Dairy Farming

Anything but just a number

Anything but just a number

Though Taylor Dairy Farm is home to a large herd of cattle, each animal gets individual attention. With nearly 1,800 Jersey cattle on his family’s farm in St. Alban’s, one would think it would be difficult for Ben Taylor to know each animal individually. Thanks to the latest software though, he can find out all he wants at the touch of a finger, including the exact number of cattle on the farm (1,779 on the day I visited). Through an app called Pocket Cow Card, he can look up a cow on his phone and instantly know how many days she’s been milking since she had her last calf, who her sire and dam (Mom and Dad) are, what her reproductive status is, how much milk she is giving, how many calves she has had, where she is housed on the farm and more. An ID chip in her ear transmits more information, particularly about her health, to the farm’s computers. Ben comes onto the farm each morning, connects to the wi-fi and has an updated report. “It’s essential with a herd this size,” Ben says of the technology. About 800 cows are milked on Taylor Farm with the rest of the herd being calves, young stock and dry cows (milk cows on their annual two-month vacation before they have their calf). The Taylors also rely on a close relationship with their veterinarian, who happens to live just up the road, and their cows’ nutritionist to ensure their herd is peak condition. After high school, Ben went to UMaine at Orono with the intentions of graduating with a degree in engineering. “That lasted for about a semester and a half before I realized I missed the farm and wanted to be here.” He switched his major to sustainable agriculture with a minor in animal science, graduating in 2014. Now, he wishes he had majored in animal science and finds that he enjoys his time most on the farm when he is able work hands on with the cows.   On the Taylor Farm, Ben works alongside his father, two uncles and a cousin. They also have nine hired employees. Ben’s time is rarely spent milking or feeding the milking herd. His tasks vary, though they do include feeding the calves and heifers, moving cows and younger stock from pen to pen or barn to barn depending on her status (heifer, milking, dry cow, high end milker, low end milker), or depending on the season, he might spend hours in a tractor or truck planting or harvesting the farm’s 800 acres of corn or 500 acres of haylage. “No two days are ever the same,” he says. He also does much of the breeding on the farm, along with his father and uncles. He enjoys the challenge of studying the animals’ genetics and deciding what bull to breed which cows to with the ultimate goal of creating the best possible dairy cow – one with good feet, strong legs, a healthy udder and the potential to produce a great deal of milk among other traits. “There are certain days that I don’t LOVE it,” Ben says of working on a dairy farm. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”...

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Highland Farms in Cornish named Green Pasture Award Winner

Highland Farms in Cornish named Green Pasture Award Winner

Highland Farms, Inc. in Cornish has a long, interesting history in the Maine dairy farming community, and with the upcoming generations, their future looks to be just as enduring. Family member and dairy farmer Libby Bleakney says she is proud that the family has been able to “maintain our beautiful, well-kept farm so that we have the next generations coming back to farm with us.” That, in part, is the reason the farm was selected as the New England Green Pastures winner for Maine 2017 is Highland Farms, Inc. in Cornish.  Bleakney is a member of the fifth generation on the farm and works alongside the fourth (her mother Allaire) and sixth (which includes her daughters Jennifer and Johanna) generations. The seventh generation is currently being raised on the farm and already starting to help out (once they are big enough). Dairy farms winning the Green Pastures Award are recognized and selected for their production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying. Highland Farms was established in 1886 by Wyer and Fred Pike with three registered cows and one bull and is the oldest continuously registered Jersey herd in the US. Their vision was that any future generation that wanted to farm would have land and support from the farm to farm. The dairy farm currently milks 250 Jersey cattle.   Today, Highland Farms, Inc. owns the buildings and property with three other business entities running the dairy, logging and trucking operations. The farm is owned and operated by Libby Bleakney, her brother Daniel Palmer and their two cousins David and Lorie Pike; each person has responsibility for a portion of the farm operations. Cattle are housed in freestall barns with sidewall curtains that provide control of the environment in the barn and are fed a complete ration free choice consisting of forages grown on the farm’s 300 acres of corn and grass supplemented with grains, minerals and vitamins. A thousand acres of woodland is one of the resources for Highland Farms Inc. and the logging operation. Highland Farms has been a leader in conservation practices. With the farm on a sidehill overlooking Mt. Washington, crops are grown in strips of corn and grass. Water from the roofs and driveways is diverted away from the manure areas. Water and manure from the barns and feedlot areas is moved to a liquid manure pit for use as a fertilizer on cropland. A nutrient management plan specifies the amount of liquid manure needed for crop needs for each acre. Highland Farms is a closed herd that utilizes artificial breeding; most cows in the herd can be traced back to the original cows purchased to start the farm. The farm is a leader nationally with the breeding and development of two notable bulls, Highland Magic Duncan and Highland Duncan Lester bred on the farm. These bulls have sired over 2,800 registered sons and over 28,000 daughters. Sons of these bulls have sired over 135,000 registered offspring and sons of their daughters have sired another 144,000 offspring reflecting the huge impact on the Jersey breed from this farm in Cornish, Maine.  Highland Farms continues to work with national genetic programs to improve their milk production efficiency. The farm utilizes genomic testing to evaluate animals in their herd for genetic superiority and serving as a bull mother to produce the next top sire from this herd. “We have worked really hard to improve udder depth, feet and legs in my generation,” Bleakney said. All those things are important for a long-lasting milk cow.  “And we...

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Families, Friends, and Farmers Get Moo-ving for Local Food Pantries

Families, Friends, and Farmers Get Moo-ving for Local Food Pantries

Inaugural Cowabunga 5K & Family Dairy Day attracts participants from nine different states to raise funds for local school food pantries. By Ashley E. Sears, Esq. Sponsore Moo Squad athlete. While Fleet Feet Maine Running on Marginal Way is host to several running events throughout the year, a first took place on Sunday, June 25th, as baby calves, a moo-bile milking parlor, and runners donning dairy-themed costumes could be found in the store parking lot. Participants from across the country gathered to celebrate the inaugural Cowabunga 5K & Family Dairy Day, an event designed to increase awareness about the Maine dairy industry, promote a healthy and active lifestyle that incorporates dairy products, and bring together families, friends, and farmers for a Sunday morning run and activities. The event raised $1,480.60 through registration and donations from runners and agricultural business. Due to raising more funds than anticipated, the money will be donated to Good Shepherd’s Mainers Feeding Mainers Program for not only Reiche Community School’s food pantry as originally intended, but other area schools in the Milk2MyPlate program as well. Milk is the number one requested healthy food item in food pantries, but is often the least donated product due to its short shelf life. The dairy-focused event was hosted by the Maine Dairy Promotion Board (MDPB) and myself, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and Marketing Specialist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. I currently participate in the Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI) program, a nationally recognized three-phase leader and communication skills development program for young adults (ages 22-45) working in the dairy industry. An avid runner, as part of my YDLI Phase II advocacy plan, I wanted to create an educational forum for consumers to learn about the Maine dairy industry, participate with family and friends in a fun-themed race, and highlight the benefits of low-fat chocolate milk as post-exercise recovery fuel. Milk is nature’s most complete food, as it has nine essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and we wanted to highlight these benefits while providing consumers with the opportunity to meet their local Maine farmers. Maine currently has 246 dairy farms, both conventional and organic, the majority of which are family owned. From enjoying an ice cream cone in the summer, to milk mustaches and family pizza nights, dairy is a part of all of us and the Cowabunga 5K & Family Dairy Day highlighted the many facets of the Maine dairy industry. The morning kicked off with 176 runners hoofing it around Back Cove Trail for a 5K run, with an out-and-back course from Fleet Feet. Participants received low-fat chocolate milk at the finish line, donated by Hood and Oakhurst Dairy, as well as cheddar cheese packets provided by Cabot Creamery. The cold milk and cheese were appreciated by runners after a particularly hot June morning. The first place finisher overall was Bryce Murdick of Falmouth and the first place female was fellow Moo Squader Anne L’Heureux of Biddeford. Awards were also presented to age division winners, the youngest finishers, and for the best costume. After the race, participants and families had the opportunity to interact with baby calves, provided by the Cumberland County 4-H Dairy All-Stars Club, and learn about how calves grow and develop into mature members of the herd. The moo-bile milking parlor was also on sight and gave attendees an inside view into the milking process that takes place on dairy farms in Maine and across the country. Local Maine dairy farmers were on hand to answer questions and could be spotted at the event wearing an “Ask Me, I’m a Farmer” badge....

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Dunn Farm joins lineup for Open Farm Day

Dunn Farm joins lineup for Open Farm Day

On Sunday, July 23, more than 60 farms all across Maine will swing open their barn doors and welcome visitors to experience the 28th annual Open Farm Day, including several dairy farms. Visiting hours for most operations will be 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. The Dunn family will host Open Farm Day at its dairy farm in Berwick for the first time ever this weekend. Daughters Ashlee, 30, and Marey, 23, were the ones to suggest the family participate. Their mother Denise said people in the area are becoming more familiar with goats and alpacas in terms of farming, but few know much if anything about  dairy farms. “They don’t realize what goes on every day here,” she said. Hopefully Sunday’s event will help to change that. Dairy farms were once common in this neck of the woods. If you drive along Blackberry Hill Road in Berwick, on which the Dunn Farm is located, you can see that it used to be all rolling pastures and fields that undoubtedly fed a number of dairy cows. Today, though, only the Dunn Farm is left. Back when Ashlee and Amey’s father Freddy graduated from high school in 1979, there were five farms on this road alone. At that time, the farm the Dunns are now located on belonged to Charlie Noyes and his famous Milking Shorthorns. The Dunns were at another nearby farm on Route 4, where Freddy’s mother still lives and dry cows (those on vacation before they have their calf) are pastured. The family also has a farm stand there where they sell sweet corn as well as tomatoes and cukes. “The milk truck driver used to take all us kids riding with him,” Freddy said. “We’d ride the whole route and wouldn’t hardly leave town.” You had to cross a wooden bridge to get to the Dunn Farm, but by the time the milk truck was full it was too heavy to cross the bridge so the Dunn kids would jump out and walk the half mile home. The Dunns moved to the Noyes property on Blackberry Hill Road in 1987, and the family purchased the farm after Noyes’ death in 1999. Although most of the herd is the black and white Holsteins, there is still a red or roan colored shorthorn here and there that traces back to the Noyes herd. Freddy is unsure what generation dairy farmer he is. In 1967, his father moved up from Massachusetts, where HIS father had a dairy farm. “I guess ever since they came over from Ireland we’ve been dairy farming,” he said.   Freddy milks about 40 cows with the help of a hired hand. “I like to keep it at about 40 because one person can do it alone if they need to.” His brother Michael works part time on the farm and the rest of the family helps out whenever they can, including manning the farm stand through the summer months along with a couple other folks from the community. The family has some fantastic activities planned for Sunday, including a pedal tractor obstacle course and a “Blackout Bingo” game designed by Ashlee’s 10-year-old son Colin in which kids will be able to blackout their card as they find certain things around the farm. There will also be plenty of information about the farm’s history, dairy breeds and more, and the tractors will be lined up for children to have a chance to check them out. Folks will be able to walk a path to the pasture to see the cows out at pasture. Other Maine dairy farms...

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June Dairy Month: A Milk Toast to our Maine Dairy Farmers

June Dairy Month: A Milk Toast to our Maine Dairy Farmers

By Ashley Sears, Esq.,  sponsored member of Maine Dairy Promotion Board’s Moo Squad. There’s nothing more refreshing after a workout or before a restful night’s sleep than a tall, wholesome glass of milk.  This month, we celebrate June Dairy Month and toast to our local Maine dairy farmers.  From grass to glass, Maine farmers focus on the well-being of their dairy cattle by providing them with a nutritious diet, fresh clean water, regular medical care, comfortable and safe living conditions, and most importantly, love.  Dairy farmers are also conscious stewards of the land, working to protect the water, air, and land that surround their farms so future generations may do the same.  In turn, Maine dairy cows provide us with nutrient-rich milk and some of our favorite dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.  The milk that is produced not only nourishes our bodies, it helps to strengthen our state’s economy by providing local jobs and supporting local businesses. As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, I learned from a young age that there is no vacation, sick, or snow days on the farm.  The health and happiness of our bovines is always our number one priority and the values of hard work, time management, compassion, and team work are instilled early on.  Some of life’s most difficult lessons are also learned on the farm.  With the birth of a new calf comes the joy and the anticipation of that calf growing up to be a strong and healthy member of the herd.  There are also the moments where we experience the loss of one of our favorite cows and feel like we have lost a member of our own family.  All the while, we work tirelessly to provide a life for these cows that we can be proud of, with a passion that is unparalleled. In the state of Maine, there are currently 246 dairy farms.  With increased costs of production, volatile milk prices, and decreased consumption of dairy products, it is a trying time for farmers.  Yet, dairy farmers continue to care for their animals 24/7, 365 days a year and work to provide our state and country with nature’s most natural, complete product: milk.  Milk is the number one food source of nine essential nutrients, including calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium, and provides for strong bone growth, lowers the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and obesity, and provides for an overall quality diet. While we celebrate June Dairy Month for one month out of the year, I ask why we don’t recognize the efforts of Maine dairy farmers for twelve months, 365 days a year?  Join myself and members of the Maine Dairy Promotion Board on Sunday, June 25, 2017 as we host the inaugural Cowabunga 5K and Family Dairy Day in Portland, ME.  The event will feature a 5K run/walk, local farmers, baby calves, educational demonstrations, local and state dairy businesses and organizations, and an assortment of dairy products to sample.  Proceeds will be donated to the Howard C. Reiche Community School’s food pantry, which operates through the summer, as part of the Milk2MyPlate program.  For more information, please visit: http://drinkmainemilk.org/cowabunga-5k/. I encourage each of you to recognize and thank your local dairy farmer for their efforts to provide a high quality, nutritious product to our communities, our state, and our country.  I would also like to express my gratitude to consumers and Maine residents for their support of the dairy industry and placing their trust in Maine farmers to provide an abundant, safe food supply.  Cheers to many more years of...

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An Udder Perspective

An Udder Perspective

Models have to endure all sorts of elements during a photo shoot. Fortunately some models are built to handle weather like that of early spring in Maine better than others. Some of the hardiest include the ladies at Conant Acres in Canton. Paraded out one at a time, several members of the registered Holstein herd were selected to pose for their portrait to be taken by professional cow photographer Jenny Thomas.  Thomas made the trip to Maine recently, scheduling visits to four dairy farms to photograph their bovine beauties.     Of course, when the photos are finished, the barren, frozen landscape (or in the case of the Conants, the paved dooryard in front of their barn) will be replaced by a lush, green summer pasture thanks to a little Photoshop magic. And while it may be more appealing than what was really present that day, everyone looking at the photos will be paying attention to the subject of the photo, not the background. These photos will be used by the farms to market their genetics to sell embryos or calves or young breeding stock. The photos will appear on the farm web site, in sale catalogs, in dairy publication ads, etc. Thomas is well-practiced at highlighting a cow’s best features, which often includes a high, wide udder. Before the photo shoot, she helps to brighten the white of the cow and make the black shine, while also polishing the hooves and looking for any stray hairs. As she looks through her camera lens, she directs members of the Conant family to position the cow just so.   “Move the left foot forward an inch, the right foot half an inch,” she calls out. Dennis Conant was in charge of keeping the cow’s attention facing forward by shaking a grain bucket and making strange noises and waving his arms. “Let her get a whiff of that grain,” Thomas said. “Let her reach for it. Then pull it back.”       The difference between a dairy photo shoot and a fashion photo shoot is that there is no hustle and bustle when it comes to cows. Thomas and the Conant family move slowly and speak easily to keep the ladies calm. “Just let her settle here a second,” Thomas says patiently. “Easy does it.” From Ohio, Thomas grew up on a dairy farm, studied animal science in school, worked in the dairy industry and married into a dairy farm family. Both she and her husband judge cattle, and the family shows their cattle around the country.  Eight years ago, she had the opportunity to train and work with Cybil Fisher of Green Bay, Wis., a well-known dairy photographer. Thomas continues to work for Fisher’s business, taking photos from coast to coast. One might think photographing only cows would get boring. Not so, says Thomas. “Every cow is different,” she says. “It’s always a different challenge.”  And some can be more challenging than others, like the Conant’s cow Randi who has to be reset for the fourth time because she refuses to place her feet on the block. “Those are the fun ones,” Thomas says....

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