In some parts of Europe (Sweden, for example), there is a tradition where crowds travel hours to see the milking cows released from the barns for the first time each spring to gambol in the sunshine – typically at the beginning of May.

The act of moving cows from different locales, such as from lowlands to highlands, is called transhumance. It is also the basis of the tenets practiced in rotational grazing: moving stock from pasture to pasture in search of fresh nutrients and to protect the soil.

On this side of the pond, 250 milking cows were released from Miller’s Farm’s barn on April 26 with as much bovine joy as any traveling European could wish for. About 100 people, including most of the Miller family, attended the early morning event in Vernon, VT, in high spirits.

According to native son Peter Miller, fourth generation and spokesperson for the farm, the lineage of the registered Holsteins in their herd dates back to 1887 and is considered to be the oldest in America. The herd also contains some Holsteins crossbred with Brown Swiss and a few Jerseys.

This farmstead was started in 1916 by Arthur Lyman Miller and is home to four families of Millers: Peter’s parents Paul and Mary Miller, his brother Arthur and his wife Judy, Peter and his wife Angela and his daughter Abigail (fifth generation) and her husband Brandon Bucossi.

Keith Franklin has been working at the farm since 1987, and “is just about a brother, though not a blood relation,” said Peter. Franklin also lives at the farm with his wife Tina. Their son works at the farm, and their children have worked at the farm at various times. Franklin recorded the event using a drone.

The farm comprises 300 acres, and they lease another 400, for a total of about 700 working acres.

Peter left the farm to attend Purdue University and UMass and earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and worked for Hewlett-Packard but eventually returned to his roots.

He wears many hats, as do most of the Millers. “My brother Arthur and myself are involved in all the businesses. The Miller Milk Bottling Company is myself, Arthur, Abigail and Brandon,” he said.

Kicking your heels up at Miller Farm

Peter Miller adjusts the fence after the cows have been released to spring pasture at Miller Farm in Vernon, VT. Photo by Laura Rodley

Each milking cow produces 85 lbs. of milk per day for a farm total of 21,000 lbs. a day.

In order to cope with the vagaries of the milk market, and to meet local demand, they became certified as an organic farm in 2008 and starting selling organic milk in 2009. Before that, they sold their milk to Agri-Mark.

The decision was made for several reasons, noted Peter. “There were certain aspects: we wanted to improve our environment, so there was an environmental component; we didn’t like working with sprays or eating products sprayed with them; and economically, the reasons were it was more profitable to us as a commodity dairy. All the cool kids were doing it.”

They had a ready market locally. Five distributors bring their milk from all over the Northeast, as well as to New York. Their milk is sold in their farm store which is open year-round and found in all the local markets, such as Brattleboro Food Co-op.

In 2020, they received two grants, one from the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and another from the Vermont Department of Agriculture, to purchase a pasteurization unit now housed in a converted shipping container. The processing equipment was already installed and built within the container. Since then, they have purchased two more units, and another unit was due to arrive in early May, to be housed within a second converted shipping container.

“What we don’t bottle goes to Stonyfield, which is the majority of the milk,” said Peter, where it is made into yogurt. A Stonyfield representative attended the event.

They bottle about 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per month themselves. Their milk is pasteurized but not homogenized, so the cream rises to the top and therefore called Miller Creamline. Each batch is processed by being heated to about 145º F for half an hour, rather than the 185º in other processing plants, they noted. People had a chance to try Miller Farm Creamline organic chocolate milk at the event.

A cow happily kicking up her heels in the open pasture. Photo by Laura Rodley

The farm also features a flower CSA run by Abigail and Judy. “They forced tulips to have them ready for the Valentine Day’s market,” said Peter. The flowers are delivered to various stores along the milk runs with their own milk distribution and people can pick them up at the farm store.

What does Peter like best about working at the farm? “I like the variety, the sociability. I like producing something the world needs, and that is good milk.”

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by Laura Rodley