Front row left to right: Allaire Palmer, Denise Pike, Johanna Chapman, Libby Bleakney, Jaxon Kimball, Jennifer Kimball
Back row left to right: Dan Palmer, David Pike, Chad Pike, Lorie Pike, Andrea Emmons
Highland Farms, Inc. in Cornish has a long, interesting history in the Maine dairy farming community, and with the upcoming generations, their future looks to be just as enduring. Family member and dairy farmer Libby Bleakney says she is proud that the family has been able to “maintain our beautiful, well-kept farm so that we have the next generations coming back to farm with us.”
That, in part, is the reason the farm was selected as the New England Green Pastures winner for Maine 2017 is Highland Farms, Inc. in Cornish. Bleakney is a member of the fifth generation on the farm and works alongside the fourth (her mother Allaire) and sixth (which includes her daughters Jennifer and Johanna) generations. The seventh generation is currently being raised on the farm and already starting to help out (once they are big enough).
Dairy farms winning the Green Pastures Award are recognized and selected for their production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
Highland Farms was established in 1886 by Wyer and Fred Pike with three registered cows and one bull and is the oldest continuously registered Jersey herd in the US. Their vision was that any future generation that wanted to farm would have land and support from the farm to farm. The dairy farm currently milks 250 Jersey cattle.
Today, Highland Farms, Inc. owns the buildings and property with three other business entities running the dairy, logging and trucking operations. The farm is owned and operated by Libby Bleakney, her brother Daniel Palmer and their two cousins David and Lorie Pike; each person has responsibility for a portion of the farm operations. Cattle are housed in freestall barns with sidewall curtains that provide control of the environment in the barn and are fed a complete ration free choice consisting of forages grown on the farm’s 300 acres of corn and grass supplemented with grains, minerals and vitamins. A thousand acres of woodland is one of the resources for Highland Farms Inc. and the logging operation.
Highland Farms has been a leader in conservation practices. With the farm on a sidehill overlooking Mt. Washington, crops are grown in strips of corn and grass. Water from the roofs and driveways is diverted away from the manure areas. Water and manure from the barns and feedlot areas is moved to a liquid manure pit for use as a fertilizer on cropland. A nutrient management plan specifies the amount of liquid manure needed for crop needs for each acre.
Highland Farms is a closed herd that utilizes artificial breeding; most cows in the herd can be traced back to the original cows purchased to start the farm. The farm is a leader nationally with the breeding and development of two notable bulls, Highland Magic Duncan and Highland Duncan Lester bred on the farm. These bulls have sired over 2,800 registered sons and over 28,000 daughters. Sons of these bulls have sired over 135,000 registered offspring and sons of their daughters have sired another 144,000 offspring reflecting the huge impact on the Jersey breed from this farm in Cornish, Maine. Highland Farms continues to work with national genetic programs to improve their milk production efficiency. The farm utilizes genomic testing to evaluate animals in their herd for genetic superiority and serving as a bull mother to produce the next top sire from this herd.
“We have worked really hard to improve udder depth, feet and legs in my generation,” Bleakney said. All those things are important for a long-lasting milk cow. “And we are always continuing to improve milk production as well.”
Bleakney with her daughters Johanna Chapman and Jennifer Kimball celebrate World Milk Day with a milk toast.
The farm family is heavily involved in work supporting organizations at the community, statewide and national level. Libby Bleakney served as a director of the American Jersey Cattle Association as did her father, John Palmer. John served as president of the Maine Jersey Cattle Club. Several family members have served on committees of the Soil and Water Conservation Service, Farm Credit, and Farm Bureau. Libby is a director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association. The families have worked to help host the national American Jersey Cattle Association annual meeting in Maine (1988) and most recently in New Hampshire (2012). Family members have received several national awards including the Master Breeder, Distinguished Service, and Young Jersey Breeder Award from the American Jersey Cattle Association. The farm is regular stop for tours by schools, college groups and visiting dairy producers.
While several family members work off the farm, everyone is involved during their time off helping where needed to get chores done, crops in and upkeep of the pristine grounds. Several family members of the sixth generation are actively involved in farm operations as their full-time job. Highland Farms has a small crew of non-family workers who share the goal of being the best at what they do. Highland Farms has an esprit-de-corps that promotes the collective work of each member of the crew. The Green Pastures committee is proud to honor Highland Farms, Inc. with their 2017 Farm of the Year award. The farm was officially recognized at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass. on September 15, 2017.