At Wotton Farm, in Ossipee, NH farmers Joel and Kathey Wotton operate a raw milk micro dairy. They milk twice each day, bottling the raw milk and separating the cream to make butter, aged cheeses and yogurt. These products are sold directly to the consumer, either from their farm stand, or at the farmers’ market. “I usually make cheese one or two times per week, butter one or two times per week and yogurt once per week. Then we have a market one day a week,” Kathey Wotton said, “we also make time to help customers, so when a customer arrives we go out to the farm stand.”
They milk year round, spending a few hours each day with two to five cows — depending on the season. Between cleaning and sanitizing the equipment and caring for the rest of their livestock, “there’s not much downtime,” she said.
Summer is their busiest season, with tourists and seasonal residents increasing the population of the area. While winter sales average about 25 gallons of raw milk/week — that can double in the summer. Yogurt, too, tends to sell more in the summer, so Wotton only prepares their flavored yogurts by pre-order during the winter months. Butter, including flavored butter, cream and a variety of raw milk aged cheeses complete their dairy product line.
While the Wotton Farm is small enough to be exempted from New Hampshire’s raw milk testing and licensing requirements, they do have to adhere to safe practices. “The New Hampshire laws are beneficial to the small farmer because of the cost involved to become licensed. The fees for the licensing are fairly reasonable, but the regulations for the milking facility were well beyond what we could afford,” Wotton said. “We estimated that it would take approximately $75,000 to renovate our barn and kitchen to meet current regulations.”
The Wottons were a part of the small farmer contingent that advocated for the recent changes to the New Hampshire raw milk laws. While some larger dairy farms already selling raw milk did oppose the exemptions for small producers, Wotton and others worked directly with the Department of Health and Human Services to come up with a reasonable compromise for both sides, she explained.
Wotton believes that safeguards are in place, even without inspections. The small micro-dairies aren’t out to compete with larger dairies and their limited scale allows for intimate oversight by both the farmer and the farm customer. “My husband and I are the ones who milk the cows and bottle the milk and wash and sterilize the equipment. We take care to keep everything as clean as possible,” she said. “We encourage all of our customers to know their farmers. We think it’s important for our customers to know the process we go through to be able to provide them with milk and milk products.”
The herd is a Guernsey/Jersey mix. Dairy cows are pastured during the grazing season, but also get supplemental grain feed. They are outside 24 hours a day during the grazing season, except for milking time, but are inside the barn at night in colder weather. Cows are bred using AI. During the summer, the cows not being milked are pastured on a neighbor’s property.
Calves are housed in a group pen. They have two cows set to calve at the same time this spring and one in August. Male calves are raised for beef on the farm, although there isn’t room for this to be a regular part of the farm operation. Luckily, the last seven calves have been heifers. They are looking to sell a few heifers this season.
“All of our dairy products are available year-round and nothing gets wasted,” Wotton said. “Any left over milk, yogurt, whey, buttermilk — goes to the pigs to supplement their diet.” Piglets are purchased from a nearby farmer and pastured. In the winter, the pigs are able to burrow into bales of hay and have an overhead shelter. The pigpen is moved seasonally to a new area of pasture, where the pigs are used to root up and clear land of stumps and roots. Four to six pigs will be processed in the spring, then another batch in the fall. Meat is available by the side, or by the USDA retail cut.
Lambs are also being raised this season, with a planned purchase of a half-dozen spring lambs. They will be raised on pasture, supplemented with non-medicated grain, until 10 months of age.
The family raises both broiler chickens and turkeys. The birds are raised on pasture in portable chicken – or turkey- tractors. They plan to purchase a total of 1,000 chicks this season, as well as 30 turkeys for Thanksgiving sales. The farm utilizes a mobile processing unit available through their membership in the Small and Beginning Farmers of New Hampshire, Carroll County Chapter. They process all poultry on-farm and can legally sell them to farm stand and farmers’ market customers.
“We started taking fresh, not frozen, chicken to the farmers market last year, and it was a huge success,” Wotton said, “we butcher on Wednesdays and the market is on Thursdays. On the alternate weeks when we haven’t processed, we do have frozen chicken for sale.”
The farm also processes chickens and turkeys for customers who raise their own poultry, but don’t want to do the slaughtering. For $4/bird, plus extra for vacuum sealing, the demand for this service continues to grow. The Wottons entered into poultry processing after their friends at the nearby No View Farm found they could no longer accommodate the customer demand for this service themselves. “Our processing service is so popular that toward the end of the season, we have a hard time fitting in all the birds which customers want processed,” Wotton said, “our goal this year is to pre-schedule as many customers as possible.”
The farm also grows vegetables. They purchase organic seeds from their certified organic farming neighbors and offer vegetable seedlings for sale, as well as a variety of seasonal produce. Peppers and herbs grown on the farm are incorporated into several of their cheese varieties. They sell composted manure from the dairy herd, too, as well as any extra hay the produce.
The diversity at Wotton Farms allows this small farm to remain viable. Raw milk sales are a la