If you like to sleep in, dairy farming may not be your first career choice. Walter and Edna Fletcher have about 250 milkers and 300 young stock on their farm in central Maine, and if you happen to be up at 3:30 in the morning, you'll find them in the barn milking their cows. This takes about three hours, and then the real work begins for the day. There's land to plow, crops to plant or harvest, and machinery to maintain until 3:00 rolls around and they do the second milking for the day. Walter usually calls it quits around 6:30 in the evening unless there's still some sunlight left and more harvesting or planting to do.
The Fletchers also pay particular attention to the comfort of the cows. They clean the barn and provide fresh bedding for the cows to lay on every day. This makes life more comfortable for the herd, and they reward the Fletchers with the highest quality milk. Of course, the cows don't take weekends off, so the process goes on seven days a week.
Dairy farming is demanding under the best of conditions, but sometimes it presents unexpected challenges. Like when your barn burns down as it did in February 2010 at the Fletcher farm. With 250 cows that needed milking twice a day and 300 young stock to tend, the Fletcher's neighbors swooped in. They split the herd, took the milkers for ten weeks, fed and milked the cows, and helped the Fletchers build a new barn. Less than three months later, they were operating again at full speed. All it took was a little help from their friends. Says Edna, "That's just the way we do dairy farming in New England. In an odd way, the barn fire showed us how lucky we really are."
Well, luck is usually the residue of hard work, and the Fletchers have done plenty of that. In addition to running their farm, Walter is a member of the Board of Directors at Agri-Mark where he serves as the company's treasurer. This is a big job that requires him to address the concerns of the 1250 farm families in the cooperative and make sure the business stays on course. Edna serves on the board of the Dairy and Nutrition Council of the Farm Bureau.
The Fletcher Farm is in strong hands and looks to stay that way for many years to come. Walter's grandparents and parents worked as dairy farmers, and Walter grew up on a dairy farm. He bought his own spread after working on his uncle's farm for ten years. Now Walter and Edna's son Austin is a partner on the farm, and the time-honored tradition of dairy farmers passing the spread from one generation to the next remains intact for at least one more cycle.