Playing Favorites? Maybe Just a Little.
Bella’s not a super friendly cow. Her normal expression is something akin to a scowl. She’s still one of Carrie Whitcomb’s favorites of her family’s herd of 300 Jersey and Guernsey dairy cows in Waldo, Maine.
“She’s been around forever and knows what to do,” Carrie said of the 12-year-old Jersey. “When we are putting them out to pasture, or putting them on a new pasture, she knows where she is going. She tells everyone elsewhere to go.”
Carrie and her sister Holly took the reins at Springdale Farm, which started when their grandparents bought the farm in 1951. The property was next door to their grandfather Colby’s parents’ farm. It has since absorbed the older farm.
“This land has been farmed by our family since 1917,” Carrie said.
Their grandmother Lois was from a dairy family in Chesterville, where they milked Guernseys. The young couple started the herd with three milk cows, two Jerseys, a Holstein, and 10 registered Jersey heifers too young to have had a calf yet or produce milk.
“At some point, they decided they liked Jerseys the best and stuck with them,” Carrie said. “The Guernseys came along from Chesterville a little later.”
Holly has her own favorite on the farm, aptly named Treasure.
“She was the last calf out of one of our old favorites,” she said. As the cow was aged, the Whitcombs knew there was a good chance it would be her last calf. “When her mother was preg checked, the vet said it was a bull. When her mom calved and I saw it was a girl, I started screaming, ‘It’s a heifer! It’s a heifer!’ Carrie wasn’t here, so I texted her at four o’clock in the morning. I named her Treasure right then and there.”
Then, there’s one of the herd favorites for everyone on the farm, Lydia, another 12-year-old. What makes her special?
“Lydia? Oh, she’s just got attitude,” says Holly. “She’s the boss.”
Boss Lydia. Stay out of her way.
Holly and Carrie have an older brother and five cousins, but they are the only of their generation to have taken an interest in the farm. Their father is Walt Whitcomb, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.
“Dad’s around as needed and helps out quite a bit,” Carrie said. “We have a number of aunts in the area who like to pop in and stay involved.”
Their grandmother was also involved into her 90s. She fulfilled a longtime dream of her and her husband to ensure that their land would be protected as farmland for the future. In July 2015, Springdale became a Forever Farm with the Maine Farmland Trust. Lois Whitcomb passed away in January 2016 at the age of 91.
488 acres of farmland are now protected as a Forever Farm thanks to the work of Lois Whitcomb.
Both Carrie and Holly studied animal science at Cornell University. Carrie was a senior when Holly was a freshman. Carrie is the farm manager and expanded the farm’s products beyond milk.
While they are an Oakhurst Dairy farm, some of their milk also goes to Appleton Creamery and the State of Maine Cheese Company, where Carrie did a college internship. Carrie has also become a cheese maker, starting with flavored cream cheeses, including Cinnamon Swirl, Everything Bagel, and seasonal flavors like strawberry. She sells them at five farmer’s markets, along with the farm’s rose veal.
Bull calves have access to the outside in spring, summer, and fall. They eat hay and grass, so their meat is pinker than the pale veal of those only fed milk. They are six months old and weigh about 350-400 pounds when they are processed.
Springdale started raising veal when they were connected with a restaurant owner in Portland looking for a supplier. They then expanded to other restaurants. They now sell to the public.
Many people picture small calves when they hear the word “veal.” As you can see, these guys are good-sized. They are butchered at about six months of age or 350 – 400 pounds.
Holly has an off-the-farm job for about 30 hours per week, but spends the rest of her time on the farm, milking eight times a week, feeding the animals, and breeding cows. Treasure, now 2 years old, is her assistant.
“When I am breeding cows, she’s always right there beside me,” she says. “She’s definitely very nosey.”
While Carrie and Holly might have their “favorites,” all the animals at the farm get the love, care, and attention they need and deserve.
Photos and story by Jami Badershall, Maine Dairy Promotion Board communications manager, unless otherwise noted.