Plain yogurt is one of the more popular products Melynda Deerfield sells. 
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Plain yogurt is one of the more popular products Melynda Deerfield sells. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    DURHAM, Conn. – Deerfield Farms is the last dairy farm in Middlesex County in Connecticut. But knowing she is the last one is not something Melynda Deerfield is worrying about.
    Deerfield is the owner of Deerfield Farms, a 40-cow registered Jersey farm located on a 60-acre farm site in the town of Durham.
    Deerfield, a first-generation dairy farmer, said she got involved with dairy animals through 4-H, and her parents raised veal calves on their 10-acre farm in nearby North Madison. While her parents did not milk more than a couple cows, her interest in the dairy industry grew from involvement with showing dairy animals through 4-H.
     “I just love the cows and working with them,” Deerfield said. “I’m interested in the registered cattle and enjoy being in the show ring.”
    In 2005, Deerfield began leasing a tiestall facility on 10 acres in Durham. The facility had been newly rebuilt after it was destroyed by a fire. Deerfield put in 30 full-size tie stalls, three small heifer tie stalls, three box stalls and calf pens. She also installed the milking system and equipment. She began shipping milk to a local processor.
    For the following year, Deerfield worked with state inspectors to become a licensed on-farm processor to allow her to direct sell products from the farm. A small lean-to connected to the barn was finished and became a processing room with pasteurizing and bottling equipment. In spring 2006, Deerfield stopped shipping her milk and began processing all the milk from her farm.
    Today, Deerfield sells 200 gallons of raw milk a week. Other product she sells includes yogurt, flavored milk, soft cheeses and gelato. The product she makes depends on how much milk remains after bottling.
    “Yogurt, especially plain yogurt, is what I always have in stock,” Deerfield said. “I don’t have strict make schedules. If I have more milk during the holidays, I’ll make gelato then too.”
    Most days, Deerfield will bottle milk right after morning milking and continue processing what milk remains.
    “Depending on the time of year and production, I will process anywhere from three to five days a week to pasteurize and make yogurt and flavored milk,” Deerfield said.
    At any given time, Deerfield will be milking between 12-18 cows. She tries not to go over what her barn will hold. Her goal is to keep the dairy at a workload she can handle with the help of her boyfriend, Jim Dykas.
    The cattle are fed a ration of grain, dry hay and haylage. The cattle have access to 10 acres of pasture.
    “The pasture goes pretty fast especially this year when we experienced a drought,” Deerfield said.
    The New England region experienced a rare dry period from mid-June to late fall this year. Deerfield managed one cutting and only a portion of second cutting from her 50 acres of hay ground that includes clover, grass and vetch.
    “The quality of first cutting was really good, and we got it done early,” she said. “We thought we were off to a great start.”
    The lack of rain after first cutting stunted growth, and Deerfield did not manage a second cutting for the rest of the season. She started green chopping fresh grass and feeding that to the cows.
    “We’ve been doing that up until now,” Deerfield said. “Especially now there is not enough on the hay fields to bale so I will chop it on to a wagon. It helps me extend the season.”
    Deerfield will supplement her hay supply by purchasing dry round bales from neighboring farmers.
    As the last dairy farmer in her county, Deerfield has learned to be self-reliant. There is one dairy equipment dealer that will service equipment, but Deerfield and Dykas manage to do most of the repair work themselves with the help of troubleshooting phone calls.
    It has been difficult for Deerfield to maintain reliable veterinary service. After many years of inconsistent service, an experienced large animal veterinarian moved to the area and will do regular routine service as well as emergency procedures. Deerfield will complete as much vet work as she can herself.
    While there are challenges of being in a dairy sparse area, Deerfield knows there are benefits to dairying in her area.
    “I’m very lucky to be where I am,” Deerfield said. “Everybody thinks I want to leave Connecticut, but we have people, jobs and a market here.”
    Deerfield Farm is located in a highly populated area where there is also a high per capita income.
    “If people want to go spend $9 on a gallon of milk, they can,” Deerfield said. “I’m lucky in that respect; it’s taken longer for my local customer base to come around.”
    After 15 years of being in business, Deerfield is now having neighbors and people from town coming to purchase milk where previously her customers came from further away.
    “At first it was people from further out in the state seeking out raw milk,” Deerfield said. “They do their homework and are specifically looking for those products.”
    Deerfield credits her website and social media to help build her market. She has done very little, if any, paid advertising.
    “I guess the business just came to me,” Deerfield said. “I know that’s harder for farmers in other states. Picking up sales can be a struggle.”
    During the novel coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home order in the spring, Deerfield experienced the value of direct farm sales firsthand.
    “I posted that I would have chocolate milk ready at 2:30, and I had a line out the door at 2 p.m. waiting to buy,” Deerfield said.
    Despite the demand, Deerfield is reluctant to expand the dairy with the intention of keeping it at a workload she can manage herself.
    “Improving the production per cow is how I would like to grow but not necessarily the number of cows,” Deerfield said.
    Other areas she hopes to expand in the future is by direct selling meat, including beef, pork and broilers. Deerfield and Dykas recently began direct marketing their beef. In addition to raising the farm’s Jersey and Jersey crossbred steers, Dykas raises also Angus cattle to process and sell to customers.
    Whatever steps Deerfield takes to diversify and maintain viability for her small dairy, Deerfield knows she would not want to do anything else for a career – and it all began with her parents’ small hobby farm.
    “We started with that and I just loved it,” Deerfield said.