All farmers know that Mother Nature is unpredictable and try to work within her good grace and confines, no matter what weather she delivers. What is predictable on George Hunt Jr.’s Hunt Farm, a dairy farm in Orange, MA, is that calves are born all year long that keep the cows circulating in steady milk production, three calves a week. On Jan. 1, two calves were born and one expected any minute on Jan. 2, with temperatures expected to reach 15 below F.
Hunt keeps his cows well-conditioned to withstand whatever Mother Nature brings. “We feed them pretty heavy, like them to stay filled with brewery grain and corn silage,” he said, along with hay to give them extra energy to ward off the cold. He buys his brewery grain silage from Anheuser-Busch in New Hampshire, enough to feed his cows three tons a day.
“It’s pretty wet stuff, 90 percent water,” he said.
He keeps a close eye on his Holstein herd of 130 mature cows and 120 heifers and brings dry cows out of the woods when they are about to deliver. “Close to calving, we bring them inside the barn,” he said.
Milking cows are kept in freestalls under a roof, either laying on a bed or free-standing on sand. A milk truck comes every other day to pick up approximately 8,500 pounds or 1,000 gallons produced a day. He also sells raw milk on the farm.
A full-time farmer for 35 years, he resides off-site with wife Christina. He has worked alongside and recently took over for his father, George Hunt Senior.
The last time that his father remembers cold weather this severe was in 1957 when it reached 30 degrees below zero. “It slowed everything down,” he recalls.
George Hunt Sr.’s great-grandfather Joseph Hunt made a down payment on the house, barn and 40 acres in 1879 that cost $800 shortly after he got out of the Civil War and resided there with his wife Calista. By selling real estate, working as a blacksmith and part-time farmer, he paid it off in 1920.
George Hunt, Sr. was eight years old when his father suffered a fatal heart attack. His mother went back to being a schoolteacher as the family’s only breadwinner, supporting her mother-in-law Hattie as well as her two boys and renting the barn out to a cattle dealer. His mother didn’t really want the farm, now taxed at 103 acres, but she couldn’t sell it as she didn’t own all of it. George’s older brother Ralph had no interest in it. Over time, the roofs needed repairing, which they could not afford.
“I thought about it a lot,” said Hunt Sr. At age 16, during April vacation, he set himself the task of obtaining free hen manure from a chicken factory in Orange to fertilize the fields. “I didn’t finish during April vacation. I stayed on that vacation.”
He never returned to school, though his mother wished it, and instead revitalized the farm. He emptied the barn of the renter’s cattle and filled it with his own, starting with a few cows of mixed breed, mainly “soft color” Guernsey’s and a few Holsteins to supply dairies that “wanted a cream line on the milk. Colored cows gave higher butter fat,” he said.
The milk was sold in cans that were picked up from 1953 to 1963, during which time he spent $17,000 to build a milk room and silo, though technically it still wasn’t his farm. What he had inherited in full was his mother’s and great-grandfather’s tenacity.
In the 1970s the Hunt Farm Trust was executed, and the farm’s name changed to Hunt Farm, which now encompasses 400 acres. He bought and sold cows, sold milk, sometimes sold hay and sometimes bought hay, depending on weather conditions. He and Hunt Jr. are members of Mass Cooperative Milk Producers Association (MCMPA).
His love of dairy farming continued through to his son’s children. Hunt Jr.’s daughter Heather, age 21, just returned from Ireland as a Cornell University exchange student majoring in Animal Science and Business, daughter Jessica married a farmer who manages a farm in Hudson Fall, NY, and son James, also a Cornell University graduate, is a herdsman on a 1,700 cow dairy in Genoa, NY.