Six Farms Cited<\n>for Dairy Excellence
Six family farms were honored Friday as 2012 Dairy Farms of the Year at the Eastern States Exposition as part of the New England Green Pastures program.
What began in 1947 when then-New Hampshire Gov. Charles Dale challenged his fellow New England governors to produce better pastures than those in his home state has evolved into recognition of outstanding dairy families for total management of their farming operations.
Nominees are evaluated based on production and financial management, environmental practices, contributions to agriculture and the local community, and overall excellence in dairying.
This year’s winners are:
Connecticut: Elm Farm, Woodstock.
Maine: Gold Top Farm, Knox.
Massachusetts: Jordan Dairy Farm, Rutland.
New Hampshire: Taylor Brothers Farm, Meriden.
Rhode Island: Escobar Farm, Portsmouth.
Vermont: Chaput Family Farms, North Troy.
Matthew and Christine Peckham took over Elm Farm in 2005, one year after the death of Matt’s grandfather. Their goal is to give their children the opportunity to be the seventh generation to run the farm.
Setting out to improve milk production, the farm enrolled in DHIA and monthly herd checks with their veterinarian. Production of quality forages, sexed semen and timed artificial insemination helped to get the herd back on its feet.
With 100 percent internal herd growth, the original 86-cow herd is up to 140 cows and 200 heifers, with a rolling herd average of 23,100 pounds per cow per year in 2011.
A new free-stall barn for the cows, new calf barn and 1.4 million gallon manure storage facility to hold almost a year’s worth of valuable manure are among the Peckhams’ accomplishments.
Currently conservation and controlling runoff is a high priority for the farm.
“As farms grow, we have an incredible responsibility to protect the land that sustains us,” Peckham said.
The Little River watershed supplies drinking water to all the homes in the town of Putnam. The farm has multiple streams flowing into Little River. Matt has partnered with the local conservation district and the USDA’s EQIP program to resurface existing trench silos and collect the silage leachate. The leachate is pumped into the new manure pit, reducing the chance of any farm runoff entering the watershed.
Matt plants three types of soil: easy, gravelly and hardpan. “Each soil type has its challenges for manure incorporation and soil conservation. We are getting closer to 100 percent no-till planting, but it takes a lot of education and planning,” he said. “We have learned that no-till is far more than just dragging a planter across bare ground. At the end of the day, having enough corn to feed your animals is always the most important goal.”
The Peckhams open their farm to school and daycare groups, and host a plow day for the antique tractor club each year. Matt believes in keeping the farm open to the community and tries to be a positive voice for agriculture.
Besides the herd and crops, the Peckhams are raising four children (and a rambunctious dog).
Gold Top Farm has been one of the premier Maine farms for generations. The farm is currently owned and operated by John W. Ingraham & Sons.
Gold Top has raised registered Holsteins since 1932. The original farm of 150 acres was purchased by George and Betsy Ingraham in 1876. The parcel of land was part of the land given to Gen. Henry Knox for payment of services in the Revolutionary War.
Today, the farm is owned by John and Beverly Ingraham, Michael and Jackie Ingraham and Gregory and Shirley Ingraham. Michael, Jackie, Gregg and Shirley do the day-to-day management of the farm, along with 11 year-round employees and part-time and seasonal employees.
Gold Top has a milking herd that averages 425 milking cows, as well as 400 replacement heifers and calves.
The current milking barn holds 450 milking cows. It features a slatted floor for manure collection to a large lagoon below the barn. Cows are fed a total mixed ration that includes long hay. The milking barn is computerized and has a double-12 parallel parlor with milk meters. All cow data is fed electronically to the computer during each milking. Herd production is 21,681 pounds per cow and 863 pounds fat.
Cows are calved in the old barn across the street and milked there until ready to enter the milking herd. The calving pen is monitored by surveillance camera. Calves are raised in a series of group housing pens in a large airy barn. Close to 100 heifers are pastured each year.
Forage is produced by the Ingrahams to feed their large herd, with 420 acres of corn silage and 600 acres of grass raised for silage and hay. Soybeans have been raised on the farm as a protein source for the past six years.
Equipment maintenance is done in their large machinery shop; large equipment can be brought into the heated facility for work during the winter.
The Ingrahams have been involved with the agricultural community for generations. John Ingraham has been very active with the state Grange and local Freedom Grange. He also has served as a director for Eastern States Exposition, was co-founder of the Waldo County Quality Dairy Sales, served as selectman for the Town of Knox and was SAD3 school board director. Beverly is also active with Grange activities.
Michael and Jackie served as 4-H leaders for several years. Michael also served as a board member for the Farm Service Agency and as selectman for the town of Knox. Jackie served as supervisor for the Soil and Water Conservation District and as a school board member.
A fifth-generation farm, Jordan Dairy Farm has been in existence since the late 1800s, and at its current location since 1941.
The farm originally was a vegetable operation in Holden, Mass., run by William Jordan. His grandson, Howard, moved the Jordan Farm to Rutland in 1941, increased their herd of cows, at that time Guernsey, and began bottling milk.
Howard worked side-by-side with his two sons, Warren and Wayne, until the two took over the farm in the 1970s. The brothers still work side-by-side, but leadership of the farm has been handed on to Wayne’s two sons, Randy and Brian Jordan, who serve as president and treasurer, respectively.
Randy and Brian both have young children who hope to be involved with the operation in the future, adding yet another generation of innovative dairy farming to the Jordan family legacy.
Randy graduated from Vermont Technical College in 1991 with a degree in dairy management. Brian graduated in 1996 from Delaware Valley College with a degree in dairy science.
The Jordans ship an average of 23,000 pounds of milk daily through the Dairylea Cooperative. The family currently milks 375 Holstein cows, averaging around 80 pounds of milk per cow per day with approximately 325 young stocks.
Their state-of-the-art barns house 600 dairy cattle and are outfitted with amenities such as gel bedding mats and high-powered cooling fans to increase cow comfort. The farm also manages 500 acres of land on which they produce their own grain and silage corn and hay.
In addition to the dairy enterprise, the Jordans also raise approximately 1,000 hybrid double-breasted white turkeys for holiday orders and cultivate around two acres of blueberries which they sell at local farmers markets and to roadside farm stands.
As the operation grows, so does the amount of land involved. In 2009, Randy and Brian decided to invest in a nearby dairy farm whose owners moved out of state. The Jordans are now renting 400 acres and are maintaining several barns that house the young stock.
The Jordans’ main objective is to maintain a dairy operation utilizing the most effective technological advancements. They are the first of five farms in Massachusetts to install an anaerobic digester as part of a cooperative implemented by AGreen Energy LLC.
The digester allows them to operate completely off-grid. It has a daily input of around 20,000 gallons of liquid food waste (from HP Hood, Cabot Creamery, Kayem Foods and Cains Foods) and manure waste, creating a biogas that then generates electricity.
The digester currently produces enough power to run and heat the farming operation, as well as power an additional 300 homes. The Jordans use the residual liquid waste as a nutrient-rich fertilizer, as it has higher concentrations of nitrogen than nondigested waste.
In addition to its benefits for the farm, the digester also benefits the environment by preventing the release of methane into the atmosphere, as well as reducing the amount of waste that is sent to landfills.
Family members are active members of the Holden and Massachusetts State Grange and the Massachusetts Farm Bureau. The farm holds membership in many dairy associations, including the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farms and Central Massachusetts Dairy Producers.
Randy is a 4-H volunteer and member of the Rutland Agricultural Commission. He is also captain of the Rutland Fire Brigade and town moderator. Brian serves on the board for Select Sires and is an assistant coach for Rutland Youth Softball.
In the late 1960s, Stephen and Gretchen Taylor purchased 18 acres of land without any buildings down the street from where they lived. They built a house and a barn soon after the purchase, and filled it with sheep.
A few years later, when the price of wool declined, the 250 sheep were gradually replaced with cows. At first, it was Milking Shorthorns and later some Holsteins.
In 1976, the Taylor Farm started shipping milk commercially, and by the early 1980s there was a milking herd of 35 cows.
Steve’s sons, Jim, Bill and Rob, have been involved in farming all their lives. Shortly after they graduated from the University of New Hampshire, they took over full-time operation and herd management. They increased the herd size to 80 cows, and leased a sugar bush and additional crop land.
The S corporation was established in 1991 with equal shares among brothers. Their father continued involvement in the farm, helping as other commitments allowed.
Today, the Taylors operate a herd of 60 milking cows, 145 acres of land, a sugar house with a retail store and a small creamery.
The management of the operation is shared, but everyone has his and her own responsibilities. Jim manages the farm books and the herd reproduction. Bill takes care of all the farm equipment. Rob and his wife, Cindi, operate the creamery and the syrup business. He also manages the herd, crops and employees.
As the collection of Milk Quality Awards from their cooperative suggests, milk quality has been their management strong point for many years. The somatic cell count has been consistently between 60,000 and 80,000.
The Taylor brothers never planted cash crops to improve their cash flow. Rather, they focused on selling manure and compost to the local vegetable producers and selling maple syrup out of a retail store on farm to the public.
In 2009, they diversified into cheese making where they utilize about 10 percent of the annual milk production.
The dairy herd feeding program consists of corn silage, baleage and grain. Grain used to be rationed with the help of a computerized system that was installed in the 1980s and needed to be replaced. However, the price was too steep and they went back to old-fashioned “scoop feeding” based on individual cow milk production. All heifers are pastured in the summer, and whole milk is fed to all calves.
The Taylor Brothers Farm has been very involved in local community life as well. Although father Steve is retired, he is still active with Yankee Farm Credit, the Cornish Fair and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest boards. Jim serves as an FSA state committee member and a town cemetery trustee. Bill is chief of the Meriden Fire Department. Rob serves as a selectman for the town of Plainfield and is a member of the Granite State Dairy Promotion Board.
Escobar Farm, owned by Louie and Jane Escobar, was started by Louie Escobar’s father in 1937. Louie helped with farm chores as a youngster and continued working the farm until he took over in 1972.
Today, the Escobars milk 95 cows on their 98-acre farm and raise another 80 young stock that will enter the milking herd once they reach the age of 2. The Escobars also rent several parcels of land in the local community on which they farm.
In 2005, the Department of Environmental Management, in partnership with the state Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, Town of Portsmouth, The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, acquired development rights to 75 acres of the farmland, permanently protecting the land from development.
In addition to the farm, the Escobars operate an artificial insemination company serving dairy farms in the East Bay area of Rhode Island, as well as southeastern Massachusetts.
The family is an active member of Agri-Mark, the regional dairy cooperative which owns the Cabot brand. Agri-mark picks up their milk every day and markets it to customers in southern New England. Part of their milk is also sold locally under the Rhody Fresh brand in conjunction with seven other local farms.
Louis Escobar was a founding member of Rhody Fresh Milk and currently serves as president of Rhody Fresh. He put up his farm for collateral so that Rhody Fresh could borrow $125,000 to start the dairy cooperative. Today, Rhody Fresh is thriving and its many products can be found throughout the state in large grocery stores and small neighborhood markets, as well as restaurants, colleges and universities.
The Escobars often open their farm to visits from local schools and people from the local communities that surround their farm. The family is very active with their local 4-H chapter, which introduces young people to agriculture.
The farm, run in an environmentally sound manner using best management practices, is surrounded by suburban homes and appreciative neighbors. It is one of 16 dairy farms remaining in the state.
“We’re truly honored to win this award, knowing the history of Green Pastures Award and the many great farms that have won the award before us,” Louie Escobar said. “We’ve always tried to do the best that we could with our land and our animals. One of the benefits of farming in suburbia is that we have been able to reach out and touch so many people in our local community and put them in direct touch with agriculture and dairy farming.
“It’s real important if you are in dairy farming that you do it for the love of what you do, because sometimes it is not as financially rewarding as people think,” Louie said. “It’s a challenge to take care of your animals every day, feed them, milk them and make a profit. But there are other parts of farming on which you cannot put a dollar value. I guess it’s the pleasure and love for our animals, our family and for what we are doing that keeps us going even through the toughest times.”
Escobar Farm previously won the Green Pastures award in 2001.
The 1,800-acre Chaput Family Farms, located not far from the Canadian border, is owned by Reg and Michael Chaput. The brothers, who have worked together for 30 years, take pride in growing a top-notch operation by hiring good employees, being open to new ideas and constantly fine tuning their feeding and breeding programs to improve their milk production.
The Chaputs milk 830 cows on a three-times-daily milking schedule in a double-16 parallel milking parlor. Their rolling herd average is 24,100 pounds with a 120,000 somatic cell count. They attribute their success to excellent herd management, selective breeding and attention to cow comfort and health.
This past spring they purchased their own milk truck and tanks in order to haul their milk to Dairylea Cooperative, a cost-saving measure that they believe will give them more control over milk quality. They have earned numerous milk quality awards since joining the co-op in 1997, including the Special Gold Award, Dairylea’s highest quality milk award, for three years running.
The Chaputs were among the first dairy farmers in the state to install a methane digester on the farm, which produces enough electricity for 300 average-sized homes. They sell their energy to Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Development program and have an additional five-year contract with Green Mountain Power’s Cow Power program to sell the renewable energy credits.
Although they have no plans to increase their acreage or herd size, they will continue to explore innovative and cost-effective ways to improve their operation.
They recently signed up for University of Vermont Extension’s current pilot program on aerial seeding of cover crops by helicopter. Next year they tentatively plan to begin installation of a dragline system for manure application to minimize nutrient loss and diminish ground impaction.
Installation of a tile drainage system on 1,000 tillable acres is scheduled in 2014 with the hope of improving crop production by 20 percent or more.