Robert and Gisele Gervais, who farm with several of their children in Bakersfield, Vt., are the recipients of the 2013 Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year award.
This prestigious award is given by University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Dairy Industry Association to an outstanding, efficiently managed dairy enterprise that sets a strong example for other farmers to follow. Farms are evaluated on a number of criteria, including production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
The operation began with 35 Jersey milking cows and 220 acres of land, which the Gervaises purchased in 1960. As the family expanded, so did the farm, which is now one of the largest in Franklin County, Vt., and includes three farms--two Holstein dairy farms and a goat and cow dairy with a farmstead cheese making operation and small retail store. Collectively, they milk more than 1,800 cows and grow 3,100 acres of corn and hay. Eleven of the 15 children still work on the farm, a testament to their commitment to agriculture and to family.
The cows are milked three times a day in a double-18 parallel parlor on the home farm and a double-12 parallel parlor on Gervais Family Farm No. 2. Their current rolling herd average is 25,200 pounds, well above breed average, with 3.9 percent butterfat and 3.1 percent protein--numbers that can be attributed to good herd management practices, including selective culling and breeding for good genetics. They ship to St. Albans Co-op, consistently earning quality awards from the co-op for their milk.
The farm's success can be attributed in part to the family's willingness to adopt new ideas and technology. Last year they participated in a pilot project for aerial seeding of cover crops by helicopter and more recently they purchased a dragline system for manure injection to prevent nutrient loss through runoff and put manure at the best depth for the plant to access the fertilizer as the roots reach into the ground. They were also among the first farms in Vermont to sign up with Central Vermont Public Service's Cow Power Program, installing two methane digesters to generate electricity by converting manure into methane to offset their own electric usage and sell back to the grid.
In addition to the dairy operation, family members are involved with sugaring, producing organic maple syrup from 35,000 taps on a vacuum pipeline system. Although most is sold in bulk, some of the syrup is sold locally.
The family's four daughters run Boston Post Dairy in Enosburg Falls. The women produce farmstead cheeses and other value-added products, including goat's milk soap from their herd of 90 Toggenburg, Alpine and Lamancha goats and 80 cows (mostly Holstein, although they are converting to Brown Swiss). Most of their cheeses are distributed throughout the New England states, as well as sold online. Their on-site store provides a local outlet for people to purchase hard and soft cheeses, including Eleven Brothers and Très Bonne.