What’s summer like on a New England organic dairy farm? In some ways, a lot like it has been for centuries! We asked Rhonda Goodrich, one of our Have a Cow farmers, to tell us how her family and cows work and play during their summers.
What’s your favorite thing about summer?
Summer is my favorite time of year. The barns are open, the grass is green, and we spend a lot of time outside. The days are long and warm. It is beautiful watching the cows enjoy being on pasture. Their coats are slick as they shed out from winter. Every nook and cranny in the barn is cleaned and made ready for winter. The flowers smell so wonderful. Even the rain in the summer smells good.
Do the cows like summer?
Our beautiful Jerseys love summer. They love eating green grass and feeling the warm summer breeze on their back. They wait by the gate after they milk and you can feel their excitement to get back outside. We enjoy watching them spread out to graze. We have started opening the laneway during milking so they can go to pasture as soon as they are milked. Surprisingly they like to eat a little dirt. It is fun to watch them rub their heads in the dirt. Cows can be very silly sometimes.
At night we keep the laneway to the freestall open. The freestall is a large open barn with eight large fans, beds fluffed with sawdust, motion activated brushes that scrub their back, cool water to drink and haylage with grain for a nutritious snack. However, our cows prefer to sleep outside in the pasture. Early mornings are beautiful as it starts to get light around 4:30am and the cows lay in the grass waiting for us to call them into the barn. They are smart and quickly learn the schedule but love to get a few extra winks before coming in to work (milk) or perhaps the cows have trained us to give them a wake-up call.
What’s your favorite summer activity?
We love time spending time with our children and grandchildren when they visit the farm. We work everyday so it makes having them visit and work with us on the farm very special. I cook hearty farm meals when they visit and we sit around the table talking long after the meal is finished.
Our grandchildren love spending the night and getting up early to go with us to the barn. It is rewarding to watch the gentle way they work with the cows and their love of the outdoors. We are so fortunate that our family loves being on the farm as much as we do.
Do you have any summer traditions?
My favorite summer tradition is our annual family cook-out on the 4th of July with fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert. Family bingo is always fun. This year our 5-year old granddaughter Emma so wanted to win the unicorn prize. Emma’s Mom won a game and told Emma to pick out a prize but Emma said she wanted to win on her own. She did finally win that unicorn.
At dusk on the 4th, Myles hitches the hay wagon onto the tractor. We pile onto the hay wagon with blankets and ride to the top of the hill behind the barn to watch the fireworks. We can see Joe’s Pond and the Town of Peacham’s firework display.
How do the cows stay cool in summer?
On sunny days the cows find shade near the tree line. The pasture on top of the hill behind the barn most always has a gentle breeze. Each paddock has a water tub with cool spring water that we check several times a day to be sure it is refilling fast enough so that our cows always have plenty of water to drink.
However, on hot humid days the cows only go to pasture in the morning and at night. In the afternoon we move them from pasture to the freestall so they can cool down with one of the eight giant fans blowing on them. They also like to scrub their back and butt on the automatic brushes. They love pasture but on those hot days they really do prefer to be in the freestall. Jerseys are smart cows.
What else happens on a dairy farm during the summer?
Summer is a busy time on the farm. We chop and round bale about 165 acres of cropland which is about 320 tons of haylage (chopped grass) and 300 round bales. We do this three times a season and if we are fortunate, we get a fourth cut on some of the cropland. We depend on the weather and when the sun is shining, we are usually haying. We maintain the haying equipment between each harvest to try our best to avoid breakdowns especially when we are racing to get the crop in before it rains. We take good care of our equipment because buying new equipment is expensive.
It is a lot of work mowing grass and trimming around the buildings to help keep the flies down. We also trim miles of fence line. We are always either painting or repairing the barns in the summer. My favorite summer job is cleaning the inside of the barn so that it is fresh and ready for winter.
Do you get to take a family vacation in the summer?
We work on our dairy farm every day. We had a day off a few years ago and spent the night in Maine which was a super treat. Sometimes it would be nice to have some time off but for now Myles and I are fortunate to work together keeping the farm going that has been in the family for almost 200 years. We have journals from as early as the mid 1800’s and it is surprising how much has changed and how many entries are still relevant today especially about the cows and young stock.
We put in a swimming pool about fifteen years ago and that is a wonderful mini-vacation especially when we need to cool off in the middle of the day.
Keep an eye on the Have a Cow website for more blog posts like these from other farms! Don’t forget to follow a cow so you never miss an update!