Ag Week: New England Dairy Farmers Share Their Experiences

Sam Lavelle| View Author Bio

This week is National Ag Week which celebrates not only the contributions of agriculture to society and the economy, but also the farmers who make up the agriculture industry. Farming is a year-round job with no days off. Here in New England, we wanted to highlight the stories of two dairy farmers in our region, because at the end of the day, National Ag Week is about celebrating and appreciating farmers who are working hard every day to care for their cows, preserve the New England landscape, and provide food for our communities.

Maddie Nadeau | Top Notch Holsteins in VT

Maddie grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont. As kids, she and her siblings learned responsibility and developed strong work ethics doing chores and working in the barn. These lessons clearly had an impact. According to Maddie, “from a young age I knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture,” and though Maddie is the only one of her siblings that has chosen to continue working in agriculture as an adult, all of them have carried the lessons they learned on the farm with them.

For Maddie, this has meant working both on her family farm and her neighbor’s farm milking cows and taking care of calves after being unexpectedly sent home from college due to Covid. She was learning a lot through these experiences, but after losing her grandfather, she needed to take some space away from the family farm. Maddie traveled to California for an internship on a ranch where she continued to learn. “I think getting away helped me see the bigger picture and brought the clarity I needed.”

Since returning to working on her family farm, Maddie has focused on improving calf and cow care practices. Overseeing vaccines, setting up heat lamps for calves, installing new green flex stalls to improve cow comfort, and caring for the 150-cow herd overall are just a few of Maddie’s new responsibilities. “It’s important that the cows are comfortable because they are paying the bills, and we want to keep them in the herd as long as we can.”

From her childhood chores to her more recent work on her family farm, Maddie is no stranger to hard work. She sometimes wishes “consumers would understand the sacrifices and hardship we endure to keep shipping milk. Taking care of our dairy cows is a seven days a week, 365 days a year job. Birthdays, holidays, early mornings and late nights. The cows rely on us to feed, milk and take care of them. And the consumers rely on us to keep food on the shelves no matter the circumstances we are under.”

“It is a hard job, but it is fulfilling. I feel a huge amount of pride following in my dad’s footsteps, behind my grandpa and great grandfather; knowing that I am the fourth generation to continue this business and way of life.”

Warren Shaw | Shaw Farm in MA

Warren Shaw owns and operates Shaw Farm, a 116-year-old family dairy with a herd of 100. He is also the president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the largest agricultural trade organization in the state. Warren currently works with his son on their family farm, which started four generations ago when their family began milking cows and delivering fresh milk to their customers’ doorsteps.

A lot has changed since those early days. “We invested in a solar array that pays our electric bill and geothermal energy to provide heat and AC in our farm store. Through an arrangement that allows us to supply manure for an anaerobic digester off the farm, we can be a partner in helping to keep food waste out of the waste stream. We also invested in a modern bottling plant and a large farm store, which enables us to sell most of our products on-site. This includes milk, our own ice cream brand, and beef products. Our store offers many other items, most from here in Massachusetts.”

Sadly, in 2023, Shaw Farm experienced a barn collapse but according to Warren, “in the middle of difficulty comes opportunity.” Throughout 2024, Shaw Farm will be in a construction phase, crafting a completely automated barn focused on providing modern-day cow comforts to their herd.

Beyond improving his own farm, Warren is also committed to making sure agricultural land is preserved and improved for generations to come. Through the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program in Massachusetts and other similar programs, Warren and other dairy farmers are preserving their land to help pass the farm on to the next generation, upgrade their business, and make better use of land resources. “The Massachusetts APR program enabled our farm to double the size of our tillable land base, become less dependent on land rentals, and preserve 80 percent of our farmland.”

Like Maddie, Warren feels a responsibility to not only work hard to care for his herd, but also to work to make sure dairy farming can continue to provide for our communities, today and in the future.

Meet more of our New England farm families.

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