Duane Howes never thought of giving up the family farm, but he did stop milking cows for several years until his son, Eric, asked if they could start again. Eric is the fifth generation of Howes to work on the Vermont farm and he hopes that at least one of his three children will fall in love with farm life like he and his father before him. “Eric was always my shadow. He wanted his kids to grow up with cows like he did. I bought them for the grandkids,” Duane explains. During the farm’s cow-free years, Eric admits it was nice to have a break from twice-daily milking, but, “It was like a piece had been taken out of the puzzle. The barn was empty and I realized I really missed the cows. I wanted my kids to have what I had. Growing up on the farm, you really do understand life. You see it coming and going.”
Father and son share an appreciation of many aspects of farming but they are particularly engaged by equipment and machinery. “If it breaks, we can generally fix it,” says Duane. “We can handle it.” This is a good thing because, beyond milking and tending to their small herd of about two-dozen cows, the Howes each run other machinery-dependent businesses: plowing and sanding in winter, cutting logs to send to local pulp and saw mills, mowing lawns in summer and selling hay to other farmers.
This diversity and the support of Duane’s wife and Eric’s mom, Sherri, have been critical to provide a livelihood for both families without expanding the size of the herd, which would require significant investment in more land, new facilities and employees. The size is just right for them to manage with minimal help, working together but also independently on their side businesses. “Everybody looks up to their dad. If don’t, they should,” Eric says. “That doesn’t mean we always agree, but he’s run this business very well.”
Duane can see the day in the future where Eric will take over but he’s committed to staying active, “till I can’t go to the barn anymore,” he says with a chuckle. He’s still learning and seeing new rewards. “It’s probably taken me 50 years, but I realize it more and more now,” Duane says. “When I’m up on the tractor in the field, I can see Mount Mansfield to Camel’s Hump and south to Sugarbush, that whole panorama. And it’s so beautiful, it just doesn’t seem like such hard work.”