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Luke and Catarina Mahoney plan on selling meat, eggs and vegetables to local markets to supplement the dairy income from Brookford Farm, the conserved farm they rent.
By Lisa McCrory
There are a growing number of organic dairy farms cropping up in New Hampshire; from 5 certified dairies in 2006, the numbers more than doubled to 12 farms in 2007. This may not seem like a lot to some, but realize that there are only 140 total dairy farms in the state, making organic dairy 9% of the total dairy farms.
Luke and Catarina Mahoney, with their growing workforce Oliver (5) and Emanuel (2), have an organic dairy farm located a short (and convenient) distance from the University of New Hampshire in the town of Rollinsford. They rent their 500-acre farm, which includes 200 acres of wooded land, and 270 acres of open fields from which 70 acres are used for pasture and 60 acres are tillable. Luke and Catarina grow baleage and plan on growing some small grains this year to complement the forages that they are growing, hoping to reduce the need for purchased feed.
The farm that they are renting is conserved and included in their rental agreement is the house, barns, equipment, milking parlor, 3 tractors and the land. Though much of what was provided needed some attention, it was a perfect opportunity for the young couple to get started with their own dairy herd.
Though Luke and Catarina are in their first year of shipping organic milk, they are not new to the world of organic dairy farming. Luke has worked on a number of dairy farms over the past 10 years; from a biodynamic social/therapeutic working farm in Pennsylvania to another biodynamic farm in Russia where Luke worked on the dairy and Catarina worked in the vegetable production part of the farm. It was at Svetlana Farm in Russia that Luke and Catarina first met. With their combined experience in animal husbandry and vegetable production, the Mahoneys plan to diversify their farm and sell meat, vegetables, and eggs to local markets and through their farm store, adding to the income they receive from shipping their milk to Organic Valley.
All the farms that Luke and Catarina have worked on were Biodynamic and organic and they apply many of the management practices and philosophies learned on their own farm. They keep the horns on the cows and as time goes on, plan to apply the biodynamic preparations on the fields and to the composting manure. One of the things Luke would like to have established first, however, is to achieve the appropriate number of livestock on the farm (fertility source) to match the land base (fertility needs).
The farm that the Mahoneys are renting was already certifiable and the cows that they purchased were certified organic, so they did not have a transition process to deal with; just some up-front costs in purchasing livestock and making sure the land was certified and the house, barns and equipment received the necessary tune-ups and upgrades. The cows that they purchased came from two organic dairy farms located in Northern Vermont; Butterworks Farm in Westfield and the Norris Farm in Canaan and 9 unbred heifers from two farms in July, 2007. From this young start-up herd of 15 cows (1st lactation) and 13 heifers, Luke and Catarina will grow their herd to a number that they consider to be sustainable for their land base and their personal needs. The farm is certified by the State Department of New Hampshire and they have been shipping milk to Organic Valley since May, 2007.
Farming organically in Germany if very different than in US. Antibiotics are allowed for use on the certified organic farms Luke worked on provided it was vet prescribed. When talking to their vet friends in Germany, they cannot believe that animal health without antibiotics is possible. For Luke and Catarina, they have had to learn about approved livestock health and management practices under the USDA standards. This has not been as challenging as they thought it would be. “ It is amazing how well they can come up with solutions if you say ‘no’ to antibiotics.” Says Luke.
During the winter months the cows are housed in a bedded pack and weaned calves and bred heifers are kept in a freestall. Calves newborn to weaning age roam freely in a bedded pack with access to the south. Reed Canary from a nearby certified organic farm has proven to be a great bedding source and they continue to look for abandoned fields for additional bedding for the coming year.
The Mahoneys have long paddocks or ‘pasture strips’ that they use, giving the cows a new section of grass after each milking. Some of the strips are very long and the cows could be on it for a week, so they try to use a back fence whenever possible. Water is made available in each paddock using black plastic pipe and portable water tubs. The cows were grazing well into November last year on some winter rye that they planted.
2007 was the first complete grazing season on this farm and the pastures had a lot of weeds in them as the farm has not had animals on it for a while. They are looking forward to seeing how the pastures come in this year, and also plan to add red and white clover to their pastures through frost seeding or no-till application. They have been thinking about adding lime to the land but at the same time are trying to focus on increasing soil biology so that the soil organisms can make calcium and other nutrients more available to the plants. Biodynamic preparations will play a role in making this happen.
To supplement the pasture, cows are offered free choice hay, kelp, salt, plus 6 lbs of a 12% protein high energy grain. In the winter, the dairy cows are fed first cut alfalfa silage and second cut alfalfa mixed grass hay, 8 lbs of an 18% grain, free choice kelp, and Redmond salt and conditioner. Heifers and dry cows get pasture, salt and kelp (no grain). And in the winter they get first cut dry hay, and alfalfa baleage.
Calves receive milk for up to 4 months of age. With that they get calf starter grain and high quality second cut hay/grass/alfalfa. Early weaned calves get 18% calf starter with whole oats and molasses plus some high quality hay and weaned heifers get 1.5 lbs of a 14% grain plus the same forages ration as bred heifers and dry cows.
A major part of their livestock health plan is to have a good prevention plan in place. Cows are not pushed for production and are fed a high forage, low grain ration. They offer free choice kelp, salt and conditioner to their cows and have chosen not to vaccinate their cows unless there is a problem.
Calves are left with their mom for the first 7 days of life. Cows and calves stay together in the barn at night and the cows go out to graze during the day (during the growing season). The cows are still milked two times a day.
Health problems such as mastitis, calving issues, and milk fever have not been an issue on this farm. There were a few nervous heifers, however, who were not breeding back right away, so they tried Spectra 305 and had great success with that. The heifers started showing their heats and a lot of them were bred in the first breeding.
Luke is a regular contributor to Odairy and uses this discussion list as a place to learn from other farmers, veterinarians and professionals as well as an avenue to buy/sell feed, livestock or other things that may be of interest to the organic dairy crowd. He also turns to Dr Hubert Karreman’s book, ‘Treating Dairy Cows Naturally’, Dr Paul Detloff’s book ‘Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals,’ Pfieffers book on Soil Fertility, and ‘World of the Soil’ by Russell. They have had challenges with finding a veterinarian that is supportive and are actively looking for other veterinarians who are interested in working with an organic livestock operation. Their current vet, though not supportive of organic dairy, is very big on management and comes to the farm for herd checks and emergencies.
Luke and Catarina have felt the impact of the current grain and fuel prices and agree that the pay price for organic milk needs to be addressed. Though the price for organic milk was fair a year ago, it is no longer sustainable. The Mahoneys are interested in growing more of their own feed and are looking into equipment, attending workshops and networking with other producers in preparation for the coming growing season.
Brookford Farm is doing a lot more than selling organic milk. Realizing the interest and demand for locally grown product, they are marketing their cull cows and bulls for organic beef, selling eggs and plan to grow more vegetables this year. These products are sold at the store-front on their farm and at local farmers markets. They feel that the more diversified they are with what they have to offer the local market, the better they can remain viable and live the lifestyle that they would like on their small farm.
Posted: to Featured Farms on Tue, Apr 1, 2008
Updated: Thu, Jan 31, 2019