More than 2,000 flock to Kayhart Bros. Farm for breakfast, education

WEST ADDISON — As the last visitor departed from Saturday’s Breakfast on the Farm event, hosts Steve and Tim Kayhart of Kayhart Brothers Dairy in West Addison were walking on clouds.
“It was great for us, of course, but it was also great for the dairy industry as a whole,” Steve said.
The next day, however, he found himself in a funk.
“It was a little bit like post-vacation depression,” Steve said. “Like going back to work. There was all that planning for the event, then suddenly it was over.”
The feeling, he discovered, has a name: “Breakfast on the Farm hangover.”
Spirits were of course not among the offerings at Breakfast on the Farm, which drew 2,020 people from Addison County and beyond — unless you count the spirits of community, cooperation and education.
Vermont Breakfast on the Farm is held annually around the state to encourage the public to visit local farms and learn how their food is produced. Free breakfasts are served — pancakes, maple syrup, sausage, blueberries, Cabot cheddar, Green Mountain Creamery yogurt, plus plenty of coffee and milk — followed by self-guided farm tours. Vermonters who don’t live on farms can visit educational stations focusing on subjects like animal care, water quality and new technologies. The events are funded with grants from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, and by several sponsors from the agricultural business community.
“Farmers need to do a better job of telling their story,” Tim told “Vermont Fences” earlier this year. “We’re always too busy doing the work. It’s very important that people understand why we do what we do.”
Rene Thibault of the New England Dairy Promotion Board, one of Breakfast on the Farm’s sponsors, agreed.
“It’s a chance for people with concerns, or those who have questions, to come and get the facts straight from the source, the experts — dairy farmers. They are the ones who live on the land and work with it and their animals every single day.”
Organizers are hoping such events will help clear up misconceptions about dairy farming, especially where animal care and environmental stewardship are concerned, Thibault said:
“Some people think dairy farmers don’t care for, or mistreat, their animals, and that’s just not the case. Each and every cow on the farm represents the livelihood of the dairy farming family. And most dairy farms wouldn’t have what they do without healthy soils and clean water.”
The opportunity to bust some myths was one of the reasons that Rob Hunt of Bonapecta Holsteins in West Addison volunteered to help with Breakfast on the Farm.
“So many people get their info from, say, their yoga teachers,” he said at his station in the milking parlor. “It’s important for people to know what’s really going on on a dairy farm.”
Hunt described an image that had gone “viral” on Facebook — a cow comfortably secured in a specially designed hoof-trimming chute, which someone had labeled a “Cow Crusher” as part of a larger rant about animal cruelty.
“I mean, why would we want to do that?” Hunt said, incredulous. “A cow costs $1,500!”
MORE THAN 2,000 people attended “Breakfast on the Farm” at Kayhart Brothers Dairy on Saturday.
Independent photo/Christopher Ross
Eleven members of the Kayhart family, wearing purple T-shirts, were on hand to greet guests and answer questions about their 2,200-acre farm, where they milk about 1,000 cows.
Steve Kayhart’s daughter Alexa, 24, returned home from Connecticut, where she manages a large dairy farm. At the maternity station, where sleepy calves had retreated into their hutches to escape the mid-morning sun, Alexa answered questions about farming life and breeding practices.
“I’ve been helping deliver cows since I was probably 10 years old,” she said.
Thanks to advances in breeding technology, she explained, it’s now possible to select a calf’s gender with 95 percent accuracy. Though such technologies cost about twice as much as regular breeding practices, judicious use of them has produced a 70 percent heifer rate at Kayhart Brothers Dairy.
Families made up a large number of the more than 125 event volunteers, as well.
Dairy farmers Kerianne and Nate Severy (pictured) of Salisbury were volunteering for the first time. Nate, an agronomist with UVM Extension, answered questions about the four shiny machines at the equipment station, while Kerianne helped out with breakfast.
Visitors typically wanted to know three things about the machines, Nate said: How much horsepower? How much do they cost? Can I touch it (or, Can we climb inside the cab?) The answers: about 1,700 total horsepower, about $1 million total cost, and … yes.
Kerianne, who teaches math at Middlebury Union High School, loved getting to see other members of her husband’s farming family, as well as past and current students, she said. Her favorite stops on the farm tour included the new “Smart Barns,” with their automated temperature controls, and the cow-comfort hoof-trimming station.
Ten-year-old Calvin Almeida was volunteering with his dad, Justin, who runs a business fixing agricultural equipment in West Addison and farms on roughly 80 acres there.
“Calvin is just as big a machinery nut as I am,” Justin said. “As soon as the tractor starts, he’s there.”
A 4-H member, Calvin helps out two or three times a weekat a nearby farm, where he works in a double-four milking parlor (where a total of eight cows can be milked at one time).
“He was really excited to see the Kayharts’ new double-16 parlor,” Justin said.
Late morning found Calvin helping out at the equipment station. At one point he explained to a visitor the importance of checking cows for mastitis before milking them. (Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue that produces bacterial toxins.)
“Calvin is in training to be something great,” his dad said.
“Equipment and technology costs have definitely driven up dairy size and growth,” Steve Kayhart acknowledged. “You need more animals over which you can spread the cost.”
He and Tim, who took over their family’s operation to form an official partnership in 2010, are thinking long-term.
“Our basic goal was we always wanted to build a business to provide an opportunity for the next generation, and to fund our retirement as well,” Steve said. “But two families trying to retire on something like 150 cows … that just won’t work.”
The Kayharts are hoping their recent updates and investments will keep them competitive in what has become a volatile dairy market, with less and less upside for farmers.
For now, though, Steve is still basking in the glow of a successful event.
“The most memorable thing for me was the multitudes of people who thanked us and told us how much they learned and what a great time they had,” he said. The Kayharts have gotten several positive emails and Facebook messages, too, he said.
If he had it to do over would he change anything?
“Not a thing,” he said. “It was perfect.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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