At 93 (and a half) years old, Noella Hemond still has a strong hold on the dairy farm she and her husband Roland bought in 1945 in Minot. Her children and grandchildren play important roles in the day to day operations, but when it comes down to the big decisions, Grandma has the final say. And while the grandchildren may not always agree with her decision at the time, in the end, they see the wisdom behind her choices, says granddaughter Laurie Miner, 26.
“The boys will ask for some new piece of equipment, and she’ll say ‘No, you can get by with what you have.’ But that’s how she was able to buy the new milking parlor without taking out loans. Gram saves her money, but she also doesn’t owe the bank,” Laurie says. The parlor was installed one year ago – a DeLaval double 12 parallel rapid exit (it’s as shiny and fancy as it sounds) – an upgrade that improves both production and cow comfort.
Noella oversees usually one major improvement or project on the farm each year, whether it be a new parlor, new free stall area or heifer barn. “She wants to make sure the girls are all content before she joins my grandfather,” Laurie says.
Roland (R.E.), for whom the R.E. Hemond Farm is named, died from cancer in November of 2007. “He worked all that summer on the tractor,” despite having had multiple knee replacements over the years, Laurie adds. “He stopped in mid August. It finally caught up with him. He said, ‘That’s it.’”
When Roland and Noella bought the farm, it came with 25 milking cows. “There were no heifers,” Noella says. “Only cows.” (Heifers are soon to be dairy cows that have not yet had a calf or started their first lactation. Farms will often have as many heifers to be used for replacements once they are old enough as they do cows that are already milking.)
“We’ve stayed around 600 head for the last five years,” says Noella adding that 600 is close to maximum capacity for the farm. “It’s been a slow growth.” She recently met up with a veterinarian who used to visit the farm 20 years ago, and gave him a tour, showing him all the new barns and buildings. “He said, ‘It’s like a village out here.’”
She likes to see the farm produce 100 female calves (heifer calves) each year, a
number that keeps the herd total pretty constant. “But we’ve already had 89 this year (as of July 24), and there will be more.” The Hemonds had 20 heifer calves in one month alone in 2013 and are on pace for about 150-160. And each one gets a name, which is part of Laurie’s job. She often relies on baby name websites and books for ideas.
Both she and her husband came from dairy farm families. She grew up in Poland, Maine. “My dad used to shoe horses and had about a dozen cows. Ninety years ago, there were no big farms like this. If a farmer had 30 to 40 cows, he was a big one,” Noella remembers. “When I was young, everything was done with horses, there were no
tractors.” When the Hemonds started, the farm had its own milk delivery business. It also had “a bunch of old equipment and one horse,” Noella adds. “Slowly, it grew and grew.” They built their first 100-foot cow barn in 1949, and bottled their own milk until 1987, at which time they started shipping to Oakhurst.
The Hemonds had nine children, Laurie’s mother being the youngest. Two boys died before the age of 10, and a girl died in a house fire at age 16 while babysitting her older sister’s children. Laurie’s mother Ann does not work on the farm but owns some of the cows in the herd and continues to be involved. “She’s a really good cow person,” Laurie says. “I call her if I have a question.”
Roland and Noella’s son Rick is the only of their children to work daily on the farm. His son Rob is herdsman and Laurie’s brother DJ also works on the farm, along with his childhood friend and a couple
other employees. The field manager, Tom Cote, has been working with the family for 30 years, since he was 10 years old. The farm produces much of its own feed off 600 acres of land.
Milking starts at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m., taking 3 ½ to 4 hours each milking. The milk truck picks up milk from the R.E. Hemond farm every other day and takes away about 50,000 pounds (close to 5,814 gallons) with each pick up. Cows average 87 pounds of milk per cow per day with their top cow giving 155-160 pounds per day.
It’s Laurie’s job to keep track of those numbers, to make sure each cow is producing at her best. Electronic tags, the new milking parlor and accompanying software make it possible for Laurie to receive all that information as well as cow activity on her desktop. Optimal production means optimal health and comfort. She also tracks heat cycles, who is bred to whom, expected calf delivery dates, cow registrations (most of the herd is registered Holstein with some Jersey and Ayrshire as well), and now genomics as they look to produce top quality milkers.
In honor of the Hemonds’ French Canadian heritage, I made Buckwheat Buttermilk Crepes.
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix ingredients and then ladle a small amount (about 4 tablespoons) for each crepe onto a hot, buttered skillet. It’s thinner than pancake batter, so it will spread for a large, thin crepe. Flip when batter starts to bubble and cook evenly on the other side. Remove from heat and top with fresh berries, a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup.