Richardson Family Farm
On 450 verdant acres in Woodstock, Vermont you’ll find the Richardson family as well as their 65 milking cows and 50 young stock. Since 1905, four generations of the family have made dairy farming their lives as well as their livelihood. Today, brothers Gordon operates the farm along with sons Scott and Reid. Each of the mens’ wives are involved in various aspects of the business. Other family members live nearby and there are grandchildren waiting in the wings to take up the mantle of the fifth generation.
Since the farm supports so many people, the Richardsons look to other farm-related revenue streams beyond dairy farming. Each year they produce maple syrup from about 8,200 taps. They also turn out split rail fencing, a mile of which has enhanced the grounds of their fellow Cabot farmers at Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont.
In 2009 the Richardson Family Farm received the New England Green Pastures Award, which made them the Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year. The award is based on the production and quality of the herd, the crop work, and overall appearance of the farm. Obviously, the Richardsons are quite good at what they do. “We treat our animals with great respect and give them the best care possible,” says Gordon.
The family is also active in the community. Amy, Scott’s wife, is a NOFA VT Farm to Community Mentor and local Farm to School coordinator. Scott serves as an Agri-Mark representative, and Reid has held office with the Dairy Herd Improvement Association. Gordon’s brother James and his wife, Ann, were involved with 4-H as their daughters were growing up, and Gordon and his wife, Pat, have served many years on town boards and committees. The Richardson Family Farm is regularly open to schoolchildren throughout the year.
Amy Richardson graciously took time out of her very busy day to give these thoughtful answers to our Farmer Friday questions:
What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farm family?
My favorite thing about being a dairy farm family is that it’s an amazing way to raise a family. Our sons have accompanied both parents around the farm from a very young age, and have learned first hand about operating a family business. Our whole family continues to learn so much just by living here on the farm: seasonal cycles, life cycles, animal husbandry, family collaboration, work ethic, how to be innovative, and how to work hard to produce high quality farm products. The kids are part of a lifestyle that allows them to interact with three generations of family everyday, and to see their parents working together.
What is your family’s favorite meal? Care to share a recipe?
We have lots of favorite meals that vary with the seasons: homemade pizza with lots of cheese; burritos with farm raised meat, veggies, and cheese; homemade soups and stews with farm raised meat, veggies, and cheese on top; various kinds of salads that include homegrown meat, eggs, vegetables, and often cheese on top! During the late summer we make our own pesto with basil, olive oil, toasted nuts, garlic, and Cabot Legacy Collection Alpine Cheddar. Following is a recipe for a favorite side dish:
Aunt Nance’s Scalloped Potatoes:
Butter whatever size casserole dish you want to serve. Layer into the dish thin slices of peeled potato, cover with finely cut onion rings, sprinkle generously with shredded cheddar cheese (the sharper the better). Add salt and pepper to taste. Use as many repetitions of layers as needed to fill dish. Fill until even with top with evaporated milk. Bake at 350* 1 hour or more, until bubbly and brown over top.
What is your least favorite farm chore?
Many kinds of farm chores are essential although not always fun. We spend a lot of time making sure our animals have clean living conditions. We have to do a lot of cleaning up after the cows, but their manure is a precious resource that we save to use later! We take special care of each cow right before and right after she has a calf. We spend lots of time taking care of young calves so they grow well and stay healthy. We pay close attention to the quality and effectiveness of our equipment. We have to work outside during all times of the year, and sometimes even when we don’t feel well ourselves. We have to do many of the same jobs over again every day, that is, every day of the week! Sometimes it seems like the farm work is never quite done even at the end of the day.
What is your favorite time of year on the farm?
Every time of the year is favored for different reasons. Spring is when the ground that appears after snow melts smells wonderful, like earth! And spring is when we see the plants and trees around the farm begin to show new growth, while we are busy in our sugarbush, and sugarhouse. Later spring is time for fixing fences around cow pastures and hayfields and this is a fun way to observe a lot of the farm property. Summer is busy with making hay, tending gardens, and managing groups of cows and calves living in different areas around the farm. We rotate mature cows among pastures for optimal milk production. Fall begins the preparations for winter. We cut firewood for home heating and to use in the sugarhouse. We finish the season of grass management in the fall. Some younger cows stay on pasture until it’s quite cold, but the milking cows move into the freestall to spend their autumn eating TMR (that stands for Total Mixed Ration – a combination of haylage, silage, grain, and minerals) instead of grazing. Winter is usually quite long, but is the favorite season for the kids! We have great hills for skiing, sledding, and playing. This season takes more time to keep all the groups of calves and cows warm, dry, and well fed. Winter can be especially beautiful too, and the animals don’t seem to mind the cold and snow at all as long as they have lots to eat!
What is one thing you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?
One thing that might be interesting to learn about farm life, for those who have no previous experience, is that we work everyday as a team (of sorts) with our cows. As farmers we depend on the good health, strength, and high quality milk production of the cows. The cows on the other hand depend on us to be responsible animal managers and provide them with access to high quality food, water, and shelter. It takes hard work on both sides!