Nintendo has Accepted our Challenge.

Here at Billings Farm & Museum, in Woodstock, Vermont, we’re proud of our reputation as having one of the best registered Jersey dairy herds in the United States. Our farm staff work tirelessly seven days a week, from 4 AM milking to sunset, to ensure both the quality of the milk we produce and the health and continued happiness of our animals. As an educational farm, we also believe strongly that a vital part of our mission is to educate the wider world about the almost super-human dedication and hard work it takes to be a dairy farmer.

Because of this, when we read that Nintendo recently released a virtual cow milking game on their new console, the Nintendo Switch™, we decided to call them out, feeling that no game could do justice to our profession! Tom Remp, our Director of Marketing, and Alayna Perkins, our farm manager, wrote to Nintendo to offer them the chance to visit with us and learn what milking a cow really takes.

Here’s what we said:

Dear Nintendo

 We’re one of New England’s premier living history museums. We’re writing because our farm staff recently saw the cow milking game for Nintendo Switch and decided that you’ve taken all the challenge out of milking. We have 30 adorable Jersey milking cows that we milk twice a day, and it is NEVER that easy. We also think that you guys look pretty slow.

 To this end, we’d like to set up some sort of challenge to pit our team against yours to see who can milk the fastest. If you accept, let us know and we can work out the details. The question is: Is your team brave enough?

 Thanks, Tom and Alayna”

We’re pleased (and slightly amazed) to say that Nintendo recently responded, and WILL be joining us this Wednesday (March 29th) to take part in a bit of friendly competition with their milking game, and learn more about what it really takes to milk and look after a cow. You can see how they responded to our challenge via Facebook here.

Although the event will be closed to the public, we’ll be producing a video to show you how it went down, and are happy to invite members of the press. Those interested should contact Tom Remp at tremp@Billingsfarm.org or 617-894-9219 for more information.

Billings Farm & Museum Summer Camp: Registration now open

This summer, Billings Farm & Museum invites Children aged 8-12 to step back in time and join us for our Farm Adventure Camp. Experience five fun days of activities and adventures, based on the personal journals of children who grew up in villages and on hill farms in 19th century Vermont.

Running twice, from July 10 – 14 and Aug. 7 – 11, 2017 (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.), this unique and exciting program lets kids explore the Vermont of 150 years ago through hands-on farm chores and pastimes:

Help groom and feed our livestock; bake an apple pie and molasses cookies from scratch in the kitchen woodstove; discover stories in old journals and start writing your own. Compete in sack races and watermelon seed spitting, make ice cream, and enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride. Be prepared for an excursion into the village to discover your local history and the importance of becoming a contributing member of the community, and much more…

The program costs $300 for members and $340 for non-members. Spots are filling fast so call 802-457-2355, e-mail reservations@billingsfarm.org, or use the form below to book today.

 

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Southdown Sheep: A Billings Farm Legacy

Famous for high-quality ice cream and cheddar cheese, Vermont has a reputation as one of the premier producers of dairy products in the United States. Because of this, you might be surprised to learn that the Green Mountain State was once famous for its sheep, with as many as half a million here by the mid-19th century.

Southdown sheep played a major role at Billings Farm from the 1870s until the World War II, when the farm maintained a flock of several hundred. Today, we’re continuing this tradition with a small flock of Southdowns that are featured in our educational programming.

Highly valued for their combination of top-quality meat and heavy fleece (weighing around 4-5 lb. per shearing), Southdowns are docile and friendly, with great mothering instincts. Below, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about our flock, from what they eat and how we care for them, to the role they played in Billings Farm history.

A Brief History of Sheep in Vermont

Through much of the 19th century, sheep dominated the livestock interests in Vermont, outnumbering both cows and people. In 1812, wealthy merchant and former United States Consul to Portugal, William Jarvis, moved to Vermont to establish a large-scale sheep farm. In Europe, Jarvis had managed to obtain an export license for Merino sheep, prized for their superior, water-resistant fleece.

The public went wild for the new product and “Merino mania” soon gripped Vermont, with many small farms being consolidated into larger operations. At the peak of the boom there were almost one million sheep in the state, with an alarming amount of forest being cut down to provide grazing for them. This created a series of environmental problems: sheep are much harder on pastures than cattle because they graze grass down to the roots, exposing soil and causing erosion.

By the 1840s, due to changing tariff laws and competition from farmers in the newly settled West, the sheep boom was turning to bust. Vermont farms, with their mountainous and rocky terrain couldn’t compete with western farms whose costs were often much less. Wool prices dropped from 57 cents per pound in 1835 to 25 cents per pound in the late 1840s, forcing many Vermont farms into bankruptcy. This crisis was compounded by the 1848 discovery of gold in California, when thousands of New Englanders left their farms and headed to the West Coast in search of fortune.

Soon, the conversion to dairy cattle was under way.

Southdowns at Billings

Even as the Merino boom was beginning to fade, plans were afoot to introduce sheep to Billings Farm. During the 1870s, Frederick Billings and his farm manager George Aitkin decided to import a flock of Southdowns from Britain’s top breeders, notably the Prince of Wales. This was in line with their efforts to increase agricultural productivity at the farm, exemplified by the introduction of Jersey dairy cows.

James Aitkin with the Billings’ Southdown flock, circa 1880.

First bred in Sussex, England, during the late 1700s, Southdown sheep are a hardy and adaptable breed, able to cope with a variety of climates. Highly regarded for their superior meat, good-quality fleece, and calm dispositions, Southdowns are excellent all-round animals that are relatively easy to care for and maintain. The typical adult weighs between 150-200 pounds, with a sturdy frame and fine to medium coat.

Within a few years, the Billings’ flock was one of the best in Vermont, with the farm actively seeking to encourage breeders to invest in their bloodlines. This was a well-publicized effort, as seen in the advertisement below.

The Billings Flock Today

Billings Farm continues the legacy set by Billings and Aitken by keeping a small flock of Southdowns and a ram (depending on the season). The life of the Billings Farm flock follows an annual cycle that would be familiar to George Aitken and his farm crew. During the colder months, the sheep are kept inside to protect them from the snow and freezing temperatures. When in the barn, they’re fed a mix of hay and grain and as many are pregnant during this time, they’re monitored regularly by our farm staff.

Lambing begins in late March. Each Southdown produces one or two lambs every year (occasionally, three), with a gestation period of around five months. This is an exciting time at the farm, but hard work for the farm staff who work overtime to monitor the health of the new arrivals. Because lambs are born with very light coats and early spring can be extremely cold, we immediately outfit them with a woolen sweater knitted by one of our staff – making them stylishly warm!

As the weather warms and the pastures fill in, the flock can finally be let outside to graze. Soon after, the ewes’ shaggy coats are sheared and their fleece is gathered. We showcase this rite of spring at our annual Sheep Shearing & Herding with Border Collies celebration.

Shearing

Held the first weekend in May, Sheep Shearing & Herding with Border Collies is one of the highlights of our season. Our master shearer demonstrates the various techniques used over the centuries – from simple, steel hand shears, to hand-cranked clippers, and today’s electric shears. In the fields, a half dozen of the area’s champion Border Collies demonstrate their keen instincts and training as they round up sheep.

This is a wonderful family event, with sheep shearing, Border Collie demonstrations, and hands-on activities including carding wool and lamb handprints.

Remembering Joe

The first few days of 2017 were tough ones at the Billings Farm, with the passing of Joe, our 25-year-old Percheron. Joe was a wonderful horse with a calm demeanor and a love of working with his partner, Jim.

We’ve been deeply touched by the tremendous outpouring of support and kindness we’ve received from so many of you since Joe’s passing. We’ve read hundreds of Facebook and Blog messages expressing fond memories and condolences for our staff  – and for Jim, Joe’s faithful partner.  Ms. Leonard’s 2nd Grade Class at the Prosper Valley School was kind enough to send us drawings and letters, many addressed to Jim directly. We are pleased to report that Jim appears to be taking Joe’s death surprisingly well and has been in good spirits.

We’ve reprinted many of your messages below, including letters from the Prosper Valley School. Although we’re able to feature only a sampling of the almost two hundred notes that we’ve received, please know that even if your message isn’t included below, it has been read and is very much appreciated!

From everyone at Billings Farm: thank you for your kindness and support. 


Barbara: The Prosper Valley 2nd Grade is very sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. As the 2nd grade teacher here for 25 years, I really feel this loss not only on my professional level, but personally as well. My out-of-town grandchildren loved nothing more than visiting BF&M, with the highlight of their visit being Jim and Joe. Many wagon rides and barn visits will stay in my memory for years to come. Wishing all the best to Jim as he adjusts to life without his best bud!

Marilyn: I am so very sorry to hear the news about Joe. He was very special. I remember him well. When I would come to Billings Farm & Museum to visit, the first place I went was to the barns to see the horses. If they weren’t in their stalls, I went to the pasture to be with them. I have always had a fondness for horses, because my grandfather raised Percheron horses on his farm in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, in the early part of the 20th century. You are at peace, Joe. Run free and wild in Heaven. I have always enjoyed the wagon rides around the Farm, too. I love Billing Farm & Museum . . . it is a wonderful and educational experience, indeed.

April: I am so sorry to hear this. I’m very glad to have seen him on our many trips there. What a majestic horse he was. Billings is one of my favorite places and his presence will be missed.

Amy, Jeff, Ella, Avery, and Olivia: Oh Joe, rest peacefully. My girls will surely miss your gentle presence. To all of the Billings family and community, and most especially Jim, we wish you peace and healing.

Julie: A sad loss for the Billings Farm Family. He lived a good life and we were blessed to have Joe as part of our team. He will be missed.

The O’Connor Family – JoEllen, Lily and Carolyn: The horses are the biggest draw to my girls. We would always go into the horse barn first to see if Jim and Joe were in their stalls so we could say hello first. Joe you will be greatly missed. You were a gentle giant. Billings will never be the same. Rest in peace Joe and enjoy your side of the rainbow bridge.

Margaret: So very sorry for your loss of Joe. He was a beautiful horse and I know he will be missed. I have been to your farm once and saw Joe and the other horses in the pasture. They are all wonderful animals.

Susan: Sorry for your loss of Joe. Thank you for loving and taking such good care of him, he will always be with you.

Peg: So we saw you this past fall and you were beautiful and very sweet. You will be greatly missed.

Jean: My thoughts and heart go out to the Billings farm staff/family. A truly heartbreaking time. Joe was cherished by everyone who met and knew him.

Allison: So sorry to hear this. Jim and Joe were our very favorite part of our visit to Billings each year. So sad

Wendy: I am so sorry, for Joe, Jim, & everyone. I didn’t know he was sick, but I took this picture on the 31st. I really stopped & sat with Joe this day, and felt something in his eyes. I even mentioned it to a horse friend, telling her he had a gentleness/softness or wording to that effect. Animals are INCREDIBLE! Both are boys spent time in the summer with both Joe & Jim. Oh boy. Gulp.

Not sure if this is Joe or Jim but we loved them enough to have this picture out and framed in our house. Hugs for Jim.

Debra: So sorry to hear this news. But he had a wonderful home and great life at the farm I am certain.

Jo-Ann: He was my buddy . . . every time I would go inside the barn he would nuzzle me with lip kisses oh I will miss him so.

Diane: Such hard news. A whinny and a toss of the mane up to horse heaven. Joe has a special place there, for sure. Our grandchildren will be so sad when they hear the news.

 

Percheron Joe: farewell to a noble friend

Last Friday was a very difficult day at Billings Farm. Joe, one of our four beloved Percheron draft horses, left us after a long battle with melanoma and osteoarthritis.

Joe was a magnificent horse, much loved by our entire Billings community. Sweet, gentle, and loyal, he was the first to greet our farm staff in the morning with his signature whinny.  Joe’s strength and temperment were exceptional when pulling sleighs or wagons with his team-partner Jim, or taking part in field work demonstrations. The two were inseparable until they parted, always happiest when running across the pasture together and play-fighting in front of visitors.

In recent years however, Joe’s health declined – due in part, to age. When Billings Farm bought the team over ten years ago, we believed that Joe was about four years old. After consultation with our farrier however, we learned that Joe was probably at least eight years older than we previously had thought. When he passed away, he was actually around 25. This is a very respectable age for a draft horse, especially when taking his health issues into account.

Since being diagnosed with cancer and osteoarthritis – a debilitating joint condition commonly known as ringbone – our farm staff tried everything possible to keep Joe in good health, equipping him with special horseshoes and giving him supplements to improve his mobility and keep him as pain-free as possible. His condition worsened very suddenly late last week and after consulting with our vet, we made the difficult decision to put him to rest.

This has been a sad and trying time for our staff at the farm, many of whom spent nearly every day with Joe for many years. Alayna Perkins, our Farm Manager reflects:

“The livestock at the farm are not just animals to us – they are literally our family. We spend more time with them than we do with our human families. We love them, we appreciate them, we cherish them; they keep us going on tough days.

When you are asked to make a grave decision in the best interest of a family member like Joe, it is not taken lightly.  At the end of the day though, the decision needs to be what’s best for the horse.  Joe had a good life, he was loved unconditionally by his buddy Jim, our members and visitors, and most of all, his farm family.

We laid Joe to rest last Friday evening. His family was there to say their final good-byes and Jim got to see his friend pain free, once again. Joe was a wonderfully huge part of Billings Farm, as well as a huge part of each one of us. We will miss him dearly.”

 

2016 at Billings Farm: A Year in Pictures.

It’s been quite a year at the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont.  In this post, we’re going to look back at some of our finest moments during 2016: from the new arrivals in the Calf Nursery, to historic base ball on the 4th of July, cooking Thanksgiving turkey in the woodstove in our 1890 Farm House kitchen, and our attendance-setting Baby Animal Day.  We’ll revisit our first real snowstorm in 2016 as well as letting our Jersey cows outside for the first time in the spring.  This year has been a good one!

We’ve had snow and rain, a brisk fall and a warm summer, misty mornings and freezing nights. To illustrate the variations of our Vermont weather, take a look at the three photos below.  The view captures our pasture, with the Ottauquechee River and village of Woodstock beyond. These images were taken only a few months apart!

We wish you a Happy New Year and hope you’ll join us for a tour of 2016 in pictures. Follow along as we explore four seasons of life behind-the-scenes at the Billings Farm. As always, we thank our members and visitors, who brought such enthusiasm and excitement to the farm and helped make this season so spectacular. 

Billings Farm is a great place to visit, so don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and check the website regularly to see what will be happening in 2017.


January-March

2016 began quietly, with mild temperatures and only an occasional dusting of snow.

Our livestock stayed inside until spring to protect them from the cold. Snug in their barns, our Southdown sheep, Jersey cows, and Holstein steers (oxen-in-training) waited out the bad weather and hunkered down. Our draft horse teams still needed exercise though, and frequently pulled the wagon or sleigh.

It wasn’t long before we were all anxious for spring and the start of a new season.

With barns of large animals, there’s always something interesting going on, no matter the season. By late February, our Southdown sheep started lambing. Our first lamb, Willow, became a social media sensation, with her pictures getting thousands of Likes and Comments from around the country. Within a few weeks, we had a flock of young lambs frolicking in the barn.

Young lambs are skinny and don’t have much fleece when they’re born, but thanks to Ann, one of our senior interpretative staff, the new arrivals were well equipped for the cold with their own hand-knitted wooly jumpers!

Meanwhile, in the cow barn, our Jerseys were hard at work too, with their morning and afternoon milkings and calving throughout the winter and early spring.

All the while, the work of the farm continued. From morning milking at 4:00 a.m., to the dozens of other chores and tasks necessary to keep the barns running and our animals healthy, our dedicated team of farm staff were hard at work – in all weather.

Spring arrived early this year and before long the weather was warming and the last clumps of snow had melted away. The trees were still barren, but blue skies and a little sunshine were enough to remind us that we wouldn’t have long to wait.

Jim, our Percheron draft horse, was the first to really appreciate the change of season and wasted no time enjoying himself.


By the end of March, the weather warmed, just in time for our annual Baby Animal Day Celebration.

With a capacity audience and our new arrivals (including the famous Willow), Baby Animal Day is a wonderful event that features the chance to meet and learn about young farm animals, while learning  why good agricultural practices are so important. This year saw our largest attendance ever and it was wonderful to see families of many generations share their first experiences of meeting these young animals for the first time.


April-August

On April 30th, we opened for our 34th season, with horse-drawn wagon rides, home-made ice cream, and more.

The season was soon off to a flying start, with many fun activities and special events. Our 1890 Farm House opened and our team of talented staff were busy using traditional recipes to prepare meals on our handsome and efficient wood-burning stove.

Finally, it was time for our Jerseys to return to pasture. As you can see below, they literally ran down the farm lane when released from their winter quarters! Until early November, they would be let out after their second milking to graze in pasture overnight. Watching them hurry down the path to the pasture was exhilerating, as you’ll see in the photos below and this video.


In early May, it was sheep shearing time and we celebrated with Sheep Shearing & Herding with Border Collies, a long-running event aimed at sharing more about Vermont’s sheep-raising heritage. A family of Vermont’s best sheep-shearers showcased a range of traditional and modern techniques as they relieved our Southdowns’ of their heavy winter coats.


If you’re interested in seeing why spring shearing is important, take a look at the before and after pictures below:

Before…

After…


As the weather warmed and the landscape turned green, we all began enjoying the brilliant greens and mild mornings of a Vermont spring. Our heifers especially seemed to appreciate lazy days spent in the pasture, moo’ing at visitors and catching up on their sleep.

Tender leaves on the trees and fresh grass in the fields transformed Billings Farm into a completely different landscape from even a few months before.

At the end of May we honored our purebred Jerseys with the annual Cheese and Dairy Celebration. This is an ideal opportunity to showcase our herd and the dairy industry with education programs, sample delicious products made by Vermont artisan cheesemakers, and enjoy the spring sunshine. Especially popular with our visitors is the chance to “judge Jerseys with our farm staff” and select the ones they thought were the “best.”

Andrew Coon, our hardworking and talented 2016 Farm Intern, quickly became part of our farm team.

Our 2016 Cheese and Dairy Celebration was also extra-special because we launched of our newest variety of Billings Farm cheddar: Woodstock Reserve is made with 100% raw milk from our own purebred, registered Jerseys and aged a minimum of fifteen months. This is our sharpest cheddar yet and is available in our gift shop and other Woodstock locations, or buy it online


July was a productive month in the fields. The field corn we’d planted months before, which ultimately would be chopped into corn silage to feed our Jerseys throughout the winter and spring, began to thrive…

And in the fields around Woodstock, we began harvesting the first hay of the year, another crucial ingredient in the livestocks’ diets.

Weeks later, we celebrated a special birthday. Savanna, the oldest cow on the farm, turned 14 – a monumental accomplishment, considering that the average life expectancy of the nation’s dairy cows is less than half that. Savanna is still milking every day, a testimony to her superior genetics and the dedication of our farm staff.


With the arrival of Independence Day, we held our traditional Old Vermont 4th, one of our most exciting and special events, allowing you to experience how this holiday would have been enjoyed back in 1890.

…we dressed up (late 19th century-style)…

…listened to great traditional music…

…took part in historical debates…

…helped make and sample delicious homemade ice cream…

…and enjoyed our local Boy Scouts chapter’s reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Visitors also experienced a rousing game of historic Base Ball, played in the farm fields and using original rules and equipment.  

 


August-October

August began with a stunning outdoor performance of the Farm to Ballet, which highlighted three seasons on a Vermont farm through a lively reinterpretation of classical ballet. Accompanied by a string sextet playing Vivaldi, this unique experience was a crowd favorite and one that we will repeat in 2017.

The following day was our noisiest event of the season: Tractor Day! With dozens of antique tractors from Vermont and beyond, all lovingly restored and driven by their owners, this event is a favorite with every generation.

It’s always heartening to see families attending Tractor Day,  with many young petrol-heads getting their first experiences with these workhorses!


August gave way to September and gradually, fall was in the air. The leaves began to change color subtly, signaling colder weather to come…

September was a landmark month at the farm. On the 15th, we welcomed the arrival of Rosanne Royalty Reign. Little Reign is the great-great granddaughter of the one and only Billings Top Roseanne, the greatest Billings Jersey of the 20th  century. A prolific award-winner, Roseanne was named an All American Jersey two years in a row – an almost unheard of accomplishment. Little Reign has some large hooves to fill, but we believe she will.  She already has stolen our hearts!

We harvested our field corn, way over six feet tall and a vital source of food for our herd over the winter and spring. Harvesting and storing this staple is one a demanding task on our cropping calendar.


In late September we hosted our second Vermont Fine Furniture & Woodworking Festival, featuring Vermont woodworkers showcasing their wares and skills. Demonstrations, brick-oven pizza, and live music made for a memorable event that we’ll repeat in 2017.


By October, the leaves were really beginning to change – vibrant colors which lingered for weeks.

Two major harvest events heralded the official foliage season: our Pumpkin & Apple Celebration (Oct 1 & 2) and Harvest Weekend (October 8 & 9). Enthusiastic visitors harvested apples from our heirloom orchard, helped press fresh cider, hand-cranked ice cream, sampled delicious cider donuts, and took a turn at challenging activities, including apples-on-a-string.


October concluded with A Family Halloween, one of our most popular family events, with (not-too-scary) ghost stories, family pumpkin carving, and horse-drawn wagon rides. This year’s anxiously-anticipated parade was one of our best yet!

Annie, a friendly Southdown ewe, led the parade, followed by…

…Jon Snow…

…several Harry Potters and Princesses…

…Frida Kahlo, Jane Austin, and many more!

Our goodnatured staff were inspired and we spied a sunflower, a cheetah…

…a wicked but beautiful queen…

…and Grease’s (and Billings Farm’s) very own Pink Ladies.

This year, even our Jerseys dressed up.


November-December

As November dawned and 2016 continued winding down, the colors of fall faded and temperatures dropped. As the days shortened, the evening air was filled with woodsmoke and frost. It wasn’t long before we had our first early snow, which soon melted.

With the weather getting colder every day, the time had come to move our animals inside for the winter. Our Jersey cows were more than a little excited to get back to the barn full time, causing quite a commotion when we opened the barn door…


We looked forward to Thanksgiving, a meaningful holiday and one of the most important during the 19th century. Our visitors learned how the holiday was observed in 1890 Woodstock, including preparations, dinner menu, and entertainment. “History of Thanksgiving” programs were presented in the farmhouse parlor and the kitchen was a hive of activity for days.

Pumpkin and mincemeat pies were baked…

…a turkey and duck roasted in the oven…

And then a full Thanksgiving feast was presented!


We offered one last weekend of horse-drawn wagon rides, then it was time to seriously prepare for winter. December was fast-paced and fun:

We got our first accumlating snow of the year…

…took part in the Annual Woodstock Wassail Celebration parade with Percheron, Jim,

Accompanied by our farm team and a special guest…

… celebrated Christmas in the authentically-decorated 1890 Farm House…

…shared holiday ornament-making with our visitors.

Christmas vacation week was celebrated with horse-drawn sleigh-rides, which ended on New Year’s Day. As we watched Lynne and Sue pull the farm sleigh, bells jangling and breath showing faintly in the air as the shape of Mount Peg rose in the distance, one could almost imagine Vermont in the 1890s…


2016 in pictures. A full year at the Billings Farm, from the first day in January 2016 to New Year’s Eve – today!  Because there’s always so much going on, we discovered that we omitted some additional news. Before we go, it’s important to mention that…

…we were featured on television a number of times…

…offered an intensive series of education programs throughout the year, with scores of schools from around Vermont and further afield, taking part. Our superb education department offers a range of programs for all grade levels, making Billings Farm an ideal place for a field trip...

…hosted several memorable weddings in conjunction with our friends at the Woodstock Inn

…watched our newborns develop into feisty heifers…

… and was acknowledged by tourism giant TripAdvisor with a Certificate of Excellence!

As you can see, it was a wonderful year at the farm. We hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of 2016 in pictures. On behalf of the entire Billings Farm & Museum team, we look forward to seeing you soon at the Billings Farm in wonderful Woodstock, Vermont.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

A Brief Winter Thank You: A Poem and Photos in Appreciation of our Farm Staff

With the holidays approaching and winter firmly upon us, it’s a good time to sit down and take a few moments to appreciate our Billings Farm staff, as well as farmers everywhere!

Work begins at 4:00 a.m. each day with milking and barn chores, and ends when the afternoon milking and chores are finished and the cows are fed and comfortable for the night. Despite the worst downpour or blizzard, the work continues! We thank everyone who’s in a barn right now, working to help put food on our tables…

They’ll be in the barns on Christmas Day, as they were on Thanksgiving, and that’s part of the job. In tribute, we’ve included some of our favorite black and white shots of the Billings Farm staff from this year, as well as a few of the amazing animals that are such a big part of their lives. There’s also a small poem about what it means to be a farmer that you might consider sending to the farmers in your life as a show of gratitude for all they do:

Ode to Farmers by Tom Remp 

I’ll raise my glass to all the farmers,

who never saw the sun go down

and rose before the dawn. 

I’ll drink to them that braved the seasons,

bent double ‘gainst a clawing wind

half-buried in the snow. 

 

I’ll think of those who baked in summer

shackled to the harvest time,

tending to a lowing herd.

 

Wiped mud from eyes and kept on going

backs creaking with the change

hands buried half-in slop.

 

Who dealt with bulls and sheep and oxen,

crouched down to milk and braved the kicks

and gave some life to silent calves.

 

Ey, I’ll raise my glass to all the farmers,

Who’d do it all again.

A Day in the Life of a Billings Farm Jersey Cow

Dairy is delicious! Ice cream, butter, milk, and yogurt: many of us eat some form of milk-based product several times a day. Unless you’re buying directly from the farmer though, it’s often difficult to know where your dairy products come from. Here at the Billings Farm in Woodstock, Vermont, we’ve been in the dairy business for 145 years, with our award-winning herd of Jersey Cows. As an educational center serving more than 55,000 visitors per year, we are committed to being open about our farming practices and the way we care for our herd of 70+ cows, heifers, and calves.

We’ve compiled this handy guide to share information about what it takes to keep our Jerseys healthy, productive, and content: their diet, how we breed them, and much more…

If you have a question we haven’t addressed or would like to learn more, please contact our farm manager Alayna at aperkins@billingsfarm.orgPlease remember: you can visit our wonderful Jersey cows and other animals at Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont, every day from 10-5 during our season (April 1st to October 31st) and 10-4 weekends/vacation weeks (November to February).


About our Cows

Our herd enjoys evenings and nights outside during the warmer months.

Jerseys are one of six major dairy breeds in the United States. Although Billings Farm began importing Jerseys from the Isle of Jersey back in 1871, today only a small percentage of the dairy cows in America are Jerseys. While Jerseys produce milk rich with butter fat (making it ideal for dairy products), they’re relatively small and low-producing compared to Holsteins, the black and white breed that make up the vast majority of cattle in this country.

The typical Jersey weighs between 800 -1100 pounds and stands around 48 inches tall. Sometimes, visitors remark that they look skinny, but all of our animals are well within the correct weight-range. Prominent hips and pins are healthy in dairy cows, where bulk is much less important than it is in the beef industry. Unlike beef cattle, dairy cows use their energy to produce milk instead of fat, and are rightly considered the athletes of the bovine world!

Below you’ll see Fireball, one of our foremost show cows. She’s considered the ideal shape for a Jersey, from the straightness of her back, the composition of her udder, and her deep, springing rib (characteristics we refer to in the industry as her dairy character).

Fireball, one of our show cows.

A lively breed known for being prima donnas, Jersey cows are feisty, smart, and enjoy acting out. If socialized early, they can form amazingly close and affectionate bonds with humans and other animals. As an educational farm with a small herd, it’s possible for us care for our cows individually, rather than as numbers or statistics. Every animal at Billings Farm has a name and we take their health and personality into account when making decisions, as you’ll see below…

Farm Manager Alayna with Brianna, one of our show cows. Interactions like this are importantin creating a positive and happy barn environment.

Billings Farm Jerseys are used to getting a lot of attention from the public (and love it).

We’re committed to breeding animals for longevity as much as for production. With this personalized care, our cows live far longer than the industry average of 5 to 7 years – with some Billings Jerseys reaching 13 or 14 years.

Sapphire, our oldest cow as of writing, turned 14 in the summer of 2016.


The Dairy Barn

The Billings Farm dairy barn is the nerve-center of our dairy operation. An average of 30 milking cows live here, with additional space for heifers (young females who have been bred but aren’t milking yet). Most of our girls have a large stall on either side of the central isle, with their own mattresses and 24/7 access to water via a fountain they can operate with their noses. The larger cows (and those who have health concerns) live in their own larger box stalls.

The Billings Farm Dairy Barn from the central isle. The floor is cleaned several times a day by our farm staff to ensure the highest level of hygiene possible.

A closer look at the individual stalls in the Dairy Barn. They have been built to accommodate a Holstein, which is much larger than a Jersey.

Bounty, one of our best-known show cows, relaxing in her private box stall.

During the summer, when the weather is warm enough to be comfortable, our Jerseys leave the barn following the afternoon milking and spend the night in the pasture where they graze and can socialize as a herd.

Our herd, heading out to pasture for the overnight.


Feeding

Proper nutrition is critically important for dairy cows, to ensure they have the energy to produce milk and as well as provide nutrients for their offspring during pregnancy. An average Billings Jersey consumes about 80 pounds of food daily  – a balanced diet of grain, baleage, corn silage, and dry hay and grass (during the summer). They drink the equivalent of a bathtub of water EVERY DAY!

Jerseys are almost always hungry (and quick to let you know it).

We’ve developed a comprehensive feeding schedule designed to maximize their intake and keep them healthy. Cows, like many people, are picky eaters. At one time we fed them separate portions of their diet, but we we soon discovered that they would nose away the feed they didn’t like to focus on the most appealing ingredients. To address this, we invested in a mixer wagon, which is basically a giant blender. We add the various dietary components and the mixer mushes them together into what we call T.M.R. or a Total Mixed Ration.

An example of TMR (Total Mixed Ration).

Our new mixer wagon, where we mix the TMR.

Our Jerseys are fed T.M.R. twice a day when they’re in the barn and are given a huge amount of hay on top of that. During the summer when they’re let outside to pasture every night, they also have access to a smorgasbord of free choice baleage and all the grass they can eat.

One of the Billings Farm pastures our Jerseys use during the warmer months.


Milking

When you spend time in the barns and see how much cows sleep, it’s easy to overlook the fact that cows are hard workers – each producing between 6 and 8 gallons of milk each day that is used in making Vermont dairy products, including our own 100% raw milk cheddar cheese.

We milk our Jerseys twice a day: at 4:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Because they are milked in their stalls rather than in a milking parlor, (common at most commercial dairy farms) our girls remain in their comfort zone as much as possible. 

Prior to milking, the cow’s teats are tipped in a hydrogen peroxide solution and an iodine solution to prevent infection. Milking is done with a Delaval milking machine, which takes about three to seven minutes per animal. Hand milking would take 30 minutes per cow!


Breeding and Pregnancy

As visitors to the Billings Farm may notice, we don’t keep bulls on site.  Jersey bulls are known to be aggressive and difficult to handle. Instead, we rely on Artificial Insemination (A.I.) for breeding, allowing us to draw from a much larger gene pool of potential sires from all over the United States. This practice makes it much easier to maintain superior genetics within our core cow families and has resulted in many prestigious awards from the Jersey community.

After a Jersey cow has been bred, it takes approximately nine-and-a-half months before she gives birth. During this period, the expectant mother is monitored frequently. For the final two months of her pregnancy, she’s removed from the milking line to “dry off” and turn all of her energy into providing nutrients for her calf. During the warmer months, our dry cows are put out to pasture full time, returning to the barn to give birth.

Two weeks before they’re due to calve, our cows are moved to a private stall at the rear of the barn and monitored regularly by our farm staff. Most Jerseys give birth without needing any help, but we’re always on standby for those that do! Once born, the calves spend their first few hours with their mother before being moved to our nursery just down the hall. This allows us to monitor the newborns for health concerns, protect their immune systems from harmful pathogens, and make sure they are eating well.

Woodstock’s Wassail Weekend: Celebrating Christmas the Vermont Way

One of Vermont’s most iconic winter events, Woodstock’s Annual Wassail Weekend is a unique window into many of the things that make the Green Mountain State so special. Taking place on the second weekend of December when the Ottauquechee has begun to freeze over and wreathes and Christmas trees dot the town, the three-day festival is a celebration of traditional local culture. With a wide range of eclectic activities for all the family, from carol singing on the steps of the library, to ornament-making at Billings Farm & Museum, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Many of Woodstock’s most iconic and beautiful homes are opened to the public for charity and almost every local business and organization is involved in some way.

 

The high point of Wassail Weekend is Saturday’s horse-drawn parade through downtown Woodstock. A wonderful showcase of rural expertise and culture with more than fifty horses from all around the town and further afield taking part, the parade is truly a must-see. There’s something magical about the procession, the crisp winter’s air alive with the clomp of hooves and clinking of harness straps as horses clatter down streets packed with both locals and tourists; tiny ponies wearing Santa hats and reindeer antlers, massive Belgians and Percherons pulling heavy carts, their drivers in top hats and bonnets, red-cloaked riders steering excited stallions, children laughing from the sidelines, the smell of mulled wine and wood smoke coming from somewhere close by. Behind the passing horses, wearing tails, bow tie, and top hat, the designated Pooper-Scooper roller-skates by with his shovel, pirouetting as he deposits their leavings into a waiting hopper. Only in Vermont…

This year, 2016, marked the thirty-second anniversary of Wassail Weekend, and the parade featured many high points, from a rare three-abreast draft horse hitch to Billings Farm’s seventeen-year-old Percheron Jim pulling a wagonette with Santa Claus waving to huge cheers from the crowd.

You’re going to have to wait a while till the next Wassail Weekend, but make sure to mark the date in your calendar, and check out the photos below to see more of this year’s event…

The Best Women’s Stocking Stuffers from Vermont

Seven Great Vermont Stocking Stuffers for Women

It’s almost Christmas and time to start decorating the house, putting the finishing touches on your gift list, and finding last minute women’s stocking stuffers. At Billings Farm & Museum, we’ve been spending the last few weeks going through our wonderful gift shop and finding the best small gifts that are compact enough to fit snugly in almost any stocking. Today, we’ll be listing our seven favorite women’s stocking stuffers, from nourishing hand salve to delicious chocolates and Billings Farm’s own award-winning cheddar cheese.

We’re extremely proud of our Vermont roots and the many wonderful products available here; we’ve selected items that are locally-sourced (with one notable exception). Many of these are readily available online (including our Cheddar), but plan to stop by our gift shop – open every weekend from 10-4 through Christmas Eve day, or contact us at 802-457-2355 with any questions.

Best Bee Savvy Salve

This revitalizing and healing salve is the brainchild of Vermont native Tita, who uses the excess wax from the beehives in her garden as the core ingredient, combined with all-natural organic coconut oil, lemongrass, grapefruit, and ylang ylang. Designed for use on lips, hands, feet, and and any other exposed areas, Best Bee Savvy is the perfect way to keep skin hydrated and healthy.

Lake Champlain Chocolates

One of Vermont’s premiere confectionary companies, Burlington-based Lake Champlain Chocolates has prided itself on creating chocolate with a conscience since 1983, using locally-sourced ingredients including honey, maple syrup, and fresh cream, combined with Fair-Trade Certified cocoa. Lake Champlain Chocolates come in many delicious flavors, including raspberry, coffee, caramel, peppermint, and almond, and make ideal stocking stuffers.

Sweet Cheddar

Billings Farm’s Sweet Cheddar is one of our most popular cheeses, subtly sweet and creamy, with a firm texture and only the lightest bite. Made from 100% milk from the farm’s Jerseys, Sweet Cheddar is free of additives, preservatives, and artificial coloring. These delicious 4oz. bars make wonderful stocking stuffers and are perfect as a quick, healthy snack.

Vermont Maple Lip Balm Tube

A staff favorite, this deliciously smooth “Beak” Balm is specially formatted to contain 100% pure Vermont Maple Syrup and tastes and smells great! Made from all natural and organic ingredients, including soothing oils to help nourish and revitalize chapped lips, a few tubes of Beak Balm make fantastic women’s stocking stuffers, sure to remind her of Vermont  – no matter where you go.

Elmore Mountain Goat Soap

Made at Elmore Mountain Farm in northern Vermont, Elmore Mountain Goat Soap combines high-quality VT goat’s milk with natural plant oils to create a calming and moisturizing soap that lathers well and re-nourishes dry skin. These great soaps come in a wide range of soothing scents including Patchouli Orange, Geranium Lemongrass, and Lavender, and are individually wrapped in 100% cotton cheesecloth and tied off with re-purposed baling twine for a distinct, farm-crafted look that makes them ideal as women’s stocking stuffers.

Sibley’s Guides

Created by New England-based artist David Sibley, the Sibley guides are a beautifully-illustrated introduction to the flora and fauna of New England, from oaks to conifers, and moose to woodpeckers. Unlike many contemporary guidebooks, each image is lovingly hand drawn in great detail to reveal the larger patterns and systems of nature. Each guide in the series is laminated to protect against the weather and small enough to carry on your next hike or outdoor adventure.

POOPOOPAPER Notepaper

Although made in Thailand, these unique but attractive notepads have long been a favorite at the Billings Farm & Museum gift shop and  deserve a mention in this list. Made from recycled animal dung, POOPOOPAPER™ paper products are mercifully odorless and designed as an ecologically-friendly alternative to wood-based paper products that rely on the continual cutting of trees.

We stock various colors of POOPOOPAPER™ notepads and have found that they make excellent novelty stocking stuffers!