Tag Archives: 4-H

“I Wasn’t Born on a Farm, but I Got Here as Fast as I Could.”

Just saw that phrase online somewhere, and could not resist. People sometimes ask how I got interested in agriculture. What follows is the very beginning of my farm story.

Some days I’m still amazed that I live on a farm. Being a farmer was a dream as a little girl, along with being a vet, college professor and a UN ambassador, but somehow the farmer one stuck. I started my path in agriculture with my family and my own 4-H dairy project, though we never lived on a farm.

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The cows enjoying a late summer day with Wheeler Mountain in the background.

Retired now, my dad is a United Methodist minister and my mom is a nurse. We moved around a little while my dad served his calling, but always found a place to keep our cattle where we could help with farm chores – mostly daily, although at couple of times the cows were a distance away from us.

It all started when my dad was serving a church in Spencer, Mass. At the time Spencer was still a fairly prominent farming community with several dairy farms in operation. One of the local farming families were members of the church and the farmer’s wife was an Extension Agent. She kept an acre of land and invited people who didn’t have a spot of their own to come to the farm and grow things in her garden. My mom, who was a city girl, reluctantly decided to give it a try, and brought my older siblings along with her.

The farm is a quintessential New England farm. Set in a rolling pastoral scene, the place dates back to a time where Indians were a big concern – there is even a small hiding spot next to the main fireplace in the farmhouse for hiding if a raiding party was known to be in the area. They milked Jersey cows, which is where my love for Jerseys comes from. I can even remember two old girls, one whose name was Venus, they retired but kept and lived to the ripe old ages of 19 and 21.

My mom kept her spot in the garden for several years and learned a lot not only about growing things, but about the rest of the farm too. My parents even helped when they could – whether it was doing hay, other chores or helping with the cows and calves. At some point, the farming couple’s grandchildren who were close in age to my older brother and sister started getting their 4-H calves ready for the local fairs. My sister and brother wanted to be a part of the fun too.

Despite my parent’s explanation about not living on a farm and not having our own place to keep cattle my siblings wouldn’t give up hope for their own 4-H calves. Mom recalls with specific detail the look of disappointment on my older brother’s face when they revealed a Silver Fox bicycle instead of a little brown calf on his birthday one year.

I’m not sure if either of my folks can pinpoint the exact day or instance when they thought maybe they could figure out how to keep a couple of calves. My mom will tell you she learned that you shouldn’t get in the way of God’s plan. Regardless, soon after my brother and sister started 4-H with their calves, Katrina and Rainbow, and the rest is history.

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One of my big days in a kiddie class.

Being the tag along little sister, I COULD NOT WAIT to get my own calf. I tried to brush their calves, lead them in the kiddie classes at local county fairs or go with them to the farm while they took care of their animals. I’m sure I was a pain and got in the way a lot, but I don’t remember caring. Finally, when I was nine as of January 1, we went to pick out my first calf.

Of course I fell in love with the first one I laid my eyes on. Her name was Annabelle, and she was the sweetest, prettiest calf I ever saw. Unfortunately, as far as calves go, Annabelle was really a bit on the ugly side and she contracted coccidiosis sometime along the way, which stunted her growth. I was only able to keep her two years but then got my second calf – Ivory.

Suffice to say I didn’t have great luck with my first two calves. It wasn’t until I bought a calf from my older brother that my luck started to turn around. Her name was Koral, who was a descendent of his first cow Katrina and we still have family members in our herd today.

So that’s how I got started in farming. Some days I still can’t believe I’m living out my childhood dream of being a farmer, married to a farmer, raising my kids on a farm and holding on to these Jerseys that came into my life so very many years ago.

Of course, there’s lots that has happened between then and now. But I’ll save some of that for another post.

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Filed under 4-H, Agriculture, Farm life, Jersey Cows

The Future of Dairy Farming in the Northeast

Starting my own personal blog has been in the back of my mind for quite some time now. I found lots of ways to let the time pass and not get started. Strange as it may sound, I was nervous, too; mainly that my opinions would be applied to different organizations with which I am associated. So, before I begin, let me make clear that the opinions presented herein are my own and in no way represent my employer or any of the volunteer organizations that I participate in. Phew! Now that I have that out of the way, let me begin. Came across a fitting first-time blog entry the other day…

Recently a friend and colleague asked me (during a youth dairy contest at a local fair, mind you), “So, what’s the future of dairy in the Northeast?” Well, if that’s not the million dollar question for those of us involved in the dairy industry, I don’t know what is! And here I was thinking I would just have to judge a few heifers and kids that day. After a brief hesitation, my friend quickly changed his question to “Is there a future for dairy here?” My quick reply: Yes.

Now, I have been accused in the past of being too “Pollyanna” but I think I have evolved to be what I consider realistically optimistic. Certainly, the dairy landscape has changed and is changing – aesthetically, production-wise and in the way we do business. This is not new. The way things are and the way they used to be is and has always been different. One thing that stays the same though is that in this country we have the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness and in my experience, albeit relatively short, I have seen that where there is a will, there is a way.

That’s not to say that things don’t get out of control or beyond our reach. Unfortunately the stark reality is that we all have bills that need to be paid and for the most part, we rely on an income stream that is dependent upon factors beyond our control. Yet even then, there are folks who are figuring out how to get more control over the price they receive or are supplementing by diversifying their income stream. They are utilizing minimum milk price contracts. They are selling product directly to their neighbors and beyond. They are investing in more efficient operations. They are starting side ventures like agri-tainment. The list goes on.

There’s something about someone telling you “no, you can’t” that makes you want to push harder to make it work, no?

So I think that’s why my reply was so quick in coming to the second question. I have no doubt that there is a future here in the Northeast for dairy. What that future looks like – whether it is a brand new highly efficient free-stall herd or a low-investment pasture-grazed tie-stall herd or both or something else or everything in between, remains to be seen. Maybe it won’t look too different from today. I happen to believe that there is room for all types of dairy farms.

I relate back to my 4-H dairy experience. When my family first started in 4-H 28 years ago there were lots of kids involved but very few, if any, showing dairy calves that did not come from a farm. We were one of the very few. As the years went on, it seemed the number of participants dwindled. I know now that we were going through the Dairy Herd Termination Buyout and that real estate prices soared in Massachusetts, making it tough for dairy farms to compete with houses, among other things. Today, believe it or not, the Massachusetts 4-H Dairy Program is growing again. I won’t say we’ve come full circle, but maybe something like it. Most kids lease or purchase animals, and do not come from a farm or at least one that provides the sole financial support of the family.

Twenty-eight years ago when non-farm kids were a rarity in the 4-H show ring and through a time where dairy farms were being replaced by houses faster than residential construction could keep up, who would have thunk it?

Clearly, the future of dairy here and everywhere is ours for the making.

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Filed under Dairy Industry