In an era when many farmers are going bigger to survive, Mike and Heidi Dolloff have kept cow numbers and milk quality consistent, which helps ensure that their 160-cow Holstein farm in Springfield, Vt., remains both sustainable and profitable. They pay meticulous attention to detail, whether in selection of herd genetics or improving crop yields or cow comfort, never losing sight of their goal to keep this a viable family farm that they can pass onto the next generation.
Their strong independent work ethic combined with a passion for dairying has led to success for this Windsor County farm. And, most recently, to its recognition as the 2014 Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year.
Since 1961 this coveted award has been presented annually to an outstanding dairy farm by University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in cooperation with the New England Green Pastures Program. Nominated farms, all exemplary dairy operations, are evaluated on herd, pasture and crop management; production records; pasture quality; conservation practices and contributions to the dairy industry and the local community, among other criteria.
"They are a testament that small 80-cow dairies can not only survive in Vermont, but be profitable as well if they are as well-managed as this farm," says Tony Kitsos, state coordinator for UVM Extension's Farm Viability Enhancement Program and coordinator for this awards program. "The judges were particularly impressed with how well they had built their assets up in just 17 years."
In September, the Dolloffs will head to Eastern States Exposition in W. Springfield, Mass., to give a presentation about their operation and be recognized along with the five other New England state winners. They also will be honored at the Vermont Farm Show in Essex Junction, Vt., next January.
Other finalists for this year's award, listed alphabetically, were Robert Foster and family (Foster Brothers Farm), Middlebury and Steve and Brian Jones (Joneslan Farm), Hyde Park.
Both Mike and Heidi grew up on dairy farms in New Hampshire, developing a love for farming at an early age. Their mothers went to college together, and Mike later worked on Heidi's mother's farm in Putney, Vt. When that 300-cow farm was auctioned off in 1997, the couple, who managed their own small herd on the farm, chose not to sell their 30 head but rather to start their own dairying operation, which they named Dolloff Acres Farm.
They bought a 102-acre property that had stood empty since the previous owner sold off his herd through the whole-herd dairy buyout program in 1986. They faced numerous challenges, including bringing the existing barn and milking parlor up to code as well as constructing additional animal housing and bunker silos.