Success Stories Stults Farm Piece by Piece By Melissa Hemken | New Hampshire
Piece by Piece
By: Melissa Hemken
Things have been happening at the Swain Farm in Sanbornton, N.H. David and Elaine Swain own and operate the family-run, diversified dairy farm and milk 60 head of primarily Holsteins with a few Jersey cows. Additionally, they raise beef, swine, poultry, and maple syrup, and will soon have their own fresh, hormone-free, raw and pasteurized milk, bottled and sold at the farm.
Betsey Keefe, the Swain's daughter, is teaching art at a local school while helping her parents improve cow comfort and manage the fourth-generation farm. Matthew Swain, Betsey's brother, although busy with his own endeavors on his own farm helps with the crops, maintaining farm equipment and assisting in updating the farm. The Swain family recently built a new hoop building to feed in as well as use as a loafing shed.
The comfort barn was constructed through a N.H. Department of Environmental Services grant in cooperation with the Belknap County Conservation District and protects the feed alley and minimizes manure runoff. Along with these improvements they put in a milking parlor called a walk-through parlor that fits into their existing stanchions barn without major reconstruction or any new construction.
"Fifty years ago the cows were smaller, so these updates were badly needed to improve cow comfort," says Betsey Keefe.
"It' hard when you have been milking 60 years to change to a new method as my parents have and I am so proud of my parents for do so. We are already seeing an increase in milk production, healthier cows, and a decrease in the amount of work for us with the improvements."
The Swain family is working toward pasteurizing and bottling their own milk to sell. The improvement of their cows' comfort and general farm management are geared toward bottling the finest, freshest milk. When they sell their milk they want their customers to come see where their milk comes from and find comfort in knowing they are buying the best.
"It is definitely a slow investment," Keefe says. "We've doing it piece by piece. We decided to pay for everything as we go so that slows the process. It would be nice to have everything done at once, but this way keeps us from getting ahead of ourselves. We have seen so many farmers go under with the huge debt they have to pay after all the improvements."
The Swain family has received business planning assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) North Country Resource Conservation and Development's (RC&D) Agriculture Innovation Project. Funds with match-in-kind have helped develop their manure system, drainage, and the barnyard design.
Their focus while evaluating their farm operation was to increase efficiency of the dairy. Through the business planning study they have improved dairy management and cow comfort through physical and technological improvements, the purchasing of milk production equipment for pasteurizing and bottling, and enhanced David and Elaine's management responsibilities.
"We are using brewer's grain from Anheuser-Busch, a wonderful addition to our cows daily ration of feed." Keefe says. "The grain is a by-product of making beer and has been working fantastic. We get it from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Merrimack, N.H."
The Swains have been working with the NRCS to plan and implement a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan including an Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contract to expand their manure management system. Because the cows now spend more time in the covered feed lot the on-farm distribution of manure has shifted necessitating increased manure storage. The system also includes collecting manure and routing to a leech field.
The Swain farm was founded in 1946 by Frank and Josephine Swain, David's parents, who moved to the farm after owning a general store in Winnisquam, N.H. Frank started the farm with a dairy herd and diversified by selling beef, wood, maple syrup and other seasonal crops that are still grown today. Elaine's parents owned a nearby dairy farm; the Dearborn Homestead, which today is part of the Swain farm.
The Swain family plans to continue to develop the bottling facility, add new structures such as calving pens, dry cow areas and baby calf pens. They hope to also increase their weekly milk sales and expand their market from direct on the farm sales to local independent stores, farmers' markets and restaurants.
The future looks bright for the Swain Farm as the family seeks to stay relevant in today's agriculture market as well as incorporate conservation practices in their operation.