by Bethany M. Dunbar
WEST GLOVER, VT — About 130 people from northern Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and as far away as Italy, took advantage of the Cabot Creamery Cooperative open farm at the Andersonville Dairy in October.
This year Mark Rodgers led tours almost continually from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Rodgers is on the board of directors of Agri-Mark, the farmer-owned cooperative that is the parent company of Cabot.
It was one of 49 farms around New England to open its doors to the public that day. Other open farms in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont were Missisquoi Valley Farm (the Coutures) in Westfield, Emergo Farm in Danville and Molly Brook Farm in West Danville.
In West Glover, visitors got to see a calf that had been born the day before, the farm’s computerized milking parlor, and some prize milkers and young stock. They learned about the most advanced dairy farming methods and breeding. Rodgers pointed out some polled Holsteins he is raising and talked about his efforts to breed more polled animals with good dairy potential.
“Horns are a recessive trait,” he said, so it’s easier to encourage the polled breeding than it would be if horns were a dominant trait. Rodgers said one-third of his herd is polled, and their heads are shaped slightly differently — a little rounder.
“I just sent one to Wisconsin last week,” he said. The bull was sold to be used for artificial insemination. With artificial methods, he said, genetics can be improved more quickly than by using the farm’s own animals exclusively.
He recently looked up an outstanding dairy cow online and figured out she has 134 offspring. That would not be possible under regular circumstances. A cow has one calf a year and could not live 134 years. But by transplanting embryos into surrogate mother cows, the best breeding lines can be expanded more quickly.
Everything at Andersonville Farm is focused on quality and cleanliness, Rodgers said. The farm has the awards and records to prove it. Rodgers said if the milk is not clean enough to go on his cereal in the morning, it won’t go into the bulk tank.
He does not pasteurize the milk on the farm because the equipment is too expensive, but is plans to have one some day.
The farm’s new milking parlor allows a farmer to milk 64 cows in an hour. The parlor holds 16 animals at once, and each cow has a neck band with a computer chip on it. So when the cow comes into the parlor, the parlor computer records which cow it is. It records what time the cow came in, how much milk she gave per minute, and more.
Once a month, samples are taken of each cow’s milk through the Dairy Herd Improvement Association program, to get more information about how much protein and butterfat each cow has in its milk, DNA information, and more. The feed is carefully analyzed as well.
“We know more about our cows than we do about our kids,” he said.
Young calves in calf hutches are separated individually at first, to avoid spreading diseases, and then grouped by age category.
About a third of the Andersonville Farm’s milk goes to The Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro to make cheese. Rodgers’ goals for the farm are about quality, not increasing quantity.
“My goal is to milk less and do better,” he said.
Rodgers is the fifth generation of farmers in his family in Glover. He worked for Ted Young, who owned the farm before him, and then for a number of years they operated it as partners before the Rodgers bought it.
The farm has been going since the 1880s, Rodgers said.