin wondered.

Right now, the duties of Mess have been divided among four different workers. 

"Will we have at some point in time somebody with that ability?" Baskin said. "Sure, maybe. Everybody's replaceable, including me, but he ain't walking in the door tomorrow. (Mess) brought a big skill set with him and he learned and grew a lot. He learned as the business grew. His knowledge grew and his ability grew. That's hard to just drop somebody in that spot."

Baskin said Mess was like a member of the family, and he was bigger than Baskin, but younger.

"He was the big little brother I never had," Baskin said.

The loss of Mess is being felt throughout the company by all of the employees, Baskin said. 

"We've got guys who are really, really good and really, really competent," Baskin said, "and the comment's been made by more than one of them, 'I'm comfortable with what I'm doing and I like what I'm doing, but there are a lot of times where I got to the point where I had to ask him, 'what do you think about this or what do you think about that?' and who are you asking now?' "

As fast as the business has grown, it hasn't always been gold-dappled mornings over green, rolling hills around Baskin Livestock. There have been some tough times, but nothing compares to the murder of Douglas Mess.

"We've had two fires, got a guy, 52 or 53, who worked for us, who died in his sleep, and another guy we were quite close to who committed suicide, and this was the worst," Baskin said. "There are 85 and 95 guys who die all the time, they had a good long life and it's not unexpected and unnatural, but this was a complete shock, nonsense."

Which is why Bill Baskin doesn't particularly want to discuss the details of the legal case against Charlene Mess. There's stuff he may know because he's close to the situation, but he will leave that to the professionals in law enforcement to handle.

Douglas Mess can't be replaced, at least not easily, but justice can be served.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: There will be a benefit for Doug Mess's boys starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 13, at the Alexander Firemen's Recreation Hall, located at 10708 Alexander Road in Alexander. Enjoy a delicious spaghetti dinner for $10, eat in or carry out. Tickets are presale and also available at the door. There will be 50/50 raffles, basket raffles, and a baked goods table. Enter for a chance to win a trip to JAMAICA! (7 night, all-inclusive for two, including airfare) For more information or to buy tickets, call Jackie Murphy at (716) 481-6662.

Chimney fire reported at Baskin Livestock

By Howard B. Owens

A chimney fire is reported at Baskin Livestock on Creek Road, Bethany.

Bethany fire along with Alexander and Town of Batavia dispatched.

UPDATE 10:56 a.m.: Alexander was going to respond from this fire to an alarm of fire in its own district, but the alarm company confirmed false alarm. Alexander is back in service. Town of Batavia also has an alarm at College Village. Batavia's Ladder 25 is on scene at the chimney fire.

Local agriculture celebrated during annual dinner in Alexander

By Howard B. Owens


Baskin Livestock was honored Saturday night at the 2013 Conservation Farm of the Year at the Celebrate Agriculture Dinner, held at the Alexander Fireman's Hall.

Owners Susan Blackburn and Bill Baskin are holding the sign. With them are members of their staff (and in some cases, spouses), Tom and Diane Stroud, Steve and Debbie Greene, Jason and Jessica Skinner, Doug Mess, David Gilhooly.


Christine Bow, left, was honored as the 2014 NY Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year. Bow is a first-grade teacher at Jackson School. Barb Sturm, of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County, presented the award.

Baskin Livestock named Conservation Farm of the Year

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

The Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors has announced the selection of Baskin Livestock as the 2013 Genesee County Conservation Farm of the Year. Baskin Livestock will be the honored guests of the District at the Celebrate Agriculture Dinner on March  22th at the Alexander Firemen’s Recreation Hall.  They will be formally presented with their award at that time.

Baskin Livestock is owned and operated by Bill Baskin and Susan Blackburn. Bill purchased the former James Hume Jr. Dairy Farm from Chester Ptak in 1992. Since that time, Bill and Susan have acquired several neighboring farms (John Gardner, 1996; James Hume – remainder, 2001; Kruszelnicki, 2001; Don Norton, 2005; Woodhouse, 2007; Ethel Cook, 2009) and now own a total of 1,748.66 acres in the towns of Alexander, Bethany and Batavia. Of that total 1,157 acres is cropland. Most of the cropland acreage is fenced for pasture. Little Tonawanda Creek runs through the farm. With only a few exceptions, livestock is fenced out of the stream channels. Baskin Livestock became a District Cooperator in January of 1993. They started working on a plan for grazing in 1995. A grazing plan was written by Art Hanson of Western New York Crop Management (WNYCMA) in April 2001. Baskin Livestock is a medium Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and has a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) completed by WNYCMA in July of 2002. Baskin Livestock is active in the Agricultural Environmental Management Program (AEM) .

They raise dairy replacement heifers, beef, and quarter horses. Recent conservation practices installed with district assistance include heavy use area protection (bedded pack), waste transfer system, roof runoff structure, compost facility, and waste storage facilities.  Baskin Livestock has one of the most extensive grazing (pasture) systems in the County.

Sponsored Post: Thank you from Baskin Livestock

By Lisa Ace

Thank you from Baskin Livestock

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks for the efforts of our employees, friends and neighbors during and after the fire at our animal feed mill on the night of November 7th, 2013. Although the final fire inspector determination has not been 100% established, they feel that a compactor motor inside a steel compactor box under the metal cyclone was the source of the fire. It appears that the fire started inside the compactor and could not be observed until it was well established and moved up into the cyclone. 

Many thanks for all the food, drinks, help and well wishes from friends, including St. Joseph’s School (Karen Green, Principal), Bob Evans Restaurants, Attica Package Company, the Sojda’s, Mary and Scott Case, Sandy Marky and Harry Flatt, Hans and Leslie Kunze, Howard Owens, Jason Saile, Danielle Bell and Jeff Lang, Dan Kelley and crew, Jeff Kingdom and crew, Nancy Gilmartin at Coastal Staffing, Laurie Mastin and all Bill’s friends at BMHL. And our thanks to the brave men and women who volunteer at all the responding fire companies including: Genesee County/ Alexander, Bethany, Pavilion, LeRoy, Stafford, Byron, Bergen, East Pembroke, Elba, South Byron, Oakfield, Darien, the Town of Batavia and the City of Batavia, Wyoming County/Wyoming, Warsaw, Attica, Varysburg, Bennington, Sheldon, Cowlesville, Gainesville, Perry, Perry Center York, Wyoming Correctons and Livingston County/Caledonia, Cuylersvelle and Mt. Morris. 

Thanks also to the fire companies who were called to stand by and fill in for areas which had sent their people and equipment to fight the fire at the farm. If we have missed anyone, please know that we and our employees are extremely thankful.

Baskin Livestock
9778 Creek Road | 
Batavia NY 14020 | (585) 344-4452

No employees will be out of work in wake of devastating fire at Baskin Livestock

By Howard B. Owens

The Friday morning after a fire destroyed key components of the feed-making process at Baskin Livestock, one of Bill Baskin's newest hires walked into his office. He was certainly wondering if he still had a job starting Monday morning.

"I said, 'Joe,' " Baskin said, " 'Don't worry about it. Come here Monday. You've got a job.' "

Baskin hired two new workers last week and both, like his other 50 employees already on the Baskin payroll, all have jobs, he said. There will be no layoffs even though it will be months before the feed operation is fully operational again.

The feed portion of Baskin's business involves collecting waste from large bakeries operating throughout the Northeast, drying it (if it's not dry), separating it from packaging (if it's packaged) and grinding it into grain that can be used as feed for cows.

Baskin Livestock processes 1,500 tons of feed each week.

The company has hardly missed a beat since Thursday night's fire. Trucks keep bringing in waste product and Baskin has lined up agreements with three other similar operations to buy the waste Baskin collects and sell him back the finished feed, which he can then sell to his customers.

There's been some lost sales in the immediate aftermath of the fire, Baskin said, but the procurement side of the business has continued nonstop.

"Procurement is important because a place that is making cookies or donuts or cakes, if they can't get rid of their waste, they have to shut the plant down," Baskin said.

We may never know how the fire started.

The ignition point was somewhere in the area of the equipment that screens and separates material for feed.

"Was it in the fan, was it in the cyclone, was it in the compactor motor? I can't tell you, but that's where the fire started," Baskin said.

Ironically, Baskin was just four weeks from finishing the installation of new equipment that would have pretty muck taken the equipment where the fire started out of production.

"If that was the case (the new equipment in place), the part that failed, whatever part it was that failed, would not be in use," Baskin said.

Baskin hasn't sat down and totaled up the cost of the damage yet, he said, but it's probably approaching seven figures and could exceed a million dollars.

That doesn't count temporary lost sales and the big cut into profit margins while his feed is being processed in out-of-state plants.

The big unknown is how much damage the main building, the warehouse, sustained. It will take a battery of structural tests on the I-beams and foundation to determine if the building is still structurally sound.

"Our structural engineer who designed the building said it's all a function of how hot it got and how fast it cooled," Baskin said.

"You don't want to have a two-foot snowstorm," he added, "and have your roof sitting on your equipment."

The other irony of the fire, Baskin said, is it started in the screening area of the process, not with the burners.

The fire that severally damaged Baskin Livestock five years ago started in the burner and the current system is built with state-of-the-art fire-suppression technology.

If the burner detects even an errant spark it ejects the product being dryed onto a cement pad outside the building and the system is deluged with water.

"We've got so many safety features built in on the drying end because you figure you're running 1,400 or 1,500 degree burner to dry this feed, 25 million BTUs, with all kinds of opportunities for failure there, so everything is designed around that," Baskin said. "Then we've been running this (the screening area) for years without a problem and that's where the failure was."

Baskin had just climbed into bed when he got the call from an employee that there was a fire and when he and Susan looked out their window, they could see the glow.

Baskin jumped in his car and rushed to the plant. He immediately got an a skip loader and created a fire break in the warehouse, moving product on the floor away from the burners and the north side of the building to slow the opportunity for the fire to spread to those pieces of critical and expensive equipment.

When firefighters were on scene and had sufficient water supply, he implored them to fight an interior fight in the warehouse to keep the fire from spreading north, and the strategy appears to have worked.

Baskin is grateful for the support of so many people in the community, the close friends he and his wife, Susan Blackburn, have made in the 21 years they've lived here. He also praised the Bethany Fire Department in particular, but all of the departments that responded to the fire, for their hard work and dedication to their jobs.

Even his customers have set aside hard-nosed business negotiation to offer their support and express their desire to keep doing business with Baskin Livestock.

"The bakery people say we're glad you're OK because you're really important to us," Baskin said. "I've had customers say we can cut back a little bit but we really want to keep your product in our product flow. What can you so to help us get through until you're back full steam? It's gratifying that at the end, after you're done fighting over price, fighting over product, there's that kind of concern."

He's told his employees not to worry about their jobs, that Baskin Livestock will be a bigger and better company once the plant is fully functional again.

Baskin estimates the plant will be 75 percent operational by Christmas and up to 100 percent by March 1.

In an interview Monday, Bill Baskin was all business talking about his business, but when asked what was different or what was the same about this fire and the fire five years ago, Baskin said there was a key similarity between the two fires -- and this is when he got a tad emotional -- that nobody was hurt.

"I couldn't have been through it once, much less twice if anybody got hurt," Baskin said. "The rest of it can be replaced. It can be rebuilt and be bigger and better or whatever, but for me, that's the take home. Nobody got hurt."

Top photo: Bill Baskin, right, meeting with an insurance adjuster Monday afternoon.

Here's the slide show we published Friday morning of Thursday's fire:

Cause of the Baskin Livestock fire not yet determined

By Howard B. Owens

There isn't much new to report from the overnight fire at Baskin Livestock in Bethany.  I was out to the property this afternoon and firefighters were on scene dealing with hotspots and flare-ups.

Bethany Fire Chief Jeff Fluker hadn't even been home since arriving on scene shortly after 11 p.m. last night. He started to leave early this morning and then there was a small fire that broke out in the cyclone (it separates packaging from discarded baked goods).

I interviewed Fluker, but my phone died in the middle of the conversation, so no direct quotes here, working off memory.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

The main structure is largely intact, but it's too soon to estimate the extent of the damage and how much of the feed-processing equipment was damaged, but some of it was damaged.

We spoke about the water supply, which was definitely a problem, but for a fire this size, he said, with three ladder trucks going, even a public water supply would have a hard time keeping up. It takes 10 tanker trucks to service one ladder truck.

St. Joe's School spearheading assistance drive for Baskins after devastating fire

By Howard B. Owens

St. Joe's School in Batavia is organizing an assistance drive for the Baskin family following last night's massive fire at Baskin Livestock.

Electricity to the property was cut because of the fire and the school is primarily looking to make a food donation to the family, said Karen Green, principal of St. Joe's.

The daughter of Bill Baskin and Susan Blackburn attended St. Joe's.

“We are reaching out to the community to see if they can help  us in providing some food for the Baskin family," Green said. "They are without electricity, they have 100 50 employees, we would like to see if we can gather food together from area businesses and we will take them out to the Baskins around noon today.”

Green said volunteers from St. Joes would pick-up donations or donors could leave their contributions at St. Joe's at 2 Summit St. in Batavia. The school's phone number is (585) 343-6154.

Previously: Major fire causes severe damage to one of Genesee County's largest ag businesses

Major fire causes severe damage to one of Genesee County's largest ag businesses

By Howard B. Owens

A lack of public water along Creek Road, Town of Bethany, hampered firefighting efforts at Baskin Livestock on Thursday night after a barn fire was reported just before 11 p.m.

Bethany, Town of Batavia, Alexander and Pavilion fire departments all responded quickly after their fire tones sounded, but as the Baskin barn burned, most of the firefighters on scene could only watch while they waited for tankers to arrive and porta ponds to be erected.

Baskin is one of the largest ag-related employers in Genesee County, with more than 100 workers. The company specializes in converting waste baked goods into animal feed.

Owner Bill Baskin is popular in the local business community, beloved by his employees and was named 2011 Agriculture Business of the Year.

The fire appears to have started in a barn-like structure where trucks pull in to be loaded with feed.

The structure was completely destroyed.

While the fire spread into the adjoining production facility, it's unclear how much damage was done.

At one point during the fire fight, Baskin was pleading with fire chiefs to send in a hand-line crew through a doorway on the north side of the processing building.

"I know my building," he said. "You can save it if you send a crew in here."

It took some minutes, but crews were sent into the building through that door. The fire was pretty much stopped at that point.

Paul Kennedy, a former Dansville firefighter, was among the first people to see and report the fire. He and a friend had been out hunting when they saw the smoke.

"The heater between the two big buildings was on fire," Kennedy said. "It wasn't much at first, but it turned into something quick with the wind."

Minutes after Kennedy arrived on scene Baskin arrived, and Kennedy helped him pull trucks away from the building and close the doors on the back of the building.

Bethany Assistant Chief John Szymkowiak said a lack of water definitely played a role in making the fire harder to fight and contain.

"This fire had a big head start on us," Szymkowiak said.

This is the second major fire at Baskin Livestock in just about five years. In 2008, Baskin suffered a serious fire, but did rebuild.

Fire companies from five counties -- Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, Wyoming and Monroe -- responded to the fire or provided fill-in support at local fire halls. All but three departments in Genesee County -- Alabama, Pemborke and Indian Falls -- responded to the fire scene.

Ladder trucks for the town and City of Batavia along with Le Roy helped fight the fire.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

UPDATE Friday 9:07 a.m.: Bethany Fire is dispatched to Baskin Livestock for a cyclone fire.

UPDATE 10:29 a.m.: The fire was put out about 20 minutes ago but they are still working on dousing some hot spots.

UPDATE 11:33 a.m.: Mutual aid is called from Town of Batavia Fire Department to assist Bethany in fighting a sawdust fire in the rafters of a structure.

UPDATE 11:40 a.m.: A tanker from Attica is called to respond.

UPDATE 11:52 a.m.: A tanker from Stafford is requested.

UPDATE 12 p.m.: Aid from Alexander is requested.

(Initial Report)

Bill Baskin pleading with firefighters to use a hand-line crew on the north side of the building.

Baskin, far right, and an employee showing a chief the situation inside a doorway on the northside of the building.

Perhaps one of the largest porta pond operations ever assembled for a fire in Genesee County.

Baskin Livestock blossomed from a good idea, labor and luck

By Howard B. Owens

This is the fifth story in a six-part series about the 2011 winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards.

As much as a good idea and toil played a role in growing Baskin Livestock from a company with four employees into one with 40, the word serendipity can't be left out of any story about Bill Baskin and Susan Blackburn.

The couple met because work brought them together.

The farm Baskin ran in Rhode Island forced him to find creative ways to feed his 700 head of cattle. The feed he used opened up a business opportunity in Western New York. The farm they bought in Batavia -- perfectly suited for their business, but not for dairy operations -- came available at the right time through a bank foreclosure. The location proved critically centered to a host of vendors and customers.

A combination of a business acumen and a bit of serendipity proved to be the right mix and today, Baskin Livestock is one of Genesee County's most successful ag businesses. It is, in fact, the Agriculture Business of the Year, according to the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

"It’s a great ag community with a lot of businesses that are more sophisticated and successful than we are," Baskin said. "I’m flattered to be considered in that group. It’s just, it’s humbling … just wow! It's a great feather in our cap."

Baskin grew up in Massachusetts with a father he describes as a "frustrated farmer." He ran a small farm and a owned a tire and fuel business. After college, Baskin moved to the Midwest where he worked as a hog buyer and later exported livestock.

When he returned to the East Coast, he took over 70 acres of rocky farmland -- pasture but no tillable soil to grow feed -- and ran 700 head of cattle.

"All you could see was rocks," Baskin said.

Blackburn was a Pennsylvania farm girl whose life goal was to be a veterinarian and work with cows and horses.

When she was offered a job in Rhode Island as the state vet, she took it.

"The problem was, I was working 110 hours a week and here was an opportunity for a state job that was 45 hours a week and a couple thousand dollars more in salary," Blackburn said.

Once in Pennsylvania, part of Blackburn's job was to travel to the state's farms and administer tuberculosis test on import/export cows.

The test requires injecting the cows on day one and checking the results on day three, and with as many cows as Baskin was bringing in and sending out, Blackburn was visiting the farm three and four days a week.

Working that close together gave them plenty of opportunity to get to know each other.

"We were friends way before we were married, and we stil are, that’s the amazing part," Blackburn said.

To feed his cattle, Blackburn contracted with a man who would drive a small truck to the McDonald's muffin and biscuit factory, collect all their day-olds and mistakes and deliver it to Baskin, who would convert it into feed.

"It was a hard job," Baskin said. "He had a small truck and he went in and loaded it all by hand. One day he got mad and he said, 'I only got one truck and it's hard work and blah, blah, blah. I'm going to quit.' I said, 'Well, Johnny, you might be wealthy enough and old enough to retire, but I'm not.' "

So Baskin got his own truck and driver and found a large bagel factory with waste to recycle into feed.

The manager of that factory was then moved to the company's West Seneca plant, which didn't have a good waste-recycling operation.

So he contacted Baskin, who arranged to start a business in Western New York that would be run by a friend's brother.

Once the contracts were signed and the equipment bought, the would-be employee backed out.

"I told her, somebody has got to go take care of this thing and one thing led to another," Baskin said.

Once the couple bought the farm on Creek Road in Batavia, they were able to build facilities that could accommodate recycling tons of bakery waste into feed, with 40 or 50 truck trips a day of waste coming in and feed going out.

Baskin Livestock collects waste from more than 40 bakeries and ships out to feed companies all within about a 400-mile radius of Batavia.

According to Baskin, the amount of feed the facility produces annually replaces the need for about 16,000 acres of corn.

The process involves taking waste bakery products -- it might be a poorly mixed batch, or returns, or just factory rejects (Lay's Potato Chips rejects any bag that is as much as one chip too heavy or one chip too light).

The waste is dumped into a giant warehouse -- twice the size of a football field -- with a floor 10-feet below ground level. The wet material (uncooked dough, typically) needs to be dried out. The product is then all mixed together, dried further, churned and chopped and then moved to the loading dock for shipment to feed mills, which sell it to farmers.

The timing of pick up and delivery is critical, Baskin said.

"You don't show up when you're supposed to show up and they get backed up, you could potentially shut down a plant with 300 or 400 employees," Baskin said.

To keep his trucks running, Baskin runs his own repair and machine shop, with workers doing basic maintenance on trucks and heavy repairs.

The farm -- originally 874 acres, now more than 1,700 -- also runs 995 head of cattle locally, plus as many as 5,000 more at other locations. The cattle are raised as replacement heifers or meat cattle available locally or for export to places such as Turkey, Russia and Mexico.

Blackburn thinks the business her husband has been able to build is pretty amazing.

Often, Blackburn said, when people find out she's a vet, the common response is, "I've always wanted to be a veterinarian.

"Well, how many times have you heard that," she added. "But I say to them, anybody who can read and has great retention and pays attention can be a veterinarian. But what my husband does, not very many people can do, because he has it all just come out of his head."

A lot of the credit, Baskin said, goes to his employees, who all know their jobs very well.

"The other thing I preach is that I can be here working with you 12, 15 hours a day, side by side, but in 15 years, we're not going to have any business," Baskin said. " I need to be out growing the business and I'm depending on you guys to do the work."

The feed mill is in operation non-stop from 9:30 Monday morning to 9:30 Friday night.

If a business isn't growing, Baskin said, it's shrinking. It's never staying the same, so he's always looking for new opportunities and ways to grow.

Three years ago, they added 20,000 square feet of office space and this summer, they'll add another 5,000 square feet.

Customer service is the name of the game, Baskin said. He lives by and teaches his employees, "The customer is always right."

He prides himself on fixing problems and being able to get along with people others might find difficult.

It's a trait, he said, he picked up while working for his father.

"I fixed all my father's problems," Baskin said. "My old man'd get in a business deal, somebody get pissed off at him. I’d go fix it. I’d go talk to them. I’d go smooth it over. I’d go talk them into ... whatever."

These days, Blackburn doesn't do much vet work -- some here and there -- she's busy helping Bill with his business. She said he's the big-picture guy and she handles a lot of the details.

"Being a veterinarian is a great job, but I like helping my husband out more than I like the ego gratification of going in and telling somebody about heartworm medicine," Blackburn said.

Bill and Susan have a 17-year-old daughter who may some day join the family business, but Bill wants her to experience a little more of life first -- go to college, work for somebody else, see the world from a different perspective.

"I told her, you’ve got to want it," Baskin said. "If you want it, fine, I’ll show you everything. I’m not going to force you to do this."

To be successful in farming, Baskin said, you've got to love it.

He recalled being there for a family gathering during his first marriage and going into the bathroom to wash up for dinner a minute after his brother-in-law had done the same.

"I'm in there and he comes flying in, 'my watch, my watch, my watch,' and I said, 'what's the big deal about your watch?'

"He was a computer engineer for Hewlett Packard, big money in those days. He said, 'In my office, I don't have a clock. If I don't have my watch, I don't know what time it is. If I've got to sit there a minute past four o'clock that just makes me bananas.' He says, 'At four o'clock, I'm going home.'

"So I told my wife at the time, I said, 'You know, you don't like my work. You don't like the smell, you don't like the dirt and you don't like the people and you don't like the cows, but if I had to have a job where I just prayed for four o'clock coming, regardless of what I'm getting paid, it ain't worth it in my opinion.'

"I like the people," Baskin concluded. "I like the dirt. I like the cow business."

Baskin loves it, but he also knows serendipity played a role in what he's achieved in business and at home.

"I was lucky to find her (Susan), lucky to find this place, lucky to find a few opportunities along the way," Baskin said.

"I have no regrets," he added. "I've made a lot of friends, had a lot of fun. If you do what you like and have good people around you, and you're able to go home to a couple of people who love you. Life is good."

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