Butterwick Farm hosts visit from Brown Swiss convention

CORNWALL — Miles off the main road in Cornwall one morning in early July, a crowd of dairy farmers from around the country examined the Brown Swiss cows at Butterwick Farm.
All were attendees at the Brown Swiss Association National Convention, held at Shelburne Farms from July 4 to 7. John and Lisa Roberts, owners of Butterwick Farm, welcomed the visitors to their farm to get a taste of dairy farming in the Green Mountain State.
John Roberts explained to those gathered that the farm feeds primarily hay and haylage to the more than 175 cows, in an effort to make the most efficient, cost-effective milk possible. Unlike many dairy farmers in the U.S., Roberts grows no corn.
This isn’t always easy — the excessive rain last year meant that his feed didn’t grow, and he spent much more than usual on feed. He’s hoping that the rest of this growing season brings good weather.
Roberts said the farm’s milk goes to Agrimark, which owns Cabot Creamery, and fetches about $1.50 extra per hundredweight (one hundred pounds) due to extra protein content in the milk.
Roberts said recently, they’ve been pulling in about $17 per hundredweight, though that is below or right around the cost of production.
“The last four years have been very exciting,” he said, to a laugh and many nods from the crowd. “I think I’m ready for stability now.”
Many of the visitors were impressed with Butterwick Farm and with the state overall, comparing the farm with their own farm, and Vermont with their own state.
To Peggy and Harold Long of Maryland, all modern dairy farming is very different from when they began. Both are in their 80s and retired, having sold their Brown Swiss herd of about 170 to neighbors down the road.
“We’ve been farming ever since we were kids,” said Peggy.
For years they milked by hand, and when their children were big enough the Longs bought smaller buckets so that the children could help carry the milk to the bulk tank. They eventually upgraded to milking machines.
The Longs still raise and sell calves from the farm they sold their herd to, but for the most part they are retired. They still make it to the Brown Swiss convention as often as possible.
Fred Rosenbohm said on July 5 that the fields were a little different in Vermont than they were in Illinois — the corn when he left home was much further ahead than it was in Vermont when he arrived. Back home, the corn had already tasseled, and many farmers were already on their third cutting of alfalfa for the summer.
Rosenbohm said his farm has been in his family since his grandfather bought it. He milks about 125 Brown Swiss cows there. But he said Vermont had made an impression on him, too — he’d especially been enjoying the rolling hills and vivid greens of the fields.
“This is totally different from home,” he said. “I love it.”
Jerry and Barbara Withers of Idaho said their 150 cows are housed very differently out West. Their cows spend much of their time in outdoor free stalls, since they don’t have to worry as much about the rain or snow, and all of their crops must be irrigated due to dryness. Jerry Withers said they have been farming for 28 years and sell their milk to Dairy Gold, a processor out West.
The terrain was not unfamiliar to Barbara Withers, who said Vermont reminds her of her native Germany.
And Michael Overstreet of Texas milks on a whole different scale: he has 1,350 milkers on his farm, made up of about 30 percent Brown Swiss and 70 percent Holstein cows.
He said the Vermont countryside is much more green and much less flat than his area of west Texas. His cows must put up with extreme heat rather than the Vermont cold, but he said the Brown Swiss are even better at handling the high temperatures than his Holsteins.
“It’s amazing to hear from different parts of the country, the different things people have to adapt to,” said Overstreet.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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