Cabot Open Farm Sunday offers the public an opportunity to peek behind barn doors and discover what their neighbor farmers do every day.
Removing the veil of mystery, visitors learn a little something along the way. In Connecticut, we have several Cabot co-op farms, and I visited two of them during the October 9, 2016 event: Laurelbrook Farm and Freund’s Farm.
Despite being a very short driving distance from each other, the farms are actually quite different. Sure, they’re both family-run, and have been for a few generations. But they took the pieces of land they have in East Canaan into different directions to achieve the same goal: quality milk from happy cows.
Laurelbrook Farm was my first stop, where I met Cricket and Jennifer Jacquier.
It was a misty morning, but that didn’t put a damper on their enthusiasm. Activities were moved indoors, where children could play in a sandbox full of corn, try their hands at milking a mock dairy cow, and get a close look at a couple of practically newborn calves. There were coloring books, stickers, a game wheel they could spin to win prizes, and one of the farm’s horses even made a visit inside, to the excitement of the children in attendance. Three flavors of ice cream were served with an abundance of Cabot whipped cream to top it—a great way to celebrate dairy.
Outside, a mobile unit sat from a veterinarian the farm hires to aid in their breeding program. I learned about bovine artificial insemination and how it’s utilized to preserve favorable genetic lineages, and even witnessed embryos under a microscope!
Then we climbed onto the trailer and went for a hay ride throughout the property. The Jacquiers’ farm is expansive. With 1200 cows in their barns, and an additional 1200 replacement heifers spread among 4 other farms they rent, they would need a lot of space. They tend to 1200 acres alone of corn for silage for feed! Cricket estimated they farm around 2500 acres, altogether. This is clearly a bit much for just the family to tackle, so they do have 25 employees on staff.
The hay ride took us through two of the barns. Curious, the cows poked their heads out to inspect us. Quickly bored, they continued munching on their feed, business as usual. It was on the chilly side during our tour; in warmer weather, the open-aired sides and large fans increase air circulation and keep the cows comfortable. All in all, they looked pretty content.
The milking parlour is fascinating. Three times a day, each cow is brought here. They line up in their stalls, nosh a little, and get their udders and teats hand-washed. Then they’re hooked up to milking machines, which collect the milk while minimizing exposure to contaminants. The machines track how much milk is collected and automatically release once the optimum amount is reached. It’s a rather efficient and quick process, allowing them to move through the herd quickly. The milk is then rapidly chilled and held in refrigeration until it’s shipped out on tanker trucks, twice every day. Laurelbrook averages about 100,000 pounds of milk per day!
Freund’s Farm takes a different approach with their herd of about 300 Holsteins.
The first difference is apparent when you drive up. Theresa Freund worked as a milker on Freund’s Farm for a couple years before meeting Matt and settling down with him. As her family grew, she found it rather difficult to milk cows and care for babies simultaneous, so she thought outside the box. It started with a farm stand with sweet corn and has transformed over time to the market greeting visitors today. There, you’ll find pumpkins galore this time of year, as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables, home baked goodies, and gourmet products. Behind the market is the greenhouse, where people can purchase plants and a Freund’s original: CowPots.
CowPots are quite ingenious. It took years of research and development, but the product they offer today was a great way to take what they had in abundance—manure—and make the most of it. CowPots are biodegradable pots that fertilize your plants as they grow. And they’re made right here at Freund’s Farm!
Amanda Freund met us in the greenhouse, where samples of their cider donuts and her mom’s homemade mac and cheese were being dished out to guests. Children colored pictures and apple cider bubbled away in a slow cooker. We left the sanctuary of the greenhouse for our tour of the farm.
First stop was the maternity barn, where the cows who were ready to give birth, or had very recently done so, were housed. The girls were free to roam the barn, where there were stalls with waterbeds for all, and eat when they desired. A few babies were in the stalls, but they would soon be moved. It’s better for the cows and the calves if they don’t bond too closely.
Our next stop brought us to some of the calves. Freund’s has recently moved to keeping the calves on site a little bit longer to improve their health. Now, they stay at the farm until weaned, then are sent to a farm in Pennsylvania, where they stay until they’re ready to calve. At this time, they’re returned to Freund’s to rejoin the herd.
The big difference at Freund’s Farm is in their milking parlour. Freund’s has the only robot milkers in the state of Connecticut. Five of them, actually, at the cost of about a half million dollars each. They’re the innovation of Lely and they allow the cows to determine when they want to be milked. When a cow is ready, she walks into the stall and is given some grain to munch on. Then, the Lely Astronaut goes into action, first washing the udders, then using lasers to attach the milking cups to them. The machine is so high tech it can tell if it’s time for the cow to be milked, or if she’s just trying to game the system for a snack. Most of the herd will select on their own when they need to be milked, but there are still a couple dozen or so that need to be led to the machines.
Milking isn’t the only place where science has led to better lives for the cows. The Freunds also have back scratching brushes that the cows can use at will and a robot feed pusher, to keep the feed neat and tidy. This allows the family to work with a very small staff to meet the needs of their cows, while remaining profitable.
I enjoyed the time I spent at Laurelbrook and Freund’s Farms. Even though I’ve lived near both my entire life, there were definitely some preconceived notions that were dispelled during my visit. Thanks, Cabot, for offering Open Farm Sunday! What a great opportunity to get to know my local farmers!