September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Dairying across America: Vermont family looks to the future

The present-day barn was built in 1888 by a man named James Brown, his painted signature is still visible on a board hanging in the old milk room. Over the years, the barn has been updated and added onto more than once.  (photo submitted)
The present-day barn was built in 1888 by a man named James Brown, his painted signature is still visible on a board hanging in the old milk room. Over the years, the barn has been updated and added onto more than once. (photo submitted)

By by Andy Birch- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HARTLAND, Vt. - A warm breeze blows over central Vermont as a winter's accumulation of snow melts into sticky mud. The once pristine white hillsides show patches of brown, dead grass. Nestled in the Connecticut River Valley amidst the turmoil of "mud season," is Lemax Farm. Owned and operated by Ed and Kelly Meacham and their two children, John and Sarah, the farm looks the part of the classic Vermont dairy, with its tall, old barn set against a steep hillside.

The Meachams' farm sits on 360 acres of land in Hartland, Vt. Their tie stall barn houses 93 cows with a double-four milking parlor attached. As with many Vermont farms, only about 100 acres of the 360 they own are tillable, with rugged pine and hemlock forestland making up the balance. In order to feed their herd, they rent an additional 170 acres nearby.

Lemax Farm had its beginning over a century ago. The present-day barn was built in 1888 by a man named James Brown, his painted signature still visible on a board hanging in the old milk room. Its more recent incarnation, though, began in the 1950's when it was purchased by Louis Maxfield and his parents. They named it Lemax Farm, because both Louis and his father, Lesle, had the initials L. E. Maxfield. They developed a well-known registered herd, with several of their bulls entering the AI industry. The most notable Lemax son was Lemax Pawnee Memorial (7H0978), whose influence on the herd's breeding program is still visible today.

In 1966, the Maxfields sold a portion of the farm for the construction of Interstate 91, which follows the Connecticut River north to the Canadian border. They used the funds to expand the barn to its current size by adding a single-story addition that houses about two-thirds of the herd today.

Ed and Kelly Meacham were married twenty-five years ago in 1984 after they had both graduated from Vermont Technical College. Ed earned a degree in agribusiness management, while Kelly studied dairy farm management. Both had farming backgrounds, Ed at his grandparents' beef farm and Kelly at her grandparents' dairy farm. After graduation, they both worked at a dairy farm and later rented a farm to operate on their own.

In 1993, Louis Maxfield offered Ed and Kelly a job at his farm. Since his children had decided they were not interested, he mentioned that they would also have the option to purchase it if things went well. On New Years' Eve in 1997, the papers were signed and the farm was theirs.

Since purchasing the farm, the Meachams have continued to be progressive managers. In 2008, they ranked as the fourth highest-producing herd in their district, with a rolling herd average of 25,602 with 1,002 pounds of fat and 800 pounds of protein. This was done milking twice daily without rBST.

When asked what has worked well for the farm, Kelly said that having clear responsibilities helped.

"Ed is definitely the field person and I am definitely the cow person," she said.

Of course, they help each other a lot, but they each have an area where they take more responsibility.

"Ed used to give me a hard time about liking to milk so much," Kelly said. "When we were at VTC (Vermont Technical College), I asked the farm manager for a job and said I wanted to milk as much as possible. I've never heard the end of it."

Recently, the new focus at Lemax Farm has been the next generation. Ed and Kelly's son, John, came back to the farm in 2007 after studying dairy farm management at VTC. Their daughter, Sarah, is now a junior at the University of Vermont, majoring in animal science and is also interested in returning to the farm after graduation.

John has grand plans for the farm. Specifically, he would like to be out of the tie stall barn within ten years. A free stall barn would allow the farm to be much more labor-efficient, which would be extremely valuable when trying to support additional families. Unlike many farmers though, he would like to build a heifer barn first. Today, young heifers are housed in a row of box stalls that runs the length of the main barn, requiring a lot of man hours. This is where he thinks efficiency could be gained most easily.

Sarah mentioned that she would like to diversify the operation. Without significant expansion, the dairy itself may never be able to support three families, leading her to look more closely at adding vegetables and perhaps other animals. She also mentioned an educational mission, where the farm would create closer bonds with the local community and educate the public about agriculture.

Kelly shares Sarah's vision. When talking about the advantages of the farms location, she said that there is a tremendous amount of local support for agriculture.

"People in Vermont look for the Holstein cow. There are a lot of people in town who reach out to us. Everyone knows the farm," Kelly said.

The farm's location on US Route 5 near the large village of White River Junction gives them a prime location to market local goods, which will be very useful in the future.

Kelly felt that there were few real disadvantages to being located in Vermont.

"The state government has always supported farming," she said. "The real issue is more national. There is a need to fix the milk market so we don't have so many highs and lows."

In a state where more than 80 percent of agricultural sales come from the dairy industry, this couldn't be more heartfelt.

Faced with the same crisis that is being felt by dairymen across the country, the Meachams have no intention of quitting any time soon. Ed made that very clear.

"I've put so much money and so many years into this farm that I'm not getting out unless I have to," he said.

With good management and strong perseverance, the Meachams of Lemax Farm will be in business for years to come.[[In-content Ad]]


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