The farm has been in this family for over 100 years. In 2008, the Vermont Farm Bureau and the Vermont State Grange recognized us as a Century Farm. In 2009 we were named Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year. We are typically nominated annually for statewide milk quality awards, and we have won our co-op’s regional award and statewide quality awards for many successive years.
The farm consists of about 450 acres, including Garvin Hill, the highest point in Hartland. We have some 120 acres of hayfield and pasture, and we use about 60 acres of our neighbors’ land. We manage our woodlands for maple sugaring and for our own firewood production.
We have a herd of about 110 cattle: 60 in the milking herd and about 50 replacement heifers. These are registered Jerseys, a breed originating on the Isle of Jersey. Jerseys were once the cow of choice for small New England dairy farms. Jerseys produce milk with higher components (butterfat and protein) than Holsteins, ideal for cheese production.
Our cows are milked twice a day, using five milking machines that send the milk directly to a refrigerated bulk tank in the milkhouse. A Jersey gives 40 to 90 pounds of milk a day. We are paid quality premiums for protein, butterfat, and cleanliness that reflect both the health of our cows and good farm practices. Everyone in our family drinks our own raw (unpasteurized) milk.
In the summer almost all the animals are on pasture; that is, they go outside to graze day and night. In the winter the milking cows stay in the free-stall barn except when they go to the milking barn to be milked.
Each year in the spring we spread manure and fertilizer on the fields to produce good grass. In the summer we cut, bale, and wrap hay—as 1400-pound bales of haylage (high-moisture fermented grass). With the hay the cows also eat purchased grain formulated to a particular recipe for a TMR (total mixed ration) recommended by a dairy nutritionist.
We are members of Agri-Mark, Inc., a cooperative. Agri-Mark owns the Cabot Creamery Cooperative. A truck picks up our milk every other day. It goes either to Middlebury’s Cabot plant or to the Grafton Village Cheese Company (by arrangement with Agri-Mark), where it is turned into cheddar cheese.
Milk samples are taken at several steps in the process. Cleanliness is a primary objective, and we are subject to unannounced federal, state, and co-op inspections. All elements of our milking systems are rinsed, washed, and then acid-washed twice daily, and they are sanitized before each milking. We have never used hormones. We use antibiotics only as necessary when a cow is sick, and we withhold that milk until it tests free of medication residue. It is worth noting here that all pasteurized products manufactured for sale are in fact antibiotic-free.
We belong to the Vermont Dairy Herd Improvement Association, which tests cows monthly in order to give us individual records on production, quality, and components, which we use for herd maintenance and breeding purposes. These records are released in a trade publication called Country Folks each month. Rarely does a herd in the state have higher numbers than ours.
Other farm businesses include maple sugaring and manufacturing split rail fence. Along with some custom mowing, these are diversifying businesses that help to support the farm families when milk prices are low. Our up-to-date and energy-efficient sugaring operation gives us record production in good sugaring years. We sell our syrup in bulk, to retail stores, and to retail buyers at the farm and by mail order.
We have sold custom-made split rail fence for many years, using cedar for the posts and white ash for the rails. Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock is probably our most prominent local customer, although we have shipped some fence to neighboring New Hampshire and as far away as Pennsylvania. There are several examples of this fence around our farm.