Sam Canonica and Sarah Costa chose their Dutch Belted cows not only for their milk but also for their small size, longevity, fertility, friendliness and forage efficiency. The Dutch Belteds are well suited for rotational grazing on 126-acre Manning Hill Farm in Winchester, NH.
From feeding to milking to bottling in glass to sales in their farm store, nearby farmers’ markets and grocery stores, Sarah and Sam handle all aspects of Manning Hill Farm’s production and sales themselves. Their priorities are healthy cows and clean milk. The herd’s somatic cell count (SCC) is consistently between 80,000 and 110,000.
A Heritage Breed
Dutch Belted cattle are often mistaken for the better-known Belted Galloway beef cattle. The two breeds differ in body structure, coats and in horns. It is not likely the two breeds are related.
Dutch Belteds are one of two heritage breeds at Manning Hill Farm. Six rare Randall Linebacks also graze the farm’s lush meadows. Randall cattle, a landrace breed from Vermont, are all-purpose cattle originally used for meat, milk and work. Sam and Sarah are experimenting with crossing Randalls with Dutch Belteds.
Four years after Sam and Sarah purchased their farm just uphill of the Connecticut River in the southwest corner of New Hampshire, they purchased their first Dutch Belted cattle. The five bred cows and four heifers came in 2009 from a farm in Paradise, PA. Although Sam and Sarah did not have extensive experience with cattle, both knew animals. Growing up, Sarah worked in a stable and participated in equine competitions. Then she earned a degree in Animal Science from the University of New Hampshire. Sam spent much of his outdoor time logging. He raised his first calf, a Christmas gift, when he was in ninth grade.
Since their first nine Dutch Belteds, Sam and Sarah’s herd has increased to 28 milking cows. Their goal is a milking herd of 40. They milk their cows twice daily and average 40 lbs./day. An 11-year-old cow is the farm’s top producer. A young bull breeds the heifers; A.I. is used for mature cows. Calving is staggered throughout the year.
The Manning Hill Farm herd is about 95 percent grass fed, rotationally grazing on 35 acres in summer and eating hay in winter. Of the 1,000 round bales and 5,000 square bales Sam makes in summer, mostly on rented land, about 700 round bales go to feed Manning Hill Farm’s cattle. The remainder is sold locally to other farms and animal owners. Milking cows at Manning Hill Farm are also fed 6 to 8 lbs. of grain daily to provide nutrients and minerals and to help keep milk taste consistent.
Milk is bottled on Mondays and Thursdays and delivered to stores on Tuesdays and Fridays. Currently Sarah and Sam bottle 450 gallons weekly. Milk is pasteurized in a 132-gallon low temperature (145º F) vat for 30 minutes, then cooled to below 45º degrees before bottling. On Thursdays, Sarah makes chocolate milk. She adds gourmet bittersweet cocoa powder and cane sugar to the vat while 80 to 90 gallons of milk is being pasteurized. As the vat’s agitator mixes milk, cocoa powder and sugar, the sugar caramelizes yielding a distinctive, very smooth chocolate milk.
Milk accounts for about 60 percent of Manning Hill Farm’s gross income. Because Sarah and Sam produce, bottle, market and distribute milk themselves, they gross about $60 per cwt. from sales in 14 area markets, several local restaurants, Keene Farmers’ Market, and their farm store. Interestingly, Sam and Sarah find that sales of Manning Hill Farm glass bottled milk are highest in the markets that also carry glass-bottled milk from other farms. Despite paying a $2 deposit on each glass bottle, customers return only about 40 percent of them.
Sarah estimates that over the last five years Manning Hill Farm has purchased some 29,000 bottles from their supplier.
A Diversified Farm
In addition to heritage cows, Sarah and Sam keep a flock of 400 Golden Comet layers that produce 20 to 25 dozen eggs a day. The free-range eggs sell for $5/dozen at farmer’s markets and $4.50/dozen at the farm. Additional eggs are wholesaled to markets that carry Manning Hill Farm milk. Sam and Sarah also raise Freedom Ranger chickens in two yearly batches of 100. About 85 percent of the meat is sold in the farm store and farmer’s markets. The rest is retained for their own larder.
Two Gloucester Old Spot sows are bred twice a year with a Tamworth boar and produce 30 to 40 piglets annually. Fed waste milk, grain and vegetable scraps, pigs are raised both for meat and to help clear pastures.
Bull calves born to the dairy herd are raised on pasture, hay and brewers grain. At about age two they are slaughtered at a USDA inspected facility. Beef and pork cuts are sold at the farm store, at farmers markets, and to a few wholesale accounts.
Sam and Sarah also collect sap from 1,700 maples, which a neighboring friend boils and bottles for them to sell. Every winter Sam cuts firewood for the farm while also clearing two to five more acres for grazing.
A newly erected three-sided freestall barn shelters Manning Hill Farm’s milking herd. Constructed with wooden trusses and a metal roof, the new barn replaces a smaller hoop structure.
Sarah and Sam plan to purchase a second pasteurizer and cream separator so that they can expand their product line in response to ever growing customer demand.