Dairy Farming

Green Pastures Award-winning family is fixture in community

Green Pastures Award-winning family is fixture in community

When a dairy farm family has been in a community for three or four or five or even six, seven or eight generations like many of Maine’s dairy farm families, those families are not only deeply invested in their farm, but in their community. You’ll often see their names on school boards or boards of selectmen or the county’s soil and water conservation district. In choosing the Green Pastures Award winner each year, one of the criteria for the selection committee to consider is community involvement. (Other considerations are milking herd quality, efficiency on the farm, the quality of the farm’s forages and feed for its animals, that the farm is economically sound and sustainable, and that the farm’s practices have a positive impact on the environment.) This year’s Maine Green Pastures winner is deserving on all fronts, but the Hall family’s community involvement really goes above and beyond. Located in East Dixfield, Hall Farms is operated by Dick Hall and his sons Rodney and Randy (the farm’s eighth generation) with the help of other family members (including the ninth generation). Among the farm members are a county director of the Farm Service Agency, chief and captain of the local fire department, national YF director for the Farm Bureau, chair of the Board of Selectmen, President of the Maine Maple Association, and Vice President of the New England Belted Galloway Group. The family has always been involved in agricultural fairs around the state, showing cattle or pulling steers or often as part of the staff that organizes the fair. Randy is the president of the local Farmington Fair; while at Fryeburg Fair he is the beef cattle superintendent, his father Dick has been the pulling ring superintendent for 24 years, and for nearly 15 years Rodney (who is president of the Maine Maple Association) and his crew of volunteers have been working the sugar house on the fairgrounds, where visitors can see just how maple syrup is made as well as sample and/or purchase many different maple products from Hall Farms, including a fair favorite – maple cotton candy. “It’s a good way to sell part of our crop, and it’s something I like to do,” said Rodney of the sugar house. “We are trying to promote the maple industry. Even if they don’t buy our syrup here, they’re going to go home and buy someone’s maple syrup.” And they’ll know to buy the real thing. This was the first year, they offered a blind taste test to allow people to compare imitation maple syrup and real Maine maple syrup. “Some people had never tried the real thing,” he added. “They never realized there was a difference.” Now they know better. While fair season is becoming a distant memory for most, the Hall family is already looking to next year. Rodney meets with his volunteers right after Fryeburg is over, so everything is fresh in their minds and they can discuss how to improve or change things for the next year. The family has to schedule much of its farm work around the fairs, making sure the corn is all chopped before Farmington Fair, for example. Rodney drives back and forth to Fryeburg every day of the fair to take care of his milk cows but hires help for the milking and daily chores. Hall Farms is primarily a dairy farm and has been home to a herd of registered Holsteins since 1945, the family relies on several enterprises, each one supporting the others to keep the farm thriving. They manage a sugarbush of 7,500 taps that produce about 1,200...

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A rainbow of dairy cattle

A rainbow of dairy cattle

While their own family farm – Happy Acres in Troy – is only a second generation farm, the Schofield kids come from a long line of dairy farmers, and a large extended family of dairy farmers. Within that extended family, there are several opinions about what the best breed of dairy cow is, but for the Schofields, it’s one big melting pot. The five children in 4-H ( a mix of cousins and siblings) show four breed of cattle at Maine fairs – Jersey, Ayrshire, Holstein and Guernsey, and they all have their favorite breed. Lydia, 11, and her cousin Mackensie, 15, like the Ayrshires. “I really love their color,” says Lydia of the mahogany red and white cattle. “I like a lot of their characteristics, not just their attitude,” says Mackensie, who is this year’s National Ayrshire Princess after being selected at the breed association’s national convention in Oklahoma City. She will represent the Ayrshire breed at the upcoming Eastern States (Big E) Fair. Ayrshires are known to usually have good temperaments, but Lydia’s brother Ruben Jr. (R.J.), 13, prefers the Jerseys. “I like their solid color and how they are more calm and don’t push you around like the Ayrshires.” Mackensie’s brother Shaynen, 17, also prefers the Jerseys for their small size, which makes them easier to handle, he says. Their sister Nicole, 19, also likes Jerseys.             When it comes to cow breeds, dairy farmers are much like people with their favorite dog breeds. Someone might be a lifelong Golden Retriever owner and would never own anything else because they admire the dog’s temperament, their beautiful color and their intelligence. Or they might love Jack Russels for their small size and tenacity. Some people prefer mutts and like having a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Or they will have multiple breeds on their farm and just appreciate a good milk cow that does her job and doesn’t cause trouble no matter what breed(s) she is.   I guess in this analogy, the Holstein would be the Labrador Retriever – the United States most popular and most recognizable breed. There are six main dairy breeds that are common in the United States – the Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Brown Swiss. Though not at all common, other breeds can be found on farms in Maine, including Linebacks, Randall and Dutch Belted, and some farms have crossed rarer breeds, such as Normande and Fleckveih into their herd in hopes of improving certain characteristics like better efficiency at turning forages (grass) into milk. Still other small farms or homesteads that probably have just one or two milk cows, might have Milking Devons or Dexter cattle, which are considered multi-purpose (beef/milk/draft).                    ...

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As cool as a cow

As cool as a cow

    If a cow could speak, a dairy farmer would probably ask her 20 questions a day, at least. How are you today? Feeling all right? Can I get you anything? Is the temperature right for you? Do you need me to turn up the fans? Can I get you anything? How’s the food today? Have you been drinking enough water? Are you comfortable? Are the bedding and stalls to your liking? Can I get you anything? A cup of tea, perhaps? Well, that last one might be a bit overboard, but you get the idea. Because cows don’t speak, not our language any way, dairy farmers rely on research, technology, the advice of veterinarians and cow nutritionists, and their own observations to determine what a cow likes or dislikes, what she needs for proper nutrition and for suitable housing, and if she’s feeling all right at any give point. At no time are those things more important than at the peak of summer heat. And if you’ve ever been in dairy cow barn in summer, you’ll know it’s one of the coolest places to be (because of the temperature and because you get to hang out with cows).     Cows prefer jeans-and-hoodie weather or even snow pants-and-parka weather to beach weather. And they are sensitive creatures whose health can be thrown out of whack if stress is introduced. Their milk production can drop or their complex digestive systems can go haywire, it can also add excessive stress to a pregnant cow. Fortunately, we have found ways to keep cows healthy and comfortable even when the heat and humidity start to rise.     Large animal veterinarian Meghan Flanagan, DVM, of Annabessacook Veterinary said dairy farmers must plan ahead when they know hot weather is coming, to make sure the heat has as little impact on the cows as possible, checking that fans are running and shades are in place to block out sun if needed, water tanks are clean and in working order. “You want to encourage water intake,” she said. Some dairy farms will offer salt licks for their animals, while most include trace minerals in the animals’ feed. “There’s some nutrition shifting that is seasonal,” she added. Dairy farmers work with a nutritionist to adjust feed often, and much of it depends on the weather. A cow’s nutritional needs in extreme cold to keep her healthy are different from those needs in milder weather. During hot weather, Betsy Bullard of Brigeen Farms in Turner says her family mixes electrolytes into their cows’ feed with a mix that is provided by the grain company.     “Airflow,” is Betsy’s main concern, she added. “Every fan is going.” The cows are kept in open-sided free stall barns with sand for bedding. “The sand stays pretty cool for them also.” At Brigeen Farms, the cows also wear collars that transmit information about their rumination (chewing their cud) and activity (how much they walk around, go to the water tanks) to a computer so that farmers can check in at any time and make sure everyone is all right. When a cow isn’t feeling well, the earliest sign is that she isn’t chewing her cud, or she’s lying down too much. “We keep track of that all the time anyway, but when it’s really hot and humid, we are that much more vigilant, so we can catch anything early.” If a cow seems to be suffering heat stress, the first response is to give her fluids.     Another indication that cows are stressed from the heat is a drop...

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Giving coffee milk a boost with Rocket Fuel

Giving coffee milk a boost with Rocket Fuel

When Carson Lynch came to Maine from his native Massachusetts in 1990, he was in awe of the local business scene here. “I was like, ‘What is in the water?’ In Maine, small business is a self-sustaining community of people,” he said.  “It’s not just a marketing message, it’s real.” He sees much of that same neighbor-helping-neighbor and close-knit community atmosphere among Maine’s dairy farms and dairy industry. “I feel really excited to be dialed into the Maine dairy scene,” he said. Lynch hasn’t decided to start milking cows. He’ll leave that to the professionals. But in 2008, he brought a new dairy product to the table with the invention of Rocket Fuel High Test Coffee Milk. Rocket Fuel is the signature drink of the Gorham Grind , an independent community coffeehouse in Gorham Village that he has owned since 2005.   While coffee milk isn’t a new concept, especially in New England (it’s even the official drink of Rhode Island), it doesn’t have the popularity it once did, and Lynch is hoping to reinvigorate the beverage. “Let’s bring coffee milk back!” he said, adding that the flavor of his product is coffee-forward balanced with fresh dairy and the complexity of caramelized sugar. Coffee catering and event vending is another service that Lynch has offered since 2008. Because of the limitations of a tent-and-table set up, he and Tayt Dame of Norse Home Services built Maine’s first full-service mobile coffee and espresso operation and named it Flo. As part of this work, Lynch found that he needed a ready-to-go, gallon-sized latte mix that was custom to The Gorham Grind. After creating his own coffee syrup, he worked hard to get the texture of the dairy mixture right (he uses whole milk, skim milk and half and half). The whole process took weeks. “There were many nights spent over a stove back then”, Lynch said, “and fortunately it worked so well that I was able to put it on the menu [at the shop].” The drink soon gained followers. “Even people who are normally not coffee fans really like it,” Lynch said. “I know that sounds like a boast, but we have supporting data. Getting into production and distribution of a perishable product is risky, but the demand was there. People kept saying to my staff and me, ‘You should bottle this.’” Lynch even saw people who would travel from Portland to Gorham just to have Rocket Fuel. “In the early days, I figured if I didn’t have any that day, they would just buy something else,” Lynch said. “But instead, if we didn’t have it, they were like, ‘Peace!’ and just left.” In 2013, Lynch decided to take the leap and “really got serious” about producing Rocket Fuel. Whole Foods in the North Atlantic region has even picked up Rocket Fuel as a local food in five of its stores so far, including Portland and in Lynch’s hometown of Hingham, Mass. Several other businesses in Southern Maine also carry the drink. Lynch is enthusiastic about the popularity and growth of Rocket Fuel, but he sees the importance of keeping his business small enough for him to manage and maintain the quality. All bottling is done on-site at The Gorham Grind, which is a licensed Maine Milk Distributor, and Lynch makes every batch by hand. One gallon of his coffee syrup makes six finished gallons of Rocket Fuel. He works with two Maine companies he knows and trusts – Coffee by Design and Oakhurst Dairy, among others. “Oakhurst has always focused on supporting Maine farmers.” He figures he uses about 50 gallons of dairy products from Oakhurst each week....

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How Now Brown Cow

How Now Brown Cow

Although she’s second in milk production only to the Holstein and is well-known for her docile personality, the Brown Swiss has never caught on with the popularity of some of the other milking breeds. For the Smith family of East Dixfield though, there’s no other breed they would rather have in their barn. The first Brown Swiss cow dairy farmer Les Smith’s father owned wasn’t much of a milker. “She didn’t give milk, but everyone loved her disposition,” Les said. That was 1961. The Smith family of More Acres Farm originally bought dairy cows as nurse cows to supplement their Beef Shorthorn calves and promote their growth. Hollis Smith had started with beef cows in 1938 on a couple acres in-town Dixfield. “He started accumulating more cattle, and people told him, ‘If you’re going to buy more cattle, you’re going to need more acres,” said Les’ wife Judy. Hence the farm name – More Acres. At the farm’s height, it covered 800 acres. The farm Hollis bought, and Les and Judy still farm with their son Matt and his family in East Dixfield, came equipped with a Sears Roebuck milking machine and four milk coolers in the barn, so he decided to start milking cows. “We had some grade [not registered] Holsteins, Jerseys, and we tried Ayrshires – that was back when they had big, long horns,” Les said. It was the Brown Swiss though, her personality, calm nature and gentleness that was really the start of More Acres becoming a dairy farm. “They’re pretty hard to beat as far as disposition,” Les said. There was just that tiny issue of her not giving much milk … “We looked for better ones,” Les said. “My father told people, ‘It’s a breed I think we could help.’” Brown Swiss is not a popular breed like the Holstein or Jersey.  “At that time there were some small herds in Vermont, New York and Ohio,” Les said. His father started buying up some of the best he could find until More Acres became the largest Brown Swiss breeder in the state of Maine. Today, they milk about 30 Brown Swiss cows and ship their milk to Horizon Organic. It’s another gentle soul in the barn that is the Smith family’s prize possession – an 11-year-old Brown Swiss named Revlon. Calves born on the farm are named with the same first letter as their mother – in this case “R”. When Revlon was born, she had dark lines around her eyes like eyeliner and was named for the famous makeup line. She descended from Matt’s line of 4-H show cattle, and she was a winner in her own right as well.  “Oh, yes!” Judy said. “She won her share of championships.” “If she were in school, she’d get straight A’s,” added Matt’s son Matthew Jr. (M.J.) Along with the Brown Swiss, the family also shows their Beef Shorthorns and sheep. But Revlon’s been a favorite of everyone in the Smith family. “It’s just the way she is,” Les said. Unlike the family’s first Brown Swiss, Revlon is a milker. Even at her advanced age, she is still producing 70-80 pounds of milk (nine or more gallons) each day. Her latest calf, Ripley, will be M.J.’s show animal this year.   The Brown Swiss cow is a North American breed derived from the Alpine Braunvieh (German for “brown cow”). Since July is National Ice Cream month, I decided to make a super simple brown (coffee) ice cream recipe in honor of this brown cow. This is also a great way to use up left...

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Lucy finds a second calling

Lucy finds a second calling

  The reality is that when a milk cow reaches a certain age and is no longer pulling her weight in the milking herd, she will usually be loaded onto the beef truck. It’s not a happy part of farming, but it’s practical. It’s hard enough paying for feed for the cows who are still producing milk, along with calves and heifers who are too young to have started milking yet. Then there’s the space factor – retirement housing for dairy cows? And added medical expenses of an aging cow. And where would you put all those cows who simply died of natural causes? By sending a healthy but older dairy cow to the butcher, she fills another need – hamburger. But every once in a while, there’s that one cow that the dairy farmer just can’t bear to see leave. Lucy is that cow for farmer Randall Bates. “My wife thinks I’ve lost it,” he said. I could practically hear Jill Bates’ eyes roll when I talked to her on the phone before going to Springside Farms in New Vineyard to meet Lucy for myself, but she just chuckled as she told me about the cow that her husband had literally “put out to pasture.” “Lucy is the cow every farmer dreams of,” Randall said of his affection for  the 12-year-old Holstein (she’ll be 13 in September). “She never ever caused me any issues — disposition-wise or health-wise; she had six heifers and only one bull [a dairy farmer always hopes for heifers]; and she always did just what she was supposed to. She was the Steady Eddie cow that you never noticed. She never caused me any issues, not even as a heifer [an awkward, goofy stage of a cow’s life when she tends to get into trouble – you know, those teenage years.] If I could have a barn full of Lucys …” I just couldn’t put her on the beef truck.” Randall and Jill’s daughter Allison was the one to actually suggest giving Lucy a new job – that of what the Bates’ call “den mother” to the farm’s young heifers. The heifers are too old to stay in the barn and have every need attended to by the farmers, but they are young enough that it’s nice to have an older cow like Lucy looking out for them, showing them the way. While Lucy is tops, the Bates have and have had some other very nice cows. Organic Valley, their co-op, even featured Randall and Jill and a couple of their gals on their milk cartons six years ago. Mayflower was 10 years old when she graced the cover of the Lactose Free milk carton. Another dependable cow, “she is no longer with us,” Randall said. Raspberry was just a bred heifer (she was 2 years old and had yet to have any calves) when her photo was taken for the milk carton. “She hammed it up unbelievably!” Randall said of the photo shoot. “She hasn’t been problem-free, but she hasn’t been a problem cow,” he added.   More photos from around the farm:           Story and photos by Jami Badershall, communications manager for the Maine Dairy Promotion Board, unless otherwise...

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