Maple Grove Farm
They are up every morning at 4:30 and work until long after dark. But theirs is a labor of love and the fulfillment of a dream. Earlier this year, Andy Birch and his wife Sarah made a life-changing leap of faith when they quit their jobs and began their lives as dairy farm owners. The young couple started milking their small herd in Andy’s parent’s barn, which had been sitting empty for the past eight years.
Restarting the family farm was the most practical and least expensive way the Birch’s could enter the world of dairy farming. When his parents sold their herd, Andy kept his own cows and boarded them out to neighboring farms. His brother, Jared, did the same and it was these cows that became the basis of Maple Grove Farm’s herd – 18 to start with.
Their path wasn’t easy. Readying a barn that hadn’t been used in so long became the first of many monumental tasks. “It had essentially become a 5,000 square foot storage shed,” Andy recalls. Challenging weather and equipment failures also slowed progress along the way.
The Birch’s persevered and have been shipping milk since May. They are excited about their future on the farm. “This new venture has been overwhelming, fun, terrifying and exciting. Although we have yet to prove ourselves, I have high hopes for our future,” Andy says.
Andy took some time out of his very busy day to answer our questions:
What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farm family?
I love being able to work side-by-side with my wife, Sarah, every day. In our old jobs, we would have days when we didn’t even see each other. Now, we are running our own farm together. Although I am more experienced at dairy farming, she often has good ideas or at least helps as a second set of eyes. Everyone is impressed by the work she does and that she will work by my side all day. Starting a new farm is a challenge, but it is better knowing that we can face every challenge together.
What is your family’s favorite meal? Care to share a recipe?
We really like Baked Haddock with Cheese. We only have it a few times a year, so it is a treat when my Mom makes it. Growing-up, she would make it after evening chores. It is hearty and filling and we don’t usually leave leftovers.
1-1/2 lb haddock fillets
1/4 lb butter
3/4 cup light cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 med sliced onions
1-1/2 cups bread cubed (4 slices)
salt & pepper to taste
Melt butter in frying pan, add onions and cook to tender. Add grated cheese, bread, salt and pepper. Toss lightly with fork. Put fish in baking dish, cover with cheese dressing. Pour cream around sides of fish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Serves 4-5.
My mom notes that this recipe comes from the days when haddock was cheap. Other fish can work just as well.
What is your least favorite farm chore?
Late-night breakdowns are the worst. Twice last month, I was up past 11:00 when we had mechanical failures. First, our milk storage tank stopped cooling properly, which meant an after-hours call to our local dairy equipment company. Second, I jammed our feed mixer and broke a shear pin. Three of us had to climb into it with 1,500 pounds of hay and loosen problem before we could fix the break. When things go wrong in the middle of the night, either I am up late fixing the problem, or I am paying a professional a lot of money to fix it for me.
When morning comes around, the cows still need to be milked and fed on time, regardless of when I went to bed the night before. The cows are priority number one (or number two if my wife is reading this) and I will do whatever I need to to make sure that they are unaffected by whatever else is happening on the farm.
What is your favorite time of year on the farm?
Spring is easily my favorite time of year. The warmer weather and extra hours of daylight are a nice change. Nothing freezes and nothing overheats. It is exciting to let the cows out to pasture for the first time. Spring is when we get our fresh start, when we can open all of the windows in the barn and watch green grass start to grow in the fields that were recently covered with white snow. The land is ripe with potential and the promise of new crops.
What is one thing you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?
Farming is truly a family affair. Although I am only a second-generation farmer, many families have been farming for hundreds of years, sometimes in the same location. Growing-up on a farm was the greatest experience I could have asked for. I was in the barn from the first day my parents bought the farm. I started with a playpen in front of the cows (supervising) and started “helping” my mom feed calves as soon as I learned to walk. Farm kids learn to take care their animals right from the start.
Now, Sarah and I are in the driver’s seat, but my parents are still around to help when they can. They are a valuable resource to help us get started with their knowledge of the land and farm equipment. They always have plenty of advice, whether we ask for it or not. We are all happy to see cows here again and our chances for success are greatly improved by having two generations work together.