Farmer Friday: Fleury’s Maple Hill Farm, Richford, VT


Fleury’s Maple Hill Farm
Richford, Vermont

You’ll find Fleury’s Maple Hill Farm on 260 rocky hillside acres just a few miles south of the Canadian border. There, Steve and Elizabeth Fleury manage a herd of 35 milkers and 25 replacement cows, as well as a thriving maple syrup business. In both of these endeavors, the Fleury’s concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Their motto has always been “get better, not bigger.”

Their entire herd is made of registered Jersey cattle. “Steve’s grandfather started with Jerseys more than 80 years ago, and they are still our preferred breed,” says Elizabeth, who is known as Betsy. “The size and terrain of our farm has been perfect for Jerseys, which are know to be excellent grazers. They produce milk that is high in butterfat and protein and average a lower body weight than other popular milking breeds. Our barn, which was built in the 1890s is better suited to the smaller breed.”

Maple Hill Farm has won many awards over the years for their stock, milk quality, conservation efforts and other farming practices. In 2008, they were honored as the Franklin County Conservation Farmer of the Year. And in 2012 the Fleury’s received the Vermont Jersey Breeders Association Good Neighbor Award.

Steve and Betsy have two adult sons, Jason and Michael. Both have careers outside the family farm. The Fleury’s acknowledge that the physical, emotional, and financial demands of dairy farming are extraordinary – even for the youngest and strongest farmers. Over the past several years, they have had to decide what will happen in the future, for them and for their beloved herd.

They talked about this difficult decision for this very special Farmer Friday post:

Betsy – “Over this past summer and fall, we have been facing the hardest decision that a dairy farmer has to make – whether or not to sell his cows. After months of hard thought and long emotional discussions, we have decided that we are going to sell our herd. This hasn’t been an easy decision to make, since the farm has been in the family for three generations. However, due to our age and health issues and because we do not have a succeeding generation that wants to continue the farm, we have decided that the best decision for us (and for the cows) is to sell the herd. But because we care deeply about our herd and the cow families that we have created, we want to make sure that they stay together and go to just the right farm. We feel the same way that anyone feels when they have to give up a beloved cat or dog. Anyone who has had to give up a pet due to unavoidable circumstances knows how hard it is to do and how much you want to see that pet go to a good home. Although our cows are farm animals, not pets, to us our herd means just as much. So we are taking the time to find just the right buyer, who will care for them the way we always have done. We will eventually find the perfect match and our herd will have a new home. Until that happens, we will continue to love and look after “our girls”!”

Betsy – “We have been very proud to be one of the farm family members of Agri-mark/Cabot. They are the best example of what a cooperative should be, since the members have a great deal of input into the direction of the Co-op. We have always felt that the management and staff at the Co-op worked for us (the farmer-owners), not us working for them. We sincerely believe that they have always protected the best interests of their farm family members. They have always been accessible to us. We have been able to speak to them personally, from the CEO right on down through the Board of Directors and the office staff, and they would take the time to listen to our ideas and opinions. Over the years, Steve has been quite active in the Cooperative. He started out as a regional Young Cooperators director for 4 years. Then he was a regional representative for numerous years. And he has been the regional secretary for 16 years. In this time, we have come to know the Cooperative’s management, staff, and membership very well. Now that we are selling our herd and leaving the Co-op, we will miss the friendships we have developed through our membership in Agri-mark/Cabot. We have really enjoyed being a part of such a wonderful dairy cooperative.”

We are grateful to Steve and Betsy for sharing their story with us, allowing us to understand not only their connection to the land and the animals that they love, but also to know how important the welfare of their animals will always be.

We still had to ask Steve and Betsy our Farmer Friday questions. Here are their answers in their own words.

What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farmer?

Steve and Betsy – “The cows, of course! If we didn’t love cows, we would be in some other line of work. We both enjoy watching the calves that we have raised from birth grow up into happy, healthy and productive Jersey milking cows. Over the past 40 years, we have created a lot of wonderful cow families whose pedigrees go back for many generations. We are really proud of our maternal cow lines, such as the “F” family that all started with a great old cow named Francine.”

What is your favorite meal?

Steve – “Baked potatoes topped with Cabot cheddar cheese. We microwave the potatoes, split them in half, use a fork to mash some Cabot butter into the potatoes, top with Cabot Cheddar, and microwave again to get the cheese melted. We will make a complete meal out of just a couple of potatoes each. Delicious!”

Betsy – “Macaroni and cheese, made with Cabot Sharp Cheddar, of course!”

What is your least favorite farm chore?

Steve – “Shoveling manure! We have a gutter behind our calves that needs to be cleaned by hand. We also have to shovel the cow gutters when the gutter cleaners aren’t working properly.”

Betsy – “Chasing loose heifers! In the fall, the heifers think the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, so off they go. Heifer round-ups always seem to be a part of our fall chores.”

What is your favorite time of year on the farm?

Steve – “I like the greenness of spring. The grass growing in our pastures and fields and the new leaves popping out on our maple trees are a rejuvenating sight to me. But I also like the colorful foliage that Vermont has in the fall!”

Betsy – “I love spring the best. It is the time when we can let our cows and heifers back out to pasture. It is such a wonderful sight to see them kicking up the heels as they enjoy being outdoors again, then see them settling down to happily munching on the sweet new grass.”


What is one thing you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?

Steve – “I would like them to realize all the care and dedication it takes to raise a calf into a productive dairy cow. It takes approximately two years for a calf to grow up into a milking cow. In that time, the calf has to be provided with comfortable housing, proper nutrition, veterinary health care, and breeding services before she can become part of the milking herd. It is a long process but it is a very rewarding part of being a dairy farmer.”

Betsy – “The public already knows that there are many different styles and methods of dairy farming. There are conventional and organic methods. There are farmers that use tie stall barns and those that use free stall facilities. There are farms where the cows go out to pasture and there are places where the cows stay under a barn roof all the time. There are farms like ours with 35 cows and farms like our neighbor that have 3500. There are Jersey farms with the little brown cows and farms with large black and white Holsteins. I would like the public to know that although dairy farmers have many different styles and methods of farming, we all have the same goals. It is just a matter of personal choice which style of dairy farming that we choose to do. Although our methods may differ, our goals are the same. We all want to produce wholesome and nutritious milk, while managing our land in an environmentally sound manner and caring for our cows in a humane way.”

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