It was a cold, cold blustery day in February when I went to the Field Farm in Auburn for a visit, but fourth generation dairy farmer Glen Field and his wife Jess were happy to take the time to show me around the farm.
Glen Field thought he was through with the 24/7 work of a dairy farmer. “I wanted an 8 to 5 job with weekends off,” he said.
The youngest of eight Field children raised on an Auburn dairy farm started by his mother’s grandparents, Glen went to school to become a diesel mechanic. His mother became ill with cancer, and with no children wanting to be dairy farmers, his father George sold off the herd just days before Glen’s mother died in November 1999 as a means to pay the bills and mortgage.
Glen took a job as a diesel mechanic, but it didn’t take long for him to miss the fresh air and open spaces of farm life. “I got sick of working inside all day,” he said. He convinced his father to start up the dairy farm again, starting with eight heifers (young cows before their first calving) in the summer of 2001. By the time Glen married in 2007, the herd was up to 30-40 cows. They have now rebuilt to 120 cows with about half that number milking at any time, producing 3500 pounds of milk (about 407 gallons) a day. Their milk usually goes to Cabot. And Glen still has plenty of opportunities to use his skills as a diesel mechanic, working on farm equipment and tractors.
His brother George Jr. returned to the farm last October and has been working alongside Glen; and Glen’s wife Jess is in charge of the milking and taking care of the calves. Growing up, Jess admits she was a “girly-girl”, gravitating toward frilly pink dresses and ribbons and bows. Dairy farming was “totally alien to me,” she said. “Anyone who knew me as a kid can’t believe what I’m doing.” Although, she adds, she did learn that she has dairy farming in her family history.
She immediately took to the lifestyle. “Glen showed me how to milk and it became my job,” she said. “I love it. I love the animals, especially the calves. That’s my favorite part.”
Working with the same cows every day obviously causes Jess to become attached to them, but some stand out more than others. Like Strawberry – a 14 year old red and white Holstein who has lived her entire life on the farm. “She’s had nine or 10 calves and outlived three of her daughters,” Jess said. And then there is Jess’ Dutch Belted calf (people are probably more familiar with the Belted Galloway beef cows that are colored like Oreo cookies – black with a white stripe around the middle, but the milking version is much less common). The calf was a product of artificial insemination, the bull semen for which was a birthday gift from Glen.
“I always wanted a panda cow,” Jess said. Out of six calves, only one of the Dutch Belted was a female. (A red Dutch Belted heifer was born in March after my visit.)
Most of the cows on the Field Farm are Holstein and Jersey, which were added when George Jr. returned to the farm. The farm encompasses 200 acres and produces much of the feed for the cows. George Sr. is thankful that two of his sons returned to the farm. “I’m lucky that I have sons who wanted to farm,” he said.
George Sr., who is originally from nearby Lewiston, says his father wanted him to be a farmer from a young age. “When I was 7 years old, he started me with chickens.” Then came the pigs and 150 sheep by the time he went to college. His family always had two or three milk cows and beef cows, and he milked cows while a student at the University of Maine. His wife was born and brought up on the farm, and they bought it from her parents when George got out of the service. He has since remarried, and his wife is a retired dairy farmer in Canada. She still owns her farm, and the land is leased by soy bean farmers. The couple travels back and forth, splitting their time between the two farms.
Since April is grilled cheese month, I thought I would offer up a suggestion for a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. I can’t do anything plain though – we’re talking gourmet grilled cheese here. So, in honor of the Dutch Belted, I used a Dutch cheese – Gouda.
Gouda, bacon, pear and caramelized onion grilled cheese sandwich (2 servings)
4 slices of bread (try a light rye, oatmeal or a 7-grain bread)
1 pear, thinly sliced
4-6 slices of bacon
1 small to medium onion
4 thick slices of creamy Gouda cheese
Sautee your onions until they are good and brown in some butter (add balsamic vinegar for a little extra something), then build your sandwich – a slice of bread, a slice of cheese, bacon, pear, onion, another slice of cheese, second slice of bread. Butter both sides of the sandwich and grill til nice and buttery crisp.