Connolly brothers: Dairy and more

CN-MR-2-Connolly 1by Tamara Scully

At Connolly Brothers Dairy Farm, in Temple, NH, the three Connolly brothers have returned home to the dairy farm. Determined to grow the dairy business, expand farm operations, and continue the second-generation farm, brothers Chris, Mike and Patrick — along wife wives Jennifer, Cindi, and Jill — have a returned to the 100 acre home farm. Their parents began dairying when the boys were young.

“All of our own properties are adjacent to the home farm,” Chris Connolly said. “Our families all work with us.” Any non-cow related livestock — pigs, broiler chicken, turkey, sheep and lamb — are separate businesses run by the respective families. But the beef and dairy products are the joint efforts. Chris acts as manager. But “everyone does everything,” he said.

Adding Dairy Value

Until 2007, the dairy was milking about 70 head of Jersey cows, selling exclusively to the wholesale milk market. Today, along with raising a herd of Hereford and crosses for meat production, operating a sugar house, running a hunting preserve and lodge, and featuring homemade ice cream at their on-farm retail store, the family milks a 30 head Jersey dairy herd.

“It was costing us money to ship our milk,” Connolly said. They were getting less money for the milk than they originally received when they established the dairy in 1982. They needed a way to make the dairy profitable.

The family had opened an on-farm store in 2001 to sell hamburger from their cull cows. With sales of hamburger from the cull dairy cows growing, the brothers began to build a beef cattle herd, expanding the meat side of the business. The popularity of raw milk began to expand and they added bottled raw milk sales to their on-farm store. Connolly Brothers Dairy Farm was once one of the largest raw milk dairies in New Hampshire.

“We had a big volume of it,” and could supply large quantities of raw milk to buying clubs, Connolly said.

The farm currently produces 50-100 gallons of raw bottled milk each day. They’ve seen some drop in sales volume since New Hampshire law now allows dairies to produce 20 gallons or less per day of raw milk without a license. With an average production of 1,500 lbs. of milk per day, about 1/2 of the volume is shipped to the wholesale market while the rest goes into raw milk or ice cream production.

With a good customer base already accessing the farm for beef and raw milk, the brothers opted to selling ice cream at their on-farm store in 2003. They ship milk to DFA’s Hood plant in Concord. The Hood plant makes the ice cream mix. The mix is made from almost exclusively New Hampshire milk. The mix is then further prepared at the farm, where they add a variety of flavorings and purees on site.

The dairy herd was culled hard in 2007, and although the milking chores are decreased, the ice-cream and retail labor needs, along with the growing beef herd, have kept everyone busy on the farm.

Double Duty

The beef herd consists of 18 brood cows, with an eye on expansion to 24. They prefer a closed herd, both to decrease inputs and because they prefer to control how the animal was raised from birth. Currently they slaughter year-round, two animals per month, one being a cull from the dairy herd. They feed very little grain. The primarily pasture-based diet provides a lean meat. They don’t fully finish on grass exclusively, because of inconsistency. Grass-finishing, Connolly said, works best in warmer weather. The beef herd is on pasture most of the year. The animals are butchered at a USDA plant an hour away, and all the meat is sold retail, in packaged cuts.

While the Herefords finish at 16-18 months on the grass-based diet, the Jersey crosses require 24 months. The Jersey genetics adds a bit of flavor and a yellow fat, which is unique. The beef herd is pastured year-round, with round hay baleage and mineral supplement. A bit of grain is given in the winter months.

Dairy cows are pastured for a half of the day, mid-May through mid-August, and in the paddock the remainder of the time. They work with a nutritionist to maintain a balanced diet with the least amount grain possible, while still maintaining condition and a moderate level of milk production, Connolly said.

The animals graze the woodlots in a silvopasture system, in a controlled graze in amongst the trees and saplings, “to create a ‘Field and Stream’ look” for the fee hunting operation, Connolly said. The family actively manages the brush to provide the needed habitat for the grouse, pheasant, and partridge which are stocked from a large Rhode Island game farm. A converted barn serves as a hunting lodge, which is rented out.

Animals are pulled out of the hunting area in time to allow some pasture regrowth before hunting season. The hunting preserve, established in 1987, includes planned habitat, which is planted each season. Feed plots of 1/4 acre, planted to sunflowers or other crops to attract game, are fenced with moveable fencing, to prevent the cows from grazing them.

When the cows aren’t on pasture, the manure is managed through a nutrient management plan which includes regular soil test, spreading manure on the fields, and selling composted, bagged manure. They plan on obtaining 70 percent of their nitrogen needs from on-farm sources. Their plan includes establishing clover to increase nitrogen in hay fields and pasture, and incorporating a better mix of legumes overall in their pastures.

“We try to make it so it all complements each other,” Connolly said. Everything they are doing on the property enhances the other enterprises.

Sugarhouse

The brothers’ sugarbush produces about 150 gallons per season, but they are planning to expand. The trees are already there, and the demand for their syrup is growing. The sugarhouse is a new venture on the farm, built two years ago.

Visitors are also welcomed to host a ice-cream birthday party on the farm. With all the family helping out on the farm, only a few teenage local employees are needed to help with retail sales. While an increase in the area’s population has helped the retail sales along, so has an added increase in buying local food.

“There’s a future,” Connolly said. “There is potential.” The family continues to strive to keep farming for a living, and to allow the next generation to do so, profitable and successfully, if they so choose.

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