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Julie Wolcott and neighbor visiting in the sugar house.

Green Wind Farm, Fairfield, VT

Owned & Operated By Julie Wolcott & Steve MacCausland

Added May 31, 2017.

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin

“We came here in the spring of 1979 with two draft horses plus some goats,” explained Vermont dairy farmer Julie Wolcott. The farm recently transitioned to organic after three decades of shipping conventional milk. Green Wind Farm is located in the town of Fairfield, 50 miles northeast of Burlington. Neither Julie nor her partner Steve MacCausland came to it with a farming background but each had a deep respect for the land.

They sought, Julie said, “a land-based lifestyle with a focus on food self-sufficiency.” It’s easy to imagine them lugging a crate full of books into their farm house--perhaps a copy of Putting Food By, Living the Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing, or Eric Sloan’s A Reverence for Wood.

“Our farm is limited by its soil types and pitch,” Julie explained about the farm which has grown from its original eighty eight acres to its current three hundred. 84 of the 300 acres are pasture and 47 are for hay. The balance is in woods which are managed for their maple syrup operation. The farm is at an elevation of 800 feet and is extremely rocky. “There is no prime agricultural soil on this farm,” Julie said.

A square bale farm, Green Wind averages 6,000 bales per year.

Despite the lack of soil on most of these iconic hillside Vermont farms, small dairies remain at the core of Vermont’s culture, heritage, and economy. Of Vermont’s roughly 1,000 dairy farms, 82% are milking less than 200 cows. 5% of the milk in Vermont is certified organic according to the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council.

Although their property was a former dairy, Steve and Julie’s primary vision was to develop and manage the acreage as a maple syrup operation. Historically, the maple business has grossed about twice what the dairy has. In 2017, their 4,000 taps produced over 2,000 gallons of syrup. The sugarhouse burns about 30 cords of wood a season which they harvest from their woods. (The farm house burns another 10.) They also maintain extensive gardens, have a home-scale orchard, and raise pigs, layers, and broilers for personal use.

“We migrated towards the dairy business because the property had a structurally sound post and beam barn,” Julie said. “We thought we might as well board some heifers and then ended up trading a few in exchange for raising them.” Jerseys became the foundation of their herd.
“Dairy and maple syrup seem to complement each other well in terms of seasonal work,” commented Julie on Vermont’s long standing maple and dairy traditions. “It’s farmers taking advantage of what is in their backyards and managing the resource well.” Julie handles the primary responsibilities of the dairy and Steve focuses on forest management and sugaring.

Julie walking their draft horses.

In the early 80’s, there was a large group of registered Jersey herds in this corner of northwest Vermont. While they were busy raising heifers and a young family and sugaring, Julie and Steve also began buying day old heifers. When they eventually had 12 in milk, they began shipping. (Currently they have 25 milkers.) Some of their original heifers came from the well-known Gates Farm and with them the farmer gave a subscription to the Jersey Journal. “It started us on a registered path which we still maintain,” Julie said.

The herd has been closed for 15 years, relying exclusively on AI for breeding. They have always used Genex and Julie said they have “tried to improve deficiencies of the dam through AI by selecting for udder traits above all, and then protein and fat.”

Green Wind Farm shipped its first load of organic milk to Stonyfield on January 22, 2017. The land base has been managed organically for 25 years which enabled them to transition the herd in 12 months. In terms of organic land management, Julie said that they have always been there philosophically, but they “resisted transitioning the herd earlier because we felt we wanted all the tools we could have to keep our animals healthy.” This was especially a concern because through the 1980’s and 90’s they depended on selling registered stock that had high production records. If a vet said that a cow needed a prohibited treatment, they were not willing to forgo it and be faced with culling a valuable dairy cow.

On the decision to transition to organic, Julie said, “We needed a change for the next generation. Things had become a bit stagnant. We wanted to maximize the financial potential of the dairy and see what type of income an organic dairy of this size could generate.”

The 300 acre Vermont farm is located 50 miles northeast of Burlington.

The 12-month transition has been straightforward but has required some management changes that primarily affected their young stock. Young stock needed outdoor winter access and they also had to begin grazing at a younger age. Julie had eliminated the use of antibiotics many years prior to the transition, but she said the one conventional tool she misses is Lutalyse for treating cystic cows. Julie also commented that the initial certification paperwork was a bit cumbersome but she expects it will be much easier going forward.

“It is not clear,” Julie responded about the future of the dairy. “No one is fully embracing it at this point.” Julie hopes that the boost in pay price to $42/cwt. will allow the farm to hire a full-time milker and make the dairy more attractive to their children. “Our goal,” she said, “is to keep the herd and the land healthy so that it is in great shape for whatever the future of the farm is.”
Steve and Julie have four children between the ages of 28 and 37. Their daughter and son-in-law, Naomi Wolcott-MacCausland and Sebastian Castro-Tanzi, live on the farm and manage five milkings a week. (Steve stopped milking six years ago.) Their son Seth and his family live in Burlington but spend a significant amount of time at the farm helping with haying, fencing, and sugaring. Seth markets 90% of Green Wind’s organic maple syrup along with several other Vermont-made food products through his distribution network named Pumpkin Village Foods.

The future of the dairy may be unclear, but due to a commitment to record keeping, the past is not. Green Wind has nearly 30 years of DHIA records and can track generations of cow and calf families. The rolling herd average is 14,802 pounds with butterfat at 5.2, protein at 3.7, and a noteworthy somatic cell count of 52,000.

“I work very hard at maintaining a low somatic cell count,” Julie said. “Whenever a cow comes back with a SCC of over 100,000, I do a CMT test and figure out which quarter is high. If the CMT tests shows a super high count, we quarter milk it until it gets back in line.”
Julie explained that seven years ago, 1/3 of the herd tested positive for Staph Aureus. Because of this, she always cultures individual quarters which test positive on the CMT paddle. Staph Aureus continues to present itself in the herd but Julie finds that it is generally only in one quarter. These cows are milked as three-titters. If a cow tests positive for Staph Aureus in more than one quarter, she is culled from the herd.

The farm milks 25 registered Jerseys.

The milkers are diligent about prepping the udder prior to milking and she feels this also contributes to her low SCC. They use a 1% iodine-based pre-dip. Cows are dipped, fore stripped, dipped again, and then wiped. They post-dip with a barrier dip. High-count cows are milked last.
All of the animals at Green Wind are under the same roof of the iconic late-1880’s Vermont barn. Steve is a wood worker and both he and Julie hold a reverence for their piece of architectural simplicity and durability. Julie and Steve made a deliberate decision early in their dairy career to remain small and Julie said, “Our barn is a big part of what originally attracted us to this property, and the size of the barn naturally limited the size of the herd.”

The barn has been improved over time. Headlocks were replaced by comfort stalls. In the late 1980’s a barn chain was added, and a pipeline in the late 1990’s. Three years ago, they began installing Pro-Mats in the milk cow stalls and last year added them to their heifer stalls. In order to accommodate NOP regulations, they recently added a turn-out area to the barn to provide outdoor access to their young stock during the winter. It is managed as a bedded pack.

Their appreciation for tradition is also represented in their forage program. For their first four years, Julie and Steve used horse power to put up loose hay for the heifers they were boarding, but as they transitioned to wholesale milk production they invested in a line of equipment. The farm still relies on dry square bales. 6,000 square bales are stacked in their overhead hay mow each year- roughly 2/3rd is first cut and 1/3rd is second cut.

On the continued use of square bales Julia said, “We like having our feed in one place. We don’t want to have to start up a tractor every day in the winter. Winter time is really pleasant in the barn if you don’t have to struggle with the weather.” The first and second crop dry hay is supplemented with a custom blend grain ration of 10-26 pounds depending on production. Grain is fed separately five times a day- before and after each milking and an afternoon feeding.
Influenced early in their career by Andre Voison and Bill Murphy (author of Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence), the farm is long accustomed to grazing. Early on, they began building lanes and setting up a water system so that now, “the cows have really good access to most of our pastures,” Julie said. The milk cows get a new piece of ground every 24 hours. Some paddocks are two-day pieces but with an NRCS grant, they plan to add some more permanent lanes which will allow them to break up the multi-day paddocks.

Steve MacCausland

In 2016, the farm began grazing their young stock six months and up. The NOP grazing standard calls for 30% dry matter intake from pasture beginning at six months. “It was the first that I ever had animals that young on pasture,” Julie said. “I kept them on their own rotation. They had a new paddock every two or three days.” Supplementing the pasture with 2 pounds of grain per heifer each day, she said, “kept these heifers interested in me and made moving them a lot easier.” Julie was concerned with how this group of young cows would adapt to the pasture program, but ultimately, she said she was very pleased with their growth.

Green Wind used a leader/follower system for many years, but Julie felt that the heifers were being short-changed. Three years ago, they instituted a separate rotation for their heifers. “We have a few remote pastures that are difficult to access,” Julie said. “It seemed like the only time our heifers gained weight is when they had these pastures to themselves.” This group of animals is not fed any grain during the grazing season but gets a small amount during the winter, mostly as a medium for administering minerals.

Always eager to further her grazing knowledge, Julie said she was one of the first people to sign-up for On-Pasture, the web-based grazing publication created by Kathy Voth and Rachel Gilker. In 2004, Kathy created a method for training cows to eat weeds, and has trialed her weed eating program at Green Wind.

“Using Kathy’s advice, I introduced a variety of textures and tastes to some heifers over a period of two weeks,” Julia said.

“They were fed eight different grains during that time period- anything from cornmeal to alfalfa pellets. We did it at the same time every day.”

At the end of the period, Julie introduced this group of heifers to burdock, knapweed, thistle, and yellow dock. All are problematic weeds at Green Wind. The cows, now conditioned to a wide array of tastes and textures, began to eat the weeds. “It was incredible,” Julie exclaimed. Thistle and knap weed populations have diminished, but Julie acknowledged she lacks the critical mass of trained cows which might help further eliminate the weeds. Julie encouraged farmers to resource Voth’s book Cows Eat Weeds as well as web-based On Pasture.

Julie is grateful for the vast amount of resources available on-line and through books but she also expressed the great appreciation she has for her local community. “This is a vibrant agricultural community of large and small farms, conventional and organic. I think this area even has the highest concentration of organic farms in Vermont.”

“We have an incredible community in this part of Vermont,” Julie went on. “There is support for our farms across all sectors of the population. I don’t think there could be a better place to have a farm. The fact that there is so much appreciation makes a huge difference in the desire to keep going.”

Julie Wolcott and Steve MacCausland can be reached at gwfarm@vtlink.net, 802-933-4592 and the farm’s address is Green Wind Farm, 1345 Northrop Road, Enosburg Falls, Vermont 05450.