What is Heidi Dolloff’s favorite time of day on the farm? “With the girls in the morning,” she says with a laugh.
The girls would be her 80 Holsteins, and morning would be, well, before the sun comes up, most days. The chores begin early on Dolloff Farm in Springfield, Vermont, and thanks to their hard work around the clock, Heidi and her husband Mike’s farm was named the Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year in 2014 and received a Green Pastures Award.
The award is given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states, with winners evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
“The Dolloffs are a testament that small dairies can not only survive in Vermont, but be profitable as well, if they are as well-managed as this farm,” says Tony Kitsos, state coordinator for the University of Vermont’s Extension’s Farm Viability Enhancement Program and coordinator for this awards program. “The judges were particularly impressed with how well the Dolloffs had built their assets up in just 17 years.”
Their herd is known for its quality. The farm supplies milk to the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) Cooperative and as Sue Isham, DFA Region Manager, notes, “The Dolloffs pay close attention to the needs of their herd and are very proud of their beautiful Holsteins. Year after year they achieve DFA’s highest quality award. They have created a well-producing herd and make excellent quality milk.”
Heidi explains, “It’s such a challenge. There’s nothing harder, but if you can figure out how to make it work, there’s such a reward to dairy farming. It’s so fulfilling.”
The couple established Dolloff Acres Farm after growing up on dairy farms and then working on Mike’s mother-in-law’s place in Putney. When that operation was auctioned, the couple decided to get married and start their own farm.
Dolloff Acres Farm at the time offered a little more than 100 acres and some antiquated buildings, but through the years, Mike and Heidi built up the herd and currently milk 80 cows.
As the cow generations populate the barns, the Dolloff family also grows. The operation continues to be a family affair, with their daughter Hannah naming all the cows (recent choices include Abbey, Aluna, Dominique, Paris and Knight) and showing her own award-winning calves at local fairs and dairy shows. Four-year-old Matthew is also a frequent visitor to the barn.
For Heidi, the multi-generational commitment to the land and the animals continues to be an inspiration. “For me, there’s nothing more rewarding,” she explains.
The herd provides a view of the cycle that is at the heart of any dairy farm. “It really is the circle of life.”