Sunapee, NH

Sanctuary Farm

Despite being a 9th generation dairy farmer, it was Joylon Johnson’s training as a veterinarian that gave him access to hundreds of farms, gaining invaluable experience.

What’s the advantage to being a veterinarian running your own dairy farm?

The obvious, of course, says Dr. Jolyon Johnson matter-of-factly. “You don’t have to hire a veterinarian,” he points out with a laugh.

He adds that despite being a 9th generation dairy farmer, it was his training as a veterinarian that gave him access to hundreds of farms as a student and young practitioner over the years, and that experience has been invaluable. “You learn something new everywhere you go,” he points out.

Balancing the demands of a busy large and small animal veterinary practice, along with the operation of a dairy farm is a challenge. Both endeavors require a major time commitment and are almost impossible to schedule, but Johnson points out reliable support on both ends has made both operating the clinic and running the farm possible.

Sanctuary Farm was founded on land granted to the family in the mid-1700’s in recognition of its participation in the French and Indian War. The property has remained in the family and has been a dairy farm for the past century. Jolyon’s grandfather built a new barn in 1920, which remained in use for 67 years until 1987, when the family built a new tie-stall barn with natural ventilation, comfort stalls, extra wide feed allies for hay storage, a pipeline milking system, and plenty of light.

The dairy barn houses 40 registered Holstein cows.  Milk quality and production are a priority. The heifers (cows that have not yet had a calf) are kept in a barn just across the yard from the main barn. The farm’s hay storage barn offers a high roof so hay-making equipment can fit inside, allowing all hay handling during harvest to be done with minimal or no manual labor.

Pasturing is a priority during the summer months at Sanctuary Farm, with cows moved to a different paddock every day. There’s plenty of room: Sanctuary Farm consists of 800 acres, with 100 acres of hay land, 100 acres of pasture, with conservation easements established several years ago.

The tradition of family management on Sanctuary Farm continues. The dairy is managed by Jolyon and assisted by his older son, Jared, who graduated from the UNH Dairy Program.  Jolyon’s wife, Susan, helps run the veterinary clinic and operates an ice cream parlor on the farm with their youngest son, Beck, who also helps occasionally on the farm. Forest products, a maple sugaring operation, and anything else to help support the operation have been part of the history on Sanctuary Farm, testament to the tradition of entrepreneurism among dairy farmers.

Sanctuary Farm was also named the New Hampshire Dairy Farm of the Year in 2016 and received a Green Pastures Award. This award 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.

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