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Hall family named 2017 Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year
July 16, 2017

More than a month has passed since the Hall family got word their farm was selected the 2017 Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year, but the mere mention of it still brings joy to Ricky Hall and his sister Clara Ayer.

Fairmont Farm“I thought it was great,” said Hall, 27, while sitting in the driver’s seat of a white pickup at Fairmont Farm, which his family owns and operates in East Montpelier. “It was awesome. We were excited about it.”

The New England Green Pastures Program sponsors the award, which annually recognizes an outstanding dairy farm in each of the region’s six states

In Vermont, the University of Vermont Extension Service and the Vermont Dairy Industry Association present the award to a farm that demonstrates overall excellence in dairying. A judging team consisting of past award winners chooses the recipient. Winners are based on such criteria as herd performance, milk quality, crop production, conservation practices and ongoing promotion of the dairy industry.

The Halls have checked all those boxes at Fairmont Farm. Ricky Hall’s parents, Richard and Bonnie, and their nephew Tucker Purchase own the third-generation, 1,600-head operation that includes two farms in East Montpelier — The Farm and The Haven — and another in Craftsbury, called The Dairy.

“The award was quite an honor,” said Ayer, 29. “We are all just really happy and proud to be recognized among other farmers in Vermont.”

Fairmont Farm was started in 1992. At the time, the family and Richard Hall’s neighboring parents, John and Donna Hall, were each milking between 50 and 100 cows. So was another nearby farmer, Austin Cleaves, who won the Dairy Farm of the Year Award in 1989.

To ensure the farm would grow for another generation, the Halls combined their farms into one.

Purchase, a Cornell University graduate, became co-owner in 2005 after returning to Montpelier from managing a large dairy herd in California.

“A lot of people went into diversification to try and become more profitable,” Ayer said. “My relatives’ way was through growth. It’s a success story and it’s something I’m really proud of.”

Forty full-time and part-time employees work on the farm, which produces 13,850 gallons of milk daily for the Cabot Creamery Cooperative facility in Cabot.

“These impressive numbers can be attributed to excellent management and both their feeding and breeding programs,” said UVM Extension’s Tony Kitsos.

About 85 percent of the herd are registered Holsteins. The Halls use top genetics to raise their own replacements and will start selling their animals, for the first time, in 2018.

“That’s Ricky’s pet project. He’s all over it,” Ayer said.

The Halls crop 3,600 acres. About 1,700 acres are conserved through the Vermont Land Trust. They also produce their own haylage and corn silage.

At The Farm, employees milk 900 cows on a three-times-daily schedule in a double-15 parallel milking parlor. Another 500 are milked in a double-8 parallel parlor at The Dairy. High genomic and show animals are kept at The Haven, where 65 cows are milked twice a day in a tie-stall barn with a pipeline system.

With monitoring, calves feed themselves 24/7 on a tube-and-nipple system that carries whole milk not meant for shipping.

Calf comfort matters to the Halls. The calf barn, built in 2011, has a new ventilation system that continuously circulates fresh air. Outside curtains help control temperature.

Kitsos commented about the Halls in a prepared statement upon announcing the award: “The Halls take pride in being good stewards of the land, continually looking for ways to prevent erosion and nutrient run-off while improving soil health and crop yields. Over the years they have grown their operation into a top-notch dairy, well-deserving of this award, one of the highest honors bestowed on a Vermont dairy producer.”

In 2016, Fairmont Farm started using a pipeline system to spread manure on fields, or they inject it into the soil. They also work to minimize soil compaction and are testing different cover crop mixes, including the addition of peas and triticale to seedlings, to boost first-cut yields.

“The farm’s forward-thinking approach to conservation is another reason that they were selected as the Dairy Farm of the Year,” Kitsos said. “They were an early adopter of no-till cultivation, which allows them to grow crops with minimal soil disturbance, and are experimenting with different ways to improve their manure handling.”

Community engagement is important to the Halls. Richard Hall is one of the founding members of the relatively new Vermont Dairy Producers Alliance, an organization that gives farmers a voice in regulatory and legislative matters. The Halls also hosted 1,200 people for a “Breakfast On the Farm” event in June, and they co-organize an on-farm day camp for local students ages 6 to 12.

The family has also been involved with 4-H since 2009 when Richard and Bonnie Hall’s youngest daughter, Isabel, was 8.

Isabel Hall is now 16 and looking at colleges. She said she is unsure if she wants to stay at Fairmont Farm but she wants to work in the dairy industry.

Ayer and Ricky Hall are both Cornell graduates. They returned to Fairmont Farm after leaving and working elsewhere in the field.

Hall was a classifier for Holstein Association USA while Ayer worked for Yankee Farm Credit.

They are both happy to be back at Fairmont Farm, and they are excited at the prospect to own and run it some day.

“I always thought that this is where I’d end up eventually,” Ricky Hall said.

 Leon Thompson is a freelance writer in Vermont.

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