Rockwell, best known as Rocky, and Marilyn Lively own Sunrise Farms in Colrain, MA. Like all farmers, they both wear many hats. Rocky raises hormone- and chemical-free grass-fed beef, produces maple syrup and builds houses out of lumber sawn at the sawmill run by his son, Jordan Lively, on the 500-acre farm. His son Erik Lively, a resident of Greenfield, comes every day to work at the farm. They are all partners, and the farms’ sole employees. They are members of Community in Sustainable Agriculture, (CISA), which assists and promotes local farmers.
Marilyn takes care of filling mail orders of maple syrup products year round and helps run their booth at the Greenfield Farmers Market in Greenfield, held on Saturdays from April to Thanksgiving, where they sell maple syrup and ground beef kept in freezers from their Black Angus-Gelbvieh cross cattle. A German breed, Gelbviehs originally came from Bavaria with horns.
“Breeders from the past bred them with Angus to get the ‘pollness.’ Every once in a while, [we’ll] get one with horns. We started with A.I. and some bulls on Angus cows, now they’re three quarters Gelbvieh,” said Lively. Their progeny’s characteristics show through with cattle having a more pointed head and ears situated lower down than the typical pure bred Black Angus.
Right now he only has 10 in his herd, as he sold four or five premium quality steers earlier this spring. The cattle are fed alfalfa pellets, high quality, high protein hay in winter and free-range on fields and woods spanning at least 15 acres at a time during the summer. The Livelys produce all their hay. The cattle are given diatomaceous earth (DE) year round for worming.
But it is at maple sugar time in February and March that they are really eager for their DE and wait by the fence near the sugarhouse that is built onto the house. “We filter the syrup with food grade diatomaceous earth; all the farmers do it. When we clean the press they get the stuff that’s left. They love sugaring. They hang out at the fence waiting,” said Lively. With 2,000 taps that produced 900 gallons of syrup this year, the cattle were well rewarded for their wait. Not confined to a barn, they are allowed to go in and out at will, and fed outside all winter long.
Since they are grass fed, they are sent to Adams Slaughterhouse in Athol at 20 months at 1,400 pounds, rather than the usual 15 to 18 months of other cattle that are fed corn that assists the process of marbling of fat. “They are a lot tenderer if they’re that age,” he said, as the marbling of fat, which makes beef tasty, takes longer to occur with grass-fed beef. They used to send them at 1,200 pounds. Studies have shown that grass fed beef is lower in calories, has more omega-3 fats, vitamins A and E, higher levels of antioxidants and seven times the beta-carotene.
Like the farmers that raise them, the cattle wear many hats, and have multiple uses. “They keep our fields from going to weeds,” said Lively.
“Years ago, my Dad had a dairy selling milk,” he noted. His father was Roderick Lively, who lived in a different house on the same farm. His great-grandfather Joseph Lively Jr. started the farm in the 1890s. Then Edmund Lively took over, with Roderick next, then Rocky with his sons Erik and Jordan. Their other son, Durand, lives in Greenfield and works in computers.
Marilyn likes best that, “It’s a family run farm. We get to spend time with our kids. It’s nice to know we’re doing something good for everybody, not giving them chemicals. That’s a good feeling.”
There is one barn, and several sheds. Sawdust produced at the firewood processing and portable sawmill is used as bedding for the cattle. In the past they have produced custom-cut lumber, sawing two by fours, one by sixes and wider boards, from buying and clearing woodlots. But this year is the first year they have built a house solely of native lumber sawn at their own mill. Lively bought a lot and erected the house with his sons’ help on Green River Road in Colrain, where the house is now for sale. “The lumber on the house never left town,” he joked. “Want to buy a house?”