On Jan. 5, 2016, thirty-four students from four New England colleges participated in the New England Dairy Travel Course. For five days, students from the Universities of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, traveled throughout the state of Maine visiting dairy farms and learning about the dairy industry.
The starting point for the tour was the Fairchild Dairy and Research Facility at the University of New Hampshire. Currently, their herd consists of about 90 milking age Jerseys and Holsteins. A portion of the herd is operated and managed by students in the CREAM Program. They are responsible for milking the cows, calf and heifer care, as well as helping with any research that is being conducted on the herd.
The first Maine farm on the agenda was Highland Farms Inc. in Cornish. Highland Farms is the oldest registered Jersey farm in the U.S. and has been a source of outstanding dairy genetics for many years. The farm is involved in a number of enterprises including dairy, woodcutting, trucking and maple syrup operations. The milking herd consists of approximately 250 purebred Jerseys. The farm sits on top of a hill overlooking the White Mountains and Mount Washington. The location is beautiful and we learned about many of the conservation efforts the farm has undertaken to reduce erosion and runoff. From there we traveled to Waterville, which became the base of operations for the rest of the week.
On Tuesday, we travelled to Exeter to visit Stonyvale Inc., which is run by the Fogler family. They are currently milking approximately 1,000 cows daily in a double 20 parallel parlor. Kate Fogler talked about all aspects of the farm operation. Our first stop was their new calf facility where calves are raised in groups and fed using robotic feeders. We also saw their methane digesters which turns dairy manure and food waste into electricity and bedding for the herd. The electricity is sold back to the power company and is used to light up more than 500 homes.
The J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center at the University of Maine was next. There are currently 26 registered Holsteins being milked by the UMADCOWS (University of Maine Applied Dairy Cooperative of Working Students). Two of the Maine students gave a tour of the livestock barn, feed storage, calf barn and tie-stall milking barn. It is a required course for all pre-vet and animal science majors in the department.
For a change of pace, we visited two small ruminant dairies in the afternoon. First was Northern Exposure Farm in Holden. This is a 40-ewe milking sheep farm operated by Jim and Janet Weber. Jim is a veterinarian and professor of Animal Science at UMaine. Using the latest in reproductive technologies the Weber’s have assembled and bred an excellent flock of East Friesian sheep, a breed known for their milking ability. Jim talked to the group about a number of health and management issues such as parasite control and scrapie certification. The milk collected from the flock is frozen in plastic buckets and later marketed to cheese producers.
Our last stop for the day was Seal Cove Farm in Lamoine, operated by Barbara Brooks. This 120-doe dairy goat operation was established in 1976. All of the milk produced by the herd is made into cheese which is marketed throughout the Northeast. Barbara also buys cow milk locally to make a huge variety of fresh, flavored and aged cheeses. It was very interesting to hear Barbara talk about the breeding, feeding and management of the herd. She does an excellent job of management as evident from the high level of milk production achieved.
After a foot of snow overnight, the next day we struck out for Conant Acres Inc. located in Canton. The farm is home to four generations of the Conant family. The 75 registered Holsteins housed in the tie-stall barn were spotless and beautiful. The herd has a BAA of 114.9 making it the second highest classified Holstein herd in the country. Nearly every cow in the barn had multiple generations of excellent dams in their pedigree. Duane, Betty and the rest of the family were there to share their thoughts about the breeding, feeding, managing and marketing of such an outstanding herd of cows.
Next we were off to Farmington to visit Hardy Farms. Hardy Farms is a family-run, organic registered Ayrshire farm. The Hardy family did an excellent job of explaining the requirements for organic milk production. Because of the high cost of grain, organic farms place a greater emphasis on forage production, especially from pasture. To accomplish this, the Hardy’s rely on rotational grazing, supplemented with excellent quality baleage and hay during the winter months. Some of the recent improvements to the farm are a milking parlor within the old tie-stall barn, a new freestall barn for the milking herd and a new bedded pack facility to house dry and transition cows as well as heifers.
Next we visited Piper Farms Inc., a 600-cow freestall operation located in Embden, owned by Lowell and Karen Piper and Marsha and Matt Hamilton. This farm is an excellent example of how ownership of a large farm can be transferred even when the two families are not related. A profit sharing agreement, which was worked out by Farm Credit, enables the Hamilton’s to gain equity in the farm over time. Marsha was our guide as we toured their “all-in/all-out” dry and transition cow facility. She explained how minimizing pen movements reduced social stress and increased production. This philosophy is even carried into the youngstock and milking herd.
Thursday started with a trip to the Maine Agricultural Trade Show in Augusta. This 3-day event is held each year, and serves as a meeting place for farmers, agricultural organizations, agribusiness vendors, educators and state and federal agencies. This was also a great place to bring in speakers to talk to the students about the Maine dairy industry and how they work with the dairy producers in the state. Dr. Michelle Walsh, State Veterinarian, talked about her work protecting animal and human health from zoonotic diseases. Tim Drake, Executive Director of the Maine Milk Commission talked about how the commission monitors and sets milk prices to insure producers receive a fair price. Julie-Marie Bickford, Executive Director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association spoke about the importance of protecting the interests of producers with state agencies and lawmakers. The last speaker was Cheryl Beyler, Executive director of the Maine Dairy Promotion Board and Dairy Nutrition Council. Cheryl described how her groups use producer checkoffs to promote dairy products and educate health professionals and consumers about the nutritional value of dairy products. The students then had some time to walk through the trade show and talk to the vendors.
On Thursday afternoon we travelled to St. Albans and visited the Taylor Dairy Farm. Taylor Dairy is the largest Jersey farm in the state, milking about 800 cows averaging over 20,200 lbs. of milk. The Taylors have been using robotic calf feeders to mix and feed milk replacer for several years. Ben Taylor talked about managing intake with these feeders and the importance of routine cleaning of the robot to prevent health problems. Another observation of the group was the excellent bunker management and the use of a silo defacer to minimize spoilage. Cameras throughout the farm are used to monitor the cows and employees.
The last stop of the day was at the largest dairy farm in the state, Flood Brothers Inc. in Clinton. Jenny Tilton-Flood gave us a great tour of the milking facility. The Flood’s are milking 1700 cows in a 100-stall rotary parlor. It was amazing to see this large parlor in action. Averaging five-six turns per hour, it only takes three and a half hours to milk the entire herd.
Friday, the last day of the travel course, started by heading south to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. The farm, store and cheese production is operated by the Libra Foundation and showcases and educates the public regarding the importance of agriculture to the state. Currently the farm milks 70 registered Holsteins in a tie-stall facility. The farm also manufactures cheese that is marketed throughout the Northeast. The Pineland operation has rapidly grown and is now Maine’s largest cheese producer.
The last stop on the tour was Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook. Idexx is a worldwide biotech company that employs more 5,000 people. They develop and manufacture health diagnostic equipment and tests for both livestock and companion animals. During lunch we listened to a presentation on Idexx and the products they develop. After the presentation we were able to tour the massive facility and see how their SNAP tests are made. Every day they are working on better, faster and more accurate tests for use by veterinarians and owners to insure animals are healthy and free from disease.
We would like to thank all of the farms and businesses that opened their doors and allowed us to tour their facilities. The tour guides were gracious and patiently answered our many questions. The farms and other facilities offered generous hospitality and provided us with some great meals. Also, a huge thank you goes out to Farm Credit AgEnhancement Program for the grant that made this tour possible.