Know Your Farmer

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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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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Women in Agriculture: How Maine Women are Making an Impact

Women in Agriculture: How Maine Women are Making an Impact

Agriculture is a part of all of us. From the fresh fruits and vegetables we consume, to the plush wool sweater we wear during the frigid Maine winters, to the biofuels we now use in our cars, Maine farmers work on a daily basis to provide us with the food, fiber, fuel, and feed we need to survive. These same farmers are producing more food, on less land, using fewer resources than their families that farmed the land before them. While we often imagine the farmer driving the tractor in a field, donning jean overalls and work boots, how often is this image a male farmer? Certainly, agriculture and farming was a male-dominated profession for many centuries. However, there has been a positive insurgence in recent years of women in agriculture that is leaving both a lasting impression and hope for more women to become engaged in this noble field of work. In March, we recognize and celebrate Women’s History Month. From the classroom to the field to the office setting, Maine women are having a significant influence in agriculture and the future sustainability of one of our most vital industries. As of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there are 969,672 women farmers in the United States. In Maine, there are 5,398 women farmers accounting for 41% of all farmers in the state, farming on 631,417 acres, and generating $52.3 million in terms of economic impact. Maine is one of the top five states in the country in terms of women farmers. These figures alone speak volumes about the importance of women in agriculture, yet do not tell the whole story about the role these women play in Maine. The following women are just a handful of those that are having a dynamic impact in Maine, as well as around the country.   Dixie Shaw is the program director of Hunger & Relief Services Catholic Charities Maine in Caribou. The organization is the only food bank north of Hamden that serves 24 food pantries throughout Aroostook County. With roots in Aroostook County, Dixie grew up working in the potato fields, assisting with every harvest from the time she was ten, first picking potatoes and then elevating to the potato harvester role at age fifteen. As the eldest child, she also supervised her younger brothers and kept them on task in the fields. As part of her program work, she established Farm for Me, which supplies food pantries in Aroostook County with nutritious locally grown vegetables, as well as the “Glean Team.” This is an opportunity for other growers when they have crops they cannot harvest, they contact Dixie and the Glean Team and they will go to harvest their crops. Farm for Me and Glean Team are projects that were only a dream a few years ago, and four years ago they planted their first crop of vegetables and added on the Glean Team two years later. As she has been working in the fields the past few years with Farm for Me her mind wanders back to days and times gone by.  Smells and sounds are great triggers for memory, good memories and bad memories, but she feels blessed to have nothing but good memories from her years and experiences in the field. “I love the smell of dirt, the feel of dirt, and there is no better office than sitting in the middle of a field.” Some of her most memorable moments include being a guest on WAGM-TV’s Potato Pickers Special the past couple years. Growing up, it was a household morning ritual to huddle by the...

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#FarmLove on Bò Lait Farm

#FarmLove on Bò Lait Farm

The story of how Alexis and Conor MacDonald became dairy farmers is a pretty cool one, but they have really got to come up with something better for how they met. “We met in a bar,” Alexis says. “It was very romantic.” Despite a ho-hum start to this love story, it gets better. The two met in North Carolina, where Conor was stationed in the Army and Alexis was attending a girlfriend’s wedding. “We both thought it wouldn’t amount to anything,” Alexis says.  She was living in D.C. at the time, but the next weekend Conor went to the Walter Reed Medical Center to visit a buddy, and he and Alexis were able to meet up and go on a date. So began their long distance relationship, which got even longer when Conor moved to Florida and then was deployed to Afghanistan. Alexis completed her graduate school studies in social work in May 2014 and moved to Florida a couple of months later. For most of their relationship, Alexis and Conor were planning their future, deciding they wanted to farm. After 8 years in the Army, Conor would be leaving the military that winter. They had settled on dairy farming. “We knew we wanted to be doing something with animals,” Alexis says. “That drew both of us in more than vegetables.” “To get a loan, we need a market,” says Conor, adding that Organic Valley provided that market. “We didn’t want a hobby farm; we wanted a business.” Growing up in New Hampshire, Conor’s family had what he calls a “hobby farm,” which included a couple of milk cows over the years. “So, I at least knew how to move a cow, which is kind of a big thing,” he said. And dairy farming is in his blood. “My ancestors milked cows in Canada.”   “I rode horses,” Alexis chuckles of her previous livestock experience. “I always liked cows though. Now, I think they are hilarious.” They also knew they wanted to be in mid-coast Maine. “We had come up and visited a few times and loved it,” Conor says. “It reminded me of Nova Scotia, where my family lived.” They searched for nearly two years to find their current home in Washington. They moved here in February 2015. The barn itself was in excellent shape, but that was about it. Cows had been milked on the farm back in the 70s in tie stalls. The milk room, where milk is kept in a bulk tank, was falling in and the lines through which the milk would pass from the barn to the milk room had completely rusted. But the MacDonalds were able to purchase milking parlor equipment second hand, and they have made several improvements and added a new open air barn for the cows to come and go as they please and new housing for heifers and calves. They had a crash course in dairy farming, spending a week with Mike Moody on his farm in Whitefield. And by April 2o15, they were ready to bring in the first animals – nine first-calf heifers. “They were wild,” Alexis says of the young cows. “It would have been easier to have a moose,” Conor adds. Alexis works off the farm, using her social work degree in Augusta. While she works two days a week now, she started out full time. “I had just started my job and one calved right after they got here,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘Well, I guess I will milk the cow now. Then I will go to work and then come home...

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Taking a closer look at where milk comes from

Taking a closer look at where milk comes from

We only had UMaine dietetic student Zakkary Castonguay with us as intern at the Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council for a brief time this fall, but we wanted to be sure to introduce him to as many dairy farmers and dairy farms during that time as possible. The following is his take on what he saw, learned and experienced.  Dairy is not only one of the five components of the MyPlate guidelines but as I quickly learned, a way of life. During the completion of the combined Master’s and Dietetic Internship program on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, I was allotted the opportunity to spend time with the Maine Dairy Promotion Board / Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council. Stepping away from the incandescent lit hallways of a hospital, I found myself in several cow pastures across the beautiful state of Maine taken aback by the breathtaking views.     Interacting with the families who have, in some cases, dedicated generations to providing the state of Maine and those across our country with straightforward and nutritious milk, helped to produce one of the greatest life experiences for which I could ask. Each farm visit was unique, but exhibited the same basic principles: a genuine care for the animals, belief in the products being produced, and an overwhelming dedication to our state and it’s people. Far too often in the world of academia more specifically that of nutrition, there is the disconnect between everything that is learned and the foundation for which it stands – food. Touring farms and seeing firsthand the dedication and work involved in the production of food allows for a more wholesome understanding of agriculture and, in turn, the products we discuss with our clients.  Having been raised in a society where producers and consumers have little interaction, there is both a need and a newfound push to bring the two together. Fortunately, the forward progression of consumers’ desires to eat local and understand the origin of their foods directly coincides with the work these farmers have been doing for countless generations.       The dairy farmers and their families not only graciously take time from their tireless workdays to provide invaluable information on the inner workings of a functioning farm, but also provide insight on the regulations and proposed future direction of their agricultural sectors. Lives as dairy farmers do not begin and end each day with the punch of a time clock; their work is intertwined within their daily lives. The intermingling of work and everyday life is evident as these wonderful historians share their stories and visuals they so graciously shared during each visit.       The trips across what, in my biased opinion, is the best state in this nation were long in distance, but full of experienced.  Visualizing the anthocyanin-rich blueberry barrens while traveling down the historic Airline connecting Hancock and Washington counties helped to solidify my bias. Fiery red fields led to ocean front pastures and a prime example of the families that help supply the nation with nine key nutrients. As the last weeks of my internship come to a close, I will always remember the people behind the products being produced; their wit, dedication, and ingenuity all are qualities I hope to emulate as I begin my career as Registered Dietitian....

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