Meadowbrook Acres dairy farm in Milton, VT has been in operation for over 60 years through the hard work and dedication of three generations of family members – with the fourth generation joining the family recently.
Robert and Bunny Richards established the Meadowbrook Acres dairy farm in 1958 in Milton, Vermont. Their sons, Donnie and Mike Richards, grew up on the farm and continue to operate the farm today. Donnie’s wife, Teresa Richards, keeps the farm organized, and her son Eric Stebbins and his wife Erin are the next generation to run the farm.
When Eric joined the farm in high school as the third generation, the older generation joked that he would be attending the “Milton Institute of Dairyology,” in addition to his schooling. They even had shirts with a logo made. The joke holds a lot of truth. Dairy farm employees are highly skilled in machine operation, engineering, animal nutrition, health, and environmental science. It takes a lot of ingenuity to be a dairy farmer.
The farm cares for 200 milking cows in a freestall barn where the cows can walk around, eat, drink and rest whenever and wherever they choose. They are milked twice a day. On average cows spend about an hour total in the milking process with 12-14 hours a day resting, 2-4 hours hanging out and socializing, and 3-5 hours eating.
Healthy cows make high-quality milk. On New England dairy farms like Meadowbrook Acres, a veterinarian and nutritionist play a big role in keeping cows healthy and happy. Cows receive regular check-ups, vaccinations and prompt treatment if they are ill. The ingredients in the cow diets at Meadowbrook Acres Farm varies by season, and includes grain that is purchased and a mixture of grass hay, alfalfa hay, as well as corn and grass silage that is all grown on the farm.
“The farm is responsible for over 600 acres of land that is close to Lake Champlain, and we believe that agriculture is the best way to protect that land from development and the impact of that,” said Laura Hardie, Teresa’s daughter.
According to the Lake Champlain Basin Program, developed land has four times the potential for run-off than agricultural land. Farms like Meadowbrook Acres focus on caring for their fields in a way that will keep nearby waterways clean, create organic matter in the soil, hold water and prevent soil from leaving the field through erosion. Practices like planting cover crops through the winter and spring, and no-till planting are helping to achieve these goals.
Meadowbrook Acres Farm uses an app called Encirca to track the nutrients put on the fields, and to make sure they are applying the right amounts of manure and fertilizer in the right spots. Like all dairy farms in Vermont, the farm is also required to have a certified nutrient management plan that is overseen by local government and environmental experts to ensure that standard environmental practices are in place when manure is used.
“The goal is to be able to make healthy food for a growing population in a way that is good for our environment too,” Teresa Richards said.