Cows and Crops, March 2016


By Rick Kersbergen, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension,

In This Issue

2016 New England Dairy Travel Course

By David Marcinkowski University of Maine

On January 5, 2016, thirty-four students from four New England colleges participated in the New England Dairy Travel Course. For five days, students from the Universities of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, traveled throughout the state of Maine visiting dairy farms and learning about the dairy industry of the state.

The starting point for the tour was the Fairchild Dairy and Research Facility at the University of New Hampshire. Currently, the herd consists of about 90 milking age Jerseys and Holsteins. A portion of the herd is operated and managed by students in the CREAM Program. They are responsible for milking the cows, calf and heifer care, as well as helping with any research that is being conducted on the herd. The group learned about many of the research projects currently being conducted on the farm.

The first Maine farm on the agenda was a Highland Farms Inc. in Cornish. Highland Farms is the oldest registered Jersey farm in the US and has been a source of outstanding dairy genetics for many years. The farm is involved in a number of enterprises including dairy, wood cutting, trucking and maple syrup operations. Libby Bleakney was our guide for the tour. She talked about how the farm has recently undergone a reorganization of the business structure to give each of the enterprises improved liability protection. The milking herd consists of approximately 250 purebred Jerseys. The farm sits on top of a hill overlooking the White Mountains and Mount Washington. Although the location is beautiful we learned about many of the conservation efforts the farm has undertaken to reduce erosion and runoff. From there we traveled to Waterville which was the base of operations for the rest of the week.

On Tuesday, we traveled to Exeter to visit Stonyvale Inc., which is run by the Fogler family. They are currently milking approximately 1000 cows daily in a double 20 parallel parlor. Kate Fogler talked about all aspects of the farm operation. Our first stop was their new calf facility where calves are raised in groups and fed using robotic feeders. We also saw their methane digesters which turns dairy manure and food waste into electricity and bedding for the herd. The electricity is sold back to the power company and is used to light up more than 500 homes.

The J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center at the University of Maine was next. There are currently 26 registered Holsteins being milked by the UMADCOWS (University of Maine Applied Dairy Cooperative of Working Students). Two of the Maine students gave a tour of the livestock barn, feed storage, calf barn, and tie-stall milking barn. Currently there are 10 students responsible for the milking, feeding and management of the herd. It is a required course for all pre-vet and animal science majors in the department.

For a chance of pace, we visited 2 small ruminant dairies in the afternoon. First was Northern Exposure Farm in Holden. This is a 40-ewe milking sheep farm operated by Jim and Janet Weber. Jim is a veterinarian and professor of Animal Science at UMaine. Using the latest in reproductive technologies the Weber’s have assembled and bred an excellent flock of East Friesian sheep, a breed known for their milking ability. Jim talked to the group about a number of health and management issues such as parasite control and scrapie certification. The milk collected from the flock is frozen in plastic buckets and later marketed to cheese producers. Because sheep dairies are rare, sheep’s milk sells for more than 10 times that of cow’s milk!

Our last stop for the day was Seal Cove Farm in Lamoine, operated by Barbara Brooks. This 120-doe dairy goat operation was established in 1976. All of the milk produced by the herd is made into cheese which is marketed throughout the Northeast. Barbara also buys cow’s milk locally to make a huge variety of fresh, flavored and aged cheeses. It was very interesting to hear Barbara talk about the breeding, feeding and management of the herd. She does an excellent job of management as evident from the high level of milk production achieved.

After a foot of snow overnight, the next day we struck out for Conant Acres Inc. located in Canton. The farm is home to 4 generations of the Conant family. The seventy-five registered Holsteins housed in the tiestall barn were spotless and beautiful. The herd has a BAA of 114.9 making it the second highest classified Holstein herd in the country. Nearly every cow in the barn had multiple generations of excellent dams in their pedigree. Duane, Betty and the rest of the family were there to shared their thoughts about the breeding, feeding, managing and marketing of such an outstanding herd of cows.

Next we were off to Farmington to visit Hardy Farms. Hardy Farms is a family-run, organic registered Ayrshire farm. The Hardy family did an excellent job of explaining the requirements for organic milk production. Because of the high cost of grain, organic farms place a greater emphasis on forage production especially from pasture. To accomplish this, the Hardy’s rely on rotational grazing, supplemented with excellent quality baleage and hay during the winter months. Some of the recent improvements to the farm are a milking parlor within the old tie stall barn, a new freestall barn for the milking herd and a brand new bedded pack facility to house dry and transition cows as well as heifers. Taking good care of the cows is very important to the Hardy’s, because if you do, the cows will take care of you. We especially want to thank Teresa and the family for providing us with a wonderful lunch during our visit.

Next we visited Piper Farms Inc., a 600-cow freestall operation located in Embden, owned by Lowell and Karen Piper and Marsha & Matt Hamilton. This farm is an excellent example of how ownership of a large farm can be transferred even when the two families are not related. A profit sharing agreement which was worked out by Farm Credit, enables the Hamilton’s to gain equity in the farm over time. Marsha was our guide as we toured their “all-in/all-out” dry and transition cow facility. She explained how minimizing pen movements, reduced social stress and increased production. This philosophy is even carried into the youngstock and milking herd.

Thursday started with a trip to the Maine Agricultural Trade Show in Augusta. This 3-day event is held each year, and serves as a meeting place for farmers, agricultural organizations, agribusiness vendors, educators and state and federal agencies. This was also a great place to bring in speakers to talk to the students about the Maine dairy industry and how they work with the dairy producers in the state. Dr. Michelle Walsh, State Veterinarian, talked about her work protecting animal and human health from zoonotic diseases. Tim Drake, Executive Director of the Maine Milk Commission talked about how the commission monitors and sets milk prices to insure producers receive a fair price. Julie-Marie Bickford, Executive Director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association spoke about the importance of protecting the interests of producers with state agencies and lawmakers. The last speaker was Cheryl Beyler, Executive director of the Maine Dairy Promotion Board and Dairy Nutrition Council. Cheryl described how her groups use producer checkoffs to promote dairy products and educate health professionals and consumers about the nutritional value of dairy products. The students then had some time to walk through the trade show and talk to the vendors.

On Thursday afternoon we traveled to St. Albans and visited the Taylor Dairy Farm. Taylor Dairy is the largest Jersey farm in the state, milking about 800 cows averaging over 20,200 lbs. of milk. The Taylors have been using robotic calf feeders to mix and feed milk replacer for several years. Ben Taylor talked about managing intake with these feeders and the importance of routine cleaning of the robot to prevent health problems. Another observation of the group was the excellent bunker management and the use of a silo defacer to minimize spoilage. Cameras throughout the farm are used to monitor the cows and employees.

The last stop of the day was at the largest dairy farm in the state, Flood Brothers Inc. in Clinton. Jenny Tilton-Flood gave us a great tour of the milking facility. Flood’s are milking 1700 cows in a 100-stall rotary parlor. It was amazing to see this large parlor in action. Averaging 5-6 turns per hour, it only takes three and a half hours to milk the entire herd. The herd is milked 3X.

Friday, the last day of the travel course, started by heading south to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. The farm, store and cheese production is operated by the Libra Foundation and showcases and educates the public regarding the importance of agriculture to the state. Currently the farm milks 70 registered Holsteins in a very clean and neat tiestall facility. N.A. Martin and Allison Pollock talked about the history of the farm and the management of the cows and calves. The farm also manufactures cheese which is marketed throughout the Northeast. The Pineland operation has rapidly grown and is now the largest cheese producer in the state.

The last stop on the tour was IDEXX laboratories in Westbrook. Idexx is a worldwide biotech company that employs more 5,000 people and is one of the largest employers in the state. They develop and manufacture health diagnostic equipment and tests for both livestock and companion animals. Thank you to Rick Linscott and the Livestock and Poultry Diagnostic Team for planning the visit. While eating lunch we listened to a presentation on Idexx and the products they develop. After the presentation we were able to tour the massive facility and see how their SNAP tests are made. Every day they are working on better, faster and more accurate tests for use by veterinarians and owners to insure animals are healthy and free from disease.

Where do we hope to go for next year’s tour? The answer is Pennsylvania. We look forward to another great tour in January 2017. A huge thank you goes out to Farm Credit AgEnhancement Program for the grant that made this tour possible. We would also like to thank all of the farms and businesses that opened their doors and allowed us to tour their facilities. Lastly, thank you for the generous hospitality and food that many of stops provided, also the tour guides for putting up with all of our questions.

12th Annual MGFN Conference — Last Call

Last Chance to register!Maine Grass Farmers Network art

12th Annual MGFN Conference
Saturday, March 19, 2016
8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Kennebec Valley Community College
Alfond Campus
Route 201 N / Skowhegan Rd, Hinckley<

Registration for this conference will end soon! Interested producers should enroll now!

With spring right around the corner, producers who utilize pasture resources to feed their animals will benefit from the knowledge being shared at this years conference.

Keynote speaker Sarah Flack, whose new book “The Art and Science of Grazing” will be available this spring, will discuss the creative application of grazing science. Other expert speakers from the Northeast and Canada will present on topics including silvopasture, pasture basics and recent research on improved forage species.<

Additional conference sponsors include the Maine Beef Producers Association (MBPA); Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Cost is $60 for MGFN and MBPA members, $75 each/$25 for additional nonmembers. Lunch is included. Registration and more info online. To request a disability accommodation, call Waldo County UMaine Extension at 207.342.5971 or 800.287.1426 (in Maine); TDD 800.287.8957 (in Maine).