The Lowells are committed to dairying not only because of Dana’s past experience growing up on a small farm that included a couple of cows, but also because operations like theirs help safeguard Maine’s open land and capacity for local food production, especially in the face of climate change.
Dana Lowell can tell you that dairy farming involves a lot more than getting up early and milking cows.
The Lowell Family Farm of Buckfield is Maine’s Dairy Farm of the Year, recently named the state’s 2020 Green Pastures Award recipient. It’s a well-deserved honor. With a milking herd of 50 Jersey cows, the operation includes hay and haylage harvesting from about 200 acres, as well as 83 acres of no-till corn and cover crops to improve soil health and protect the fields from nutrient losses.
The farm – which includes Dana’s wife, Seri, children Maren and Wheeler, and longtime employee Josh Fournier – also boasts a composted bedded pack barn, one of the first in Maine. The barn offers the herd pretty cozy quarters, with no less than a four-foot ‘floor’ of sawdust and hay that provides not only comfort: with the heat produced by the composting process, the herd has natural protection from bacteria that can prove harmful.
“That compost is another living organism in there we’ve got to work to keep alive,” he explains. The twice-daily tilling provides proper oxygenation and daily bedding adds carbon so the breakdown of natural materials is as efficient as possible.
The Lowells are committed to dairying not only because of Dana’s past experience growing up on a small farm that included a couple of cows (he credits his high school baseball pitching prowess to well-developed forearms from twice-daily hand milking) but also because operations like theirs help safeguard Maine’s open land and capacity for local food production, especially in the face of climate change.
“It’s not that we’re nostalgic for the past,” Seri says. “We’re trying to be part of a viable rural future.” Dana adds, “If someone is not working this open, green land and growing things, it’s not going to stay green and open for long.”
The family’s focus on cow comfort, quality milk, and exceptional quality forages make for a successful operation. The Lowells ship milk to Agri-Mark and it’s known for its quality – Jerseys are all about high protein and high fat milk — and it fetches a premium price.
Besides high-quality product, those evaluating the farm for the Green Pasture Award point to the Lowell Farm’s exceptional forage quality. Using multiple mowers and wide swath techniques, the farm can harvest forages quickly when nutrients are at peak levels, providing top quality feed for their cows and young stock. “The Lowells focus on cutting their grass crops every 30 days for optimum quality” says Michele Bennett from Goldstar Feeds. “They focus on feeding the best quality forages possible.”
But back to Dana’s comment about dairying being more than rising with the sun and milking.
Dairying is a complicated business these days, he admits, and the challenges are more than mere physical work. Today’s dairy farmers combine know-how and instinct, technology and hard science, as well as a knack for problem-solving as they constantly search for a better way of doing things.
Combine that with Dana and Seri Lowell’s dedication to dairying and their love of the land, and you’ve got a winning formula.