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Running for a cause

Running for a cause

By Jennifer Jones, sponsored Moo Squad athlete It’s safe to say that runners, bikers, triathletes, and competitors in general go through phases when they might lose motivation for competitions. When my motivation hits a wall, I find that channeling my energy to help a good cause can keep me going. This summer I was asked to participate in the 10th Annual Tri for a Cure Triathlon with a co-worker, Heather.  The Tri for a Cure is Maine’s only all-women triathlon, where thousands of women get together to participate in this event and join together in the fight against cancer.  We all raise money for this event to support for the Maine Cancer Foundation and help create a cancer-free Maine. This year, the more than 1300 participants raised over $2 million! Knowing that I was a part of that is incredibly inspiring. The Tri for a Cure is a sprint triathlon that consists of a USAT-sanctioned 1/3 mile swim, a 15 mile bike ride and a 3 mile run.  For the event, Heather and I completed the race as a relay team.   I completed the swim, Heather completed the bike, and we ran together. The swim was in the ocean. The water was wetsuit-worthy at 68 degrees but not too bad and was pretty calm. I swam the 1/3 mile swim course in 13 minutes and then made my way up to the bike transition to make the exchange to Heather. Heather made her way out onto the bike course and rocketed through the 15 miles in 48 minutes, and then we made our way out onto the run course. We cruised through the 3 mile run, and finished the entire race in 1 hour and 39 minutes, good enough for an 18th place relay team finish. The entire course is lined with loud and encouraging supporters, and probably one of the most inspiring races I have ever been in. We even ran past a lady holding up a sign that read, “I had chemo on Friday, you can do this!” And, if that isn’t the epitome of inspiration, I don’t know what is. When you need some extra energy; a great race day breakfast is overnight oats. I had a serving of overnight oats before the Tri for a Cure! Combine equal parts rolled oats and milk and yogurt, along with extra additions for flavoring. My favorite additions are almonds, mini chocolate chips, and...

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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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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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Duron Harmon encourages students to take the time for breakfast and exercise

Duron Harmon encourages students to take the time for breakfast and exercise

Put down the cell phones and take the time to eat breakfast and be active each day, New England Patriots’ free safety Duron Harmon told a crowded auditorium of Westbrook High School students on Thursday, March 30. “Eating breakfast in the morning takes 10, 15 minutes. Exercising takes an hour. All we got to do is put down our cell phones and do it,” he said as the crowd erupted into applause. Harmon was at the school as part of a Fuel Up to Play 60 assembly, celebrating school breakfast and the achievements of Angelica Johns, a freshman at WHS and the state ambassador for the Fuel Up to Play 60 program in Maine. Funded by dairy farmers across the nation, Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by National Dairy Council and NFL, in collaboration with the USDA, to help encourage youth to lead healthier lives and empower them to make a difference within their school’s wellness environment. It has given Johns and fellow WHS student Madison Damon, who was the state ambassador two years ago, the opportunity to travel to regional and national leadership summits and meet like-minded students from across the country. Damon also recently received a $7,500 SAP Bill McDermott College Scholarship thanks to her involvement with Fuel Up to Play 60. This year, Johns championed for a breakfast cart at the school to give students a second chance at grabbing a healthy breakfast in the morning if they did not choose to eat in the cafeteria when they first arrived at the school.   Harmon referenced research that has shown that students are more focused and perform better in school when fueled by a healthy breakfast in the morning, even if it’s “just a banana and yogurt.” “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” he said. “It gives you energy to accomplish the things you want to do, to improve academic performance and test scores.” He also stressed the importance of being active for a minimum of 60 minutes each day, not only to stay in shape but as a way to build confidence and self esteem. “We live in a world that wants to tear everybody down. I love social media; I’m on social media, but if you ever look at the things that are going on in social media and how people are always clowning people, want to just talk down to them, that’s the world we live in,” he said. “You’re going to be in a world, where you have your goals and you have your dreams and not everybody is going to see your vision, and at the same time, they are going to try to tear it down. If you could do something like physical activity that could build your confidence up so that you have the confidence to stand up to them and let them know, ‘You are not going to knock down my dream. You’re not going to tell me I can’t do this. I’m going to do whatever I want to.’”     Harmon said that exercise or physical activity didn’t mean they have to go to the gym to work out each day. It could be as simple as playing a pickup game of basketball with friends, throwing a Frisbee or going for a run or a walk. He added that physical activity is also a stress reliever, and high school students can experience a great deal of stress. By taking the time to eat breakfast, which would allow students to better learn and continue to...

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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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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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