Dairy Farming

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...

Read More

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....

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

Playing favorites? Maybe just a little.

Playing favorites? Maybe just a little.

Bella’s not a super friendly cow; her normal expression is something akin to a scowl, but she’s still Carrie Whitcomb’s favorite of her family’s herd of 300 Jersey and Guernsey dairy cows in Waldo, Maine. “She’s been around forever, and she just knows what to do,” Carrie said of the 12-year-old Jersey. “When we are putting them out to pasture, or putting them on a new pasture, she knows where she is going, and she tells everyone else where to go.” Carrie and her sister Holly have taken the reins at Springdale Farm, which was started when their grandparents bought the farm in 1951. The property was next door to their grandfather Colby’s parents’ farm and has since absorbed the older farm. “This land has been farmed by our family since 1917,” Carrie said. Their grandmother Lois was from a dairy family in Chesterville, where they milked Guernseys. The young couple started the herd with three milk cows – two Jerseys and a Holstein – and 10 registered Jersey heifers (too young to have had a calf yet or produce milk). “At some point they decided they liked Jerseys the best and stuck with them,” Carrie said. “The Guernseys came along from Chesterville a little later.” Holly has her own favorite on the farm – one aptly named Treasure. “She was the last calf out of one of our old favorites,” she said. As the cow was aged, the Whitcombs knew there was a good chance it would be her last calf. “When her mother was preg checked, the vet said it was a bull. When her mom calved out and I saw it was a girl, I started screaming, ‘It’s a heifer! It’s a heifer!’ Carrie wasn’t here, so I texted her at four o’clock in the morning. I named her Treasure right then and there.” And then there’s the herd favorite for everyone on the farm – Lydia, another 12-year-old. What makes her special? “Lydia? Oh, she’s just got attitude,” says Holly. “She’s the boss.” Holly and Carrie have an older brother and five cousins, but they are the only of their generation to have taken an interest in the farm. Their father is Walt Whitcomb, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “Dad’s around as needed and helps out quite a bit,” Carrie said. “We have a number of aunts in the area, and they like to pop in and stay involved.” Their grandmother was also involved into her 90s. She fulfilled a longtime dream of her and her husband to ensure that their land would be protected as farmland for the future. In July 2015, Springdale became a Forever Farm with the Maine Farmland Trust. Lois Whitcomb passed away in January 2016 at the age of 91.     Both Carrie and Holly studied animal science at Cornell University (Carrie was a senior when Holly was a freshman). Carrie is the farm manager, and has expanded the farm’s products beyond milk. While they are an Oakhurst Dairy farm, some of their milk also goes to Appleton Creamery  and  State of Maine Cheese Company, where Carrie did a college internship. Carrie has also become a cheese maker, starting with flavored cream cheeses, including Cinnamon Swirl, Everything Bagel, and seasonal flavors like strawberry. She sells them at five farmer’s markets, along with the farm’s rose veal. Bull calves have access to the outside in spring, summer and fall, and eat hay and grass, so their meat is more pink than the pale veal of those only fed milk. They are six months old...

Read More