Former Shrewsbury resident creates award-winning dairy farm in Vermont
By Mary Pritchard, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Bob and Laurie Grenon never envisioned themselves as farmers, yet the couple has created an award-winning dairy farm from scratch.
Bob, who grew up in Worcester and Shrewsbury, is a Special Education teacher at Troy School, and Laurie, originally from North Troy, Vt., is a guidance coordinator at North Country Career Center.
“I never planned to be a farmer,” Bob said. “After we moved to Vermont in 2003, I was looking for something to do that I’d never done before. I began working some hours at a local farm, and I loved it.”
After deciding he wanted to become a dairy farmer, Bob arranged a bartering agreement with two farmers to work nights and weekends in exchange for animals.
“I was thrilled that they accepted my offer to trade my time for animals. I learned so much from them. They were my mentors and I was an apprentice.”
The couple purchased their farm in North Troy in June of 2007 and created Red Clover Ridge Dairy.
“Our first batch of heifers showed up that October,” Bob said. “Our land hadn’t been farmed for seven years. Fences were down and equipment was damaged. I rebuilt all the fences myself, and had to do extensive work to make the barn functional again.”
The couple takes pride in their organic farm. “Organic means we use no antibiotics for any reason, we treat our cows with approved organic treatments only, we use no chemical fertilizers on our hayfield and no pesticides or herbicides,” Bob said. “There are rules about animal welfare which is good for the cows. For example, in the winter we have to document that our cows have a certain amount of time outside the barn each day for exercise and stretching; conventional cows can be inside all the time.”
The Grenons began with seven cows milking and now have 17 out of 38 cows milking.
“Many people aren’t aware of how dairy farming works,” Laurie said. “People certainly know that milk comes from cows, but often don’t know the process.”
According to Bob, heifers are young cattle that haven’t had a calf yet.
“When the heifer is 15 months old, a breeder comes in for artificial insemination,” Bob said. “In nine months a calf is born, and the cow is producing milk. The cow is milked for ten months, dried off for two months, and the cycle continues with the cow giving birth again.”
The Grenons’ farm is part of the national farmer-owned Organic Valley Co-op and their milk is shipped directly to Stonyfield Farm, whose products are on local store shelves. They have received several awards, including the Organic Valley Producers Gold Quality Award in 2010 and 2011, the National Mastitis Council National Dairy Silver Quality Award in 2010 and 2011, and Top Quality Producer for 2009 and 2010 by National Farmers Organization.
“There’s no typical day on the farm. We walk into the barn and never know what we’ll find – loose cows, broken equipment or fences,” Bob said. “The alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. and we’re in the barn by 5 for chores. I’m at school from 7:45 to 3:45, back at the barn until 7 p.m., then dinner, shower and sleep. Wake up, repeat.”
Laurie helps with the chores every morning.
“It astonishes me that he loves this enough to do the work involved twice a day, every day – he does this because he wants to and I’m doing it for him,” Laurie said. “The hardest part is never having a day away. We can’t call in sick, take a vacation, or close for holidays – there is no Thanksgiving and Christmas off.”
The couple plans to be milking 20 to 25 cows by spring.
“The cows aren’t pets; they have no ability to form a relationship or bond like a dog or cat. Their primary focus is eating; however, we name each one and for us, they’re part of the family.”
“Starting a dairy from nothing has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life, by far,” Bob said. “The learning curve has been steep and merciless. However, the personal satisfaction and pride that comes from building something with your own determination can’t be overstated. Working on the farm is every day – no exceptions. With this commitment comes pride, because the farm is a reflection of the farmer and vice versa; the two are intertwined. We’re happy to be able to produce high-quality milk utilizing organic production methods. We feel this is the only way to care for the animals and the farm. We work hard to have healthy soil, healthy cows and healthy milk.”
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