Farm Fact Sheet
Learn about Vermont dairying – past and present – and the development of the Billings Farm, still one of the best Jersey farms in America. The dairy barn, milk room, horse and sheep barns are stops along your self-guided tour. A series of educational programs and activities featuring the livestock and farming operation are also offered daily. Stop in for the afternoon machine milking of the herd from 3:15 to 5:00 p.m., and watch the process of milk production firsthand.
The Billings Farm was established in 1871 by Frederick Billings, a native Vermonter who became known for his work as a lawyer, conservationist, pioneer in reforestation and scientific farm management, and railroad builder. Billings set out to make his 270-acre farm a model dairy operation. In 1884 he hired George Aitken, an innovative and successful professional farm manager. The farm imported cattle directly from the Isle of Jersey, kept careful records of milk production, and bred selectively to improve the herd. Deeply concerned with the desperate condition of Vermont’s forest cover, Billings planted more than 10,000 trees in the Woodstock area, putting into practice ideas that were proposed by an earlier resident of the farm, George Perkins Marsh. Today, Marsh is regarded as one of this country’s first conservationists.
By 1890, the year that Frederick Billings died, the Billings Farm had been expanded to nearly 1,000 acres, and was widely acknowledged for its premier Jersey herd, Southdown sheep, and Berkshire hogs, as well as its extensive butter-making operation which produced 5,000 pounds of butter annually. Three years later, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, cows from the Billings herd took top honors in the dairying divisions. Billings’ Princess Honoria, was crowned the champion Jersey three-year-old and reserve champion for cows of all ages. Lily Garfield, winner of the butter test, left Chicago with the designation “Champion Heifer of the World.” The herd’s performance at the exposition was the victorious culmination of the Billings Farm’s early years.
Following the Billings/Aitken era, the farm experienced several periods of change, including a successful commercial dairy operation beginning in 1948. In the mid-1970s, the breeding of championship-caliber cows resumed. A string of regional show winnings throughout the 1970s and ’80s, culminated when Billings Top Rosanne won top honors in both American and Canadian competitions, making her perhaps the finest Jersey in North America.
Billings Farm & Museum is the only place in the country where visitors can experience a fully-operational farm, combined with educational exhibits and interactive programs. The Farm & Museum have been merged into a single entity, sharing the mission of preserving the historic site, as well as educating the tens of thousands who visit annually.
For the first time in over 70 years, the Billings Farm is marketing a dairy product made exclusively from the milk of its Jersey herd. Drawing upon Billings Farm’s 145-year tradition of dairy excellence, three varieties of high-quality, handmade cheddar cheese are being made from 100% raw milk from the Billings 40 purebred, registered Jersey cows. Billings Farm Cheddar, made at Grafton Village Cheese in Grafton, Vermont, is carefully aged for at least 60 days, with no additives, preservatives, or artificial coloring. Billings Farm Cheddar bears the coveted “Queen of Quality” label, which certifies that it is a highly nutritional, premium product made from 100% Jersey milk. Billings Farm is one of only 32 dairy farms nation-wide (nine in New England) that qualify for the “Queen of Quality” distinction issued by the American Jersey Cattle Association.
Our goal is to reach significant numbers of Americans and convey an understanding and appreciation of the importance of dairy farming and rural life in this country.