Healthy Farms, Healthy Planet

Dairy farmers ensuring a quality product

Dairy farmers ensuring a quality product

Joel Huff’s motto to live by might be “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” This hits me as I wait for him and his father to ready the barn and let the cows come in for evening milking at the Wellington farm. The barn is swept clean with fresh shavings in the tie stalls and various implements and tools are hanging neatly on the wall. In the dooryard, the tractors and skid steer are parked in an orderly fashion as is the apparent evening ritual. For farmers Andrew Smith and Caitlin Frame of The Milkhouse Farm and Dairy in Monmouth, their motto might be “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” They know a cow’s health goes far beyond treating illnesses or injuries. The quality of her diet, her comfort, the cleanliness of barns and bedding and milking facilities, keeping her vaccinations up to date, sticking to a routine and using best practices in the milking parlor all play a factor. And both farms adhere to the old standby of “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” “You’re invested in it; they’re not,” says Huff of potential employees. He relies on himself to do most of the work, with his father jumping in to help with chores and milking, and his 16-year-old daughter Alex helping with milking on Sundays to give her grandfather a break. “We’re very particular about milking procedure,” Smith says of The Milkhouse. He partners with neighboring farmer Gregg Stiner, who also owns some of the cows in the herd and helps with the milking. “We both own cows and are invested in this. It’s borderline anal retentive behavior.” The diligence at the Huff farm and The Milkhouse has paid off with both receiving high marks in milk quality. The Huff’s are usually No. 1 or 2, at the very least they get a certificate, for the Agri-Mark co-op in their region, even before Joel took over the reins from his father in 2003, the farm had a reputation for quality and high standards. Although they have been working in the region at other dairy farms for a few years now, Smith and Frame started milking cows on their own farm in August 2015 and have already set the bar high for their operation. They took No. 2 in the nation for milk quality within the Horizon co-op in November 2016. Both farms milk 35 to 40 cows. The main indicator of milk quality is somatic cell count. Somatic cells are present in a healthy animal, but a body will produce more somatic cells in response to a possible infection that needs to be fought off. In a dairy cow, that can be mastitis or an infection in the udder. Milk is tested for a variety of factors, and if a farmer sees a spike in somatic cell test results, he or she will take a closer look to see if an issue needs to be addressed. Smith and Huff both have milk quality results available to them online. Smith uses Dairy One to have individual cow testing done once a month. And he tests every cow after she calves.  “That way I know how every single cow is doing,” Smith said. “Especially their somatic cell count.” If a cow isn’t up to snuff, her milk is segregated from the rest of the herd’s until the problem is taken care of. Every time Huff’s milk is picked up and taken to the processing plant, it is tested and the results are available through his co-op’s site. “If there’s...

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Guernseys – the heart of the Trenholm family

Guernseys – the heart of the Trenholm family

Written by Anne Trenholm of Wholesome Holmstead in Winthrop, Maine From the moment our farm began, Guernseys have always been special. Our Guernseys have sent us as far away as the World Dairy Expo to exhibit and as close as our farmstand to sell their cheese and yogurt. Every single one – from the calf who greets a first time farm visitor, to the cow leading the herd to graze … past and present, they are all special to us. Some folks might wonder why we think Guernseys are so special. 1.They’re a dairy cow. In general, dairy cows have a special role in creating one of the most nutrient-dense foods and ingredients for people, simultaneously nourishing the land. 2. Our Guernseys help keep our farm the longest continually run working farm in our town. Every drop of milk “finds its way through and back” to the farm and community by way of the relationships we have with customers and folks who support us. It could be said of so many farms, but we think that it’s pretty special that our Guernseys have such an important role in the connections in our community, which help uphold the quality of place and space of our state. 3.Guernsey anchor the story of our farm, they are the pillar of our farm brand. There aren’t a lot of dairies around relying only on Guernseys. It is a deliberate choice to honor the breed and cow families we grew up with by making “Golden Guernsey” cheese and yogurt. We believe in the flavor and taste of our Guernsey milk. We are so proud when our patrons give positive feedback when they eat our handmade yogurt and cheese that start with Guernsey milk and are made in our state licensed and inspected creamery. To literally nurture a product from birth … and from field to table, with the contribution of cows whose ancestors also walked our farm? That’s special. 4. Tradition: Anyone who knows us, knows that we’ve always liked Guernseys. Their markings are, as our neighbors say, “beautiful,” and we like working with them. We have cow families that trace back to original starter herds, including one family related to a cow formerly owned by an artist, fellow Mainer and Guernsey enthusiast, Ralph C. Knowles. Ralph is deceased, but his painting of the ideal Guernsey cow remains a well-recognized, nationally-known cow portrait. At the end of the day, like a lot of dairy farmers we know, we think the dairy cows of our herd are all pretty...

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Sustaining Maine’s dairy farms, sustaining Maine

Sustaining Maine’s dairy farms, sustaining Maine

Sustainability has become a buzz word. Often, it is used in conversations around agriculture and the environment. Though the word has any number of meanings for people, it is not just a passing trend for dairy farmers; it is a way of life and standard for daily operations. Google the word “sustainable”.  What pops up as the No. 1 definition is: “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” I think this can define the goal of most farmers for their operation. For Anne Trenholm and her family’s farm, Wholesome Holmstead, “sustainability” means, “Can we make it to next week, next month, next year?” Anne says. The Trenholms have been able to sustain their small farm through direct sales of milk and added-value products like cheese and yogurt through farmer’s markets,on-farm sales and food co-ops. They also sell beef and veal as well as vegetables when they have extra and ship a small amount of their milk through DFA – a milk cooperative. “We did have growth in sales last year,” Anne said. “And 2015 looks like it will be even better, but you are always asking yourself, ‘Will it be enough?’” For Barney Wright of the Wright Place in Clinton, it means supporting a growing, branching family tree on a farm that can’t expand from its current size. “There’s not any more land to buy,” he told a recent school group touring the farm. “We have to be able to do more with what we have.” Barney explained that those goals can be met through improved breeding – cows that produce more milk without sacrificing their longevity and good health, always finding ways to excel at cow comfort, and using research and technology for improved crop yield while still maintaining soil health. For Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, sustainability is preserving a rare breed of dairy cow – the Randall Cattle – while being able to support your family and live your dream of farming (with only two people doing the majority of the work). After four years of owning the farm, Steve Burger and Sarah Wiederkehr are finding that balance by diversifying their farm to include vegetables, pork, eggs and even cut flowers, making their own added-value dairy products like cheese and savory yogurts (flavors include beet chai and orange, carrot, ginger) and marketing it to wholesale accounts rather than the farmer’s market circuit. For Rick and Beth Johnson of the Johnson Farm in Kittery, sustainability is ensuring that their property remains a farm in an increasingly urbanized area. At this point their children have not shown interest in continuing the dairy farm, although their daughter and son-in-law have started a vegetable growing operation on the farm. The best solution for the Johnsons was to put their land into a trust that would guarantee it will always be open farmland no matter who lives there. With the new Organic Dairy Farmer and Research Program at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, it’s about sustaining Maine’s dairy farming heritage. Wolfe’s Neck has been around a long time (250 years or so) but only recently added dairy cattle. While it is a working farm on 626 acres, its main goal is education. Director David Herring said he and the board were looking to do more. “We said ‘What can we do? What’s our purpose?’ We said, “We want to help new farmers establish farms.'” They didn’t immediately settle on dairy farms though. Around the nation there are about 200 “incubator farms,” but none are livestock based. A similar theme has developed in Maine, where we have seen an influx of new farmers and farms, but...

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Why Choose Real Milk?

Why Choose Real Milk?

Milk is not only nutritious and delicious, it is an important part of Maine’s history, economy, landscape and future....

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Enjoy the gifts of winter

Enjoy the gifts of winter

Yes, it has seemed like a long winter, and as we dive back into another cold snap, it seems that winter is sticking around for a while longer. Well, how about making it a little more pleasurable? Take advantage of all this snow and the cold that keeps it from melting away. Get outside and enjoy the beautiful Maine landscape, much of which includes farmland. As of 2012, the USDA calculated that there are 1.45 million acres of land in farms in Maine. Nearly 700,000 acres of open farmland in the state is owned by dairy farms. Much of that land is open to the farms’ communities for hunting, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and other recreation (but always ask permission before recreating on someone else’s property). A few dairy farms like Smiling Hill in Westbrook, Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and the Harris Farm in Dayton, have groomed cross-country ski trails and even equipment rentals. The Harris family has offered skiing for 27 years, says Rachel Harris. “It was a way for the next generation, my husband Clint,  to take over the farming when he graduated from college, while my in-laws could still have seasonal on-farm income from skiing. It turned out to be a great way to utilize land during the off season while the fields and pastures were not being used and all the animals were in the barn for the winter.” Matt Sebasteanski, who is the outdoor recreation director at Pineland, says the reasoning is much the same at that farm. “Cross-country skiing is an excellent way to keep income coming in when the land is not in use for agricultural purposes. It also offers a great outdoor experience that we want all Mainers to take advantage of. Pineland Farms offers local people the opportunity to spend quality time on a farm where they may be buying some of their food.” Skiers have a similar experience at Harris Farm, which is diversified and sells vegetables, beef and maple syrup along with milk right on the farm. “It’s pretty cool that the skiers at our farm are skiing on the same land that produced the food they are buying from our farm store and eating for dinner that same night,” Rachel says. “Skiers are very health conscious and want to buy healthy, locally produced food. Most of them stock up on our milk and beef before they leave, and they become loyal customers.” “Skiing is the ultimate winter sport,” she adds. “The entire family – from 3-year-olds to people in their 70’s and even 80’s – can ski or snowshoe.” Rachel says the low-impact cardio sport appeals to many people as a way to get outdoors and exercise or train for competition or other sports. “We have people from every fitness level – from middle aged people who haven’t ever skied or worked out before in their lives to ski racers who are training for big regional races. We even have a professional athlete skiing at our farm this year who is training to compete in the world triathlon championships.” Skiing allows people to really appreciate what others might consider bad weather – cold and snow. “Our customers love the snow and get excited when a huge storm comes,” Rachel says. “Why stay inside and complain about the weather when you can get some fresh air and enjoy it?” The Harris family enjoys skiing also, and Rachel’s son is on the high school team. Since they have their own milk cows, the family can always rely on being able to refuel with the protein and carbohydrates of milk. “Chocolate...

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Keeping open space open

Keeping open space open

Richard and Beth Johnson’s dairy farm is a prime piece of real estate in Kittery, but nature lovers can breathe a sigh of relief, there won’t be an outlet mall built here. The Johnsons are dedicated to their property – Rustlewood – remaining a farm for years to come. The best way to ensure that would happen was to put the nearly 300 acres (about 200 acres in Kittery and another 90 next door in Eliot) into a conservation easement with the Kittery Land Trust. In doing so, the Johnsons give up any development rights to the property but will continue to run their farm as it has been since Richard’s father started the dairy in 1947. Originally from Belmont, MA, Chester Johnson, the family patriarch, spent summers in Kittery when he was growing up, and worked at a farm just down the road from where he would eventually settle. It was during that time that he developed an interest in dairy farming “and in the farmer’s daughter,” says Richard, referring to his mother. Though his original plan was to be a doctor, Chester studied agriculture at University of Massachusetts. His father and brothers were all carpenters. “My dad went rogue,” Richard says. Chester and his young bride leased a farm in Bridgewater, MA, before they moved to what they would name “Rustlewood” (because of the sound the wind made blowing through the trees) with three children and 20 milk cows. They bought up surrounding overgrown farmland piece by piece, bringing it back into production. As the dairy grew, so did their family. They had seven sons and two daughters, with Richard being the youngest son. Richard always had the greatest desire among his siblings to continue the farm. “It’s either in your blood or it isn’t,” he says. “Some (of the siblings) couldn’t get away quick enough.” In 1982, the farm was incorporated and one brother, Ken, did work with Richard on the farm for 23 years. Their father retired in 2004, though he still kept himself busy on the farm until shortly before his death at the age of 88 in 2007, and the brother left the farm with half of the dairy cows in 2005. Richard was left with 90 cows (48 that were milking at the time) and has built back up to about 170 with about half currently milking. The Johnsons’ three children have not shown an interest in continuing the dairy, though their eldest son does help with the milking, and their daughter’s husband has started a large vegetable garden on the property and is selling to nearby restaurants. Their youngest son, who is still in high school and who Beth says is more “mechanically inclined,” also helps with milking. Richard’s brother David also works for him now and has been a great help, Richard says. “I want to make sure this stays a farm,” Richard says. “It’s what my parents did all their lives.” The Johnsons approached the Kittery Land Trust about the trust acquiring an easement on the land in 2008. Executive Director Christine Bennett says the Johnsons’ decision is of great importance to the land trust and to the Kittery community “for a number of reasons. Number one, it’s the last large working farm in Kittery. It’s the largest tract of land under one single owner in Kittery. And farm land is disappearing so quickly in Southern Maine. It’s important that land like Rustlewood continue to be farmed. When you lose one large farm like that, it has a domino effect.” When neighbors first saw surveyors on the property, they...

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