It was two years ago August that Heather and Brian Richardson were married on the Massachusetts farm his grandparents bought in 1961. “The cows were grazing right below us on lush summer pasture,” Heather recalls, noting that the couple’s wedding photos include their bovine bridesmaids.
Although Heather did not grow up on a dairy farm like her husband, the two met when they were young 4-H’ers showing animals. “I’ve known I wanted to be in dairy since I was 12,” she says. The friends lost touch after Heather headed off to Virginia Tech to study dairy science and then took a job running a 500-cow dairy in Delaware. They reconnected through Heather’s dad who hauled milk from the Richardson’s Rocky Acres Farm.
The two established their relationship long-distance before Heather moved home with a trailer of 14 cows. “It cost more money to move my cows home than me,” she says with a laugh. Some of those cows and their offspring are now integrated into the Richardson herd of about 48, almost all registered Holsteins with a handful of Jerseys and Brown Swiss.
Heather and Brian manage the animals while Brian’s parents, Bob and Marty, keep the books and do all the field work on the roughly 200 acres of grazing land and hayfields. Heather also works for another nearby 300-cow dairy.
The farm’s rocky terrain not only earned Rocky Acres its name, but also contributed to the family’s seasonal, pasture-based approach on the hilltop farm. “You’ve got to farm the land you have,” Heather explains. “All the rocks make growing corn tough so we make the most of the grass-growing season this way. And it’s a challenge to get the milk truck up that hill in winter.”
This time of year is extra-busy with calving from March through April; the couple is expecting about 50 babies (of the cow variety). “We do barn checks through the night,” Heather explains. “Depending on how the cows are looking, it might be once or twice a night or once an hour. Sometimes we’re out there in a chair with a blanket all night.”
Even through this lack of sleep, Heather says, it’s all good. “It’s just so intrinsically in me to love this,” she says. “I love the cows, breeding them and watching them develop. I love being outside in the fresh air and being stewards of the land. I love having the opportunity to harvest such a high quality product that feeds people. And I also love being able to work side by side with my husband, working towards the same goals and sharing in our triumphs and tribulations.”
“It’s been such a blessing to be able to become a part of Brian’s family farm,” Heather adds. “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to buy a farm for myself. He loves the farm and the land and wants it to be here always. We feel so grateful that we have a farm we can call our own and that it’s been in his family for a few generations, too.”
Rocky Acres recently won the Overall Top Quality Producer Award for the best milk quality record among all of the 1,000 cooperative members that own Cabot. The benchmarks set by the co-op far exceed any state or federal standards. While high milk quality means that the finest possible star ingredient is going into the World’s Best Cheddar among other Cabot products, it also means that farmers are paying the most meticulous attention to keeping their herd comfortable, optimally fed and healthy. Cabot farmers know that if they do the best for the cows, they will give the best back.
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).