The Flood Brothers Farm is home to 3,400 cows, including Holsteins, Red and White Holsteins, Jerseys and crossbreeds.
The Flood Brothers Farm is home to 3,400 cows, including Holsteins, Red and White Holsteins, Jerseys and crossbreeds. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    CLINTON, Maine – When Jenni Tilton-Flood married Dana Flood in 1995, she not only joined the Flood family, but also joined a farming operation flourishing in central Maine for over 200 years.
    The Floods have engaged in agriculture practices near the Kennebec River outside of Clinton, Maine, for over two centuries. The dairy sector of the farm began in 1927 when Dana’s grandfather began shipping milk at the age of 14.
    Now, Flood Brothers Farm LLC spans three generations, six families, 22 family members ranging from 4 to 70 years old, 3,400 cows with 1,700 milking and producing 17,000 gallons of milk every day.
    “We are a family farm from the cows to the farmers,” Tilton-Flood said.
    Today, 10 family members work on the farm, and they employ 32 others to tend to 5,000 acres of cropland and the three daily milkings.
    The farm also welcomes 1,000 visitors a year for tours as well as children taking part in the Maine Agriculture in the Classroom program.
    The milking herd, far-off dry cows and oldest heifers are housed in freestall barns. The youngstock, close-up heifers and cows are housed on bedded packs.
    The black and white Holsteins, Red and White Holsteins along with a few Jerseys and crossbreeds are milked at 4 a.m., noon and 8 p.m. in a 100-stall DeLaval rotary parlor.
    Tilton-Flood said the parlor averages about 400 cows per hour with each milking taking about four hours.
    The family focuses on structure when making mating decisions.
    “We like conformity in our herd, especially when it comes to those traits that help ensure and perpetuate health and wellness for our cows,” Tilton-Flood said.
    The herd is averaging 90 pounds of milk per cow, per day. That milk is marketed through Agri-Mark (Cabot Creamery Cooperative) to H.P. Hood, a processor in Portland, Maine.
    “The milk is bottled at the Hood plant just 75 miles south of our farm and on store shelves within a day or so,” Tilton-Flood said. “Like many areas, the milk for brand names as well as the store brands comes from local family farms like ours; same great quality and freshness.”
    In addition to H.P. Hood, the large processor Oakhurst as well as the smaller bottling company Smiling Hill Farm are located in Portland, Maine. Another bottler, Houlton Farms Dairy, is located in Houlton. Tilton-Flood said another major processing plant is opening in 2018 to focus on cheese production and other milk ingredients.
    The most recent Class I price in Maine was $17.69, Tilton-Flood said. She said Flood Brothers Farm supplies the sole source of income for all but one of the six families.
    “Our major focus right now is ensuring that we are able to run our business efficiently and profitably, and ensure that our youngest generation has the opportunity to choose whether this is where they want to plant their roots as adults and grow their lives and family,” Tilton-Flood said. “The daily work of improving soils and herd health continue, as well as safeguarding our investments and heritage.”
    In Clinton, a town of under 4,000 inhabitants, there are five dairy farms producing 17 percent of the state’s milk, giving the area recognition as the Dairy Capital of Maine.
    “The cows definitely outnumber the people,” Tilton-Flood said.
    The Flood family has access to equipment dealers including John Deere, New Holland, DeLaval and Westfalia/BouMatic.
    “There are around 1,400 on-farm jobs throughout our state and at least 4,000 jobs directly related to our dairy farms,” Tilton-Flood said.
    Maine is the eastern-most state in the contiguous United States and is known for its ragged coastline and forested interior as well as being sparsely populated.
    Tilton-Flood has a seat on the Maine Dairy Promotion Board, the state’s checkoff organization, represents Maine dairy farmers as a director on the United Dairy Industry Association Board and serves as her county Farm Bureau president. She said the state is home to 236 dairy farms totaling 30,000 cows in milking herds ranging from 10 to 1,700 with an average herd size of 120 cows.
    Maine’s dairy farms span from organic to traditional and include a learning center at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Freeport, and the Witter Farm herd at the University of Maine, Orono, as well as a milking herd at Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, which is administered by a non-profit group.
    The state often experiences Mother Nature’s extreme temperate swings.
    “We regularly run the gamut of extremes from cold to hot and humid, but rarely for long stretches,” Tilton-Flood said. “Our growing season is not too long (90-ish day corn is about as much as we will tempt Mother Nature), but we get some great weather, usually, to make up for the more brutal storms and temps. We are … also impacted, weather wise, by the Atlantic and our extensive coastline.”
    Albeit the weather, farmers in central Maine produce a variety of crops including corn, potatoes, apples, diverse gardens, various berries and grapes for wine production.
    “Every spring, I am pretty convinced that nowhere else grows rocks like we do,” Tilton-Flood said.
    While the state boasts a longstanding dairying heritage, the dairy way of life does not come without challenges from the climate, geography and location of farms.
    “The demographics and statistics of our dairy farms really epitomize and reflect those of the nation in many ways but being the literal end of the road presents many uphill battles to our industry, coupled with our older population, mostly rural state without larger urban population centers and our extensive shared international border with Canada,” Tilton-Flood said.
    Despite the challenges, Tilton-Flood said there is a mix of both young and old farms and farmers, emerging products and well-recognized brands.
    “We may be the black sheep and the red-headed stepchild of the New England and Northeast dairy sector, but our uniqueness has led to and has necessitated innovation in policy and product,” she said.
    So where the dairy industry meets the end of the road in the United States and fades to the Atlantic Ocean, the Flood family will prevail despite the industry’s challenges.
    “Dairy farming has allowed us to make a living from our way of life,” Tilton-Flood said. “We are able to raise our children while we grow our crops and it’s what we know. It’s what we love. Dairy farming is who we are.”