Grafton County Farm, located in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, is the only government-operated dairy farm in New England. The farm, located along the Connecticut River, is home to a registered Holstein herd and is the last vestige of a New England idea to assist the county’s poor, disabled and jail inmates.
The farm was purchased in the 1860s and an almshouse and county jail were constructed.
Today the farm is operated by farm manager Don Kimball, herdsman Ben White and farm assistant Brian Tillotson. They milk 90 Holsteins and Jerseys.
With tight milk prices, a low somatic cell count, high protein and high fat can help add bonuses to the milk check, White said.
Cows are milked twice a day and have a rolling herd average of 29,637 pounds.
The Holstein herd’s average is 30,386 pounds of milk, 1,229 pounds of fat and 959 pounds of protein. The Jersey’s herd is 24,749 pounds of milk, 1,272 pounds of fat and 863 pounds of protein, according to Vermont DHIA records.
The farm’s rolling herd average has increased more than 10,000 pounds in the past six years under White’s management.
The milk is marketed through Agri-Mark and goes to Cabot Cheese.
White credits his dad for refining his herdsman skills. The secret to strong milk production is keeping feed in front of the cows and cow comfort.
The farm has about 243 acres, which includes the farm buildings and fields. The fields are utilized to grow the farm’s forages. The quality forages put up by the farm serve as the basis of the ration. They work with a Cargill nutritionist to balance the herd’s ration.
The cows are housed in a tie-stall barn. A few years ago, White had Pasture Mats installed and has seen a reduction in banged-up hocks on the cows. They also add sawdust to help keep the cows clean.
Cows thrive on consistency, but with an evolving workforce, it’s the one portion of the farm’s management strategy White spends a significant amount of time on. The dairy is part of a program that provides job opportunity to county jail inmates. At most, inmates will spend about nine months in the program before their release. In less than a year, he will have a complete turnover in staff.
It’s very rare that an inmate will have previous farm experience. “Most of these guys have never seen a cow in their life,” White said. “It gives them a different set of skills. A lot of them do really well for me.”
Inmates will either work in the dairy barn, help with the milking, or in the calf barn. The key to keeping things moving is finding the right people to fill the different farm roles and a willingness to teach and train. It can get hectic at times as White and the others work between the barns with the inmates, but at the same time, it is a learning experience. They learn how to monitor for health issues and how to work in a farm setting.
At the completion of the program, some inmates have gone onto work at other farms, White said.
White milks the cows alongside the rest of the staff. For him the secret to the farm’s improvements and successes is that “I treat it as if it is mine,” he said. Like any farmer, he spends a majority of his days there.
The farm has received several dairy awards. Holstein Association USA named Grafton County Farm one of its 2017 Herds of Excellence award winners. The award criteria requirements include herd classification scores, 70 percent of the herd must be homebred, and have a milk production average of at least 25 percent above breed average for small herds. Lancaster and Vermont DHIA honored the farm last November as a top production herd.
The awards help to raise awareness to the farm, White said. Because it’s a county-owned farm, its future success is dependent on the support of the county residents. “Every year I have to convince the public to keep this place going,” he said. “Winning the awards we have won, that’s huge.”
The awards also raise awareness to the quality herd at the farm. The herd’s farm prefix is Grafco, reflecting the farm’s ownership.
White has worked on improving the genetic quality of the herd, breeding with proven type bulls, paying attention to feet and legs and udder confirmation. When he arrived at the farm six years ago, he eliminated the herd bulls and shifted to breeding cows solely by AI. He’s watched the quality of herd daughters improve, but he’s not finished yet. “Give me another four to five years, and I think the farm will be a name people will hear, and that is what I want here,” White said. His goal is to market the cows to other farmers seeking to improve their herds.
The dairy will host an open house on June 23 for people to learn more about the farm’s history and community benefit. In addition to the dairy, the farm has a small pig operation and produce farm. The farm’s pigs are sold on the open market. Produce is sold at a farm stand along Route 10.