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Good Pasture Techniques = Good Milk Production

Thank you to Anna Williams, an Organic Valley farmer, for this blog on good pasture techniques. Anna's farm is 3 Sisters' Farm in Truxton, NY.

Shade, water, paddock size, traveling time, pest control, pasture quality, etc. These are all factors to making your cow’s summer either pleasant or painful. The ideal temperature for a dairy cow is between 60 to 70 degrees. Let face it, our summers get much higher than 70F, and a cow can’t strip down into a bikini and jump in the pool to keep cool and happy. The top three techniques to help your cows keep up with their good milk production are: paddock size, water, and pest control.

The size of a paddock depends on many variables: number of animals, grass height, weather conditions, paddock rest period. The paddock has to support every animal that is on it with feed (Dry Matter), space for them to lay down, and leave enough grass behind for it to grow back. Many pasture techniques are tied into the paddock size. The best rule of thumb? The taller the grass the less space, and the shorter the grass the more space is required for the animals.

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Darlings, dogs, and more at Northland Sheep Dairy

Some places just aren’t found by GPS.  I knew to watch for the blushing house at the top of a hill that would mark the spot for Northland Sheep Dairy, so I ignored my GPS warnings that I had “left the designated route” and turned up the gravel drive. It was a spectacular day and I was looking forward to seeing Maryrose Livingston, farmer and also president of NOFA-NY, and her partner Donn Hewes.  I also had another motive for visiting – a few weeks before, Connie the Suffolk mare and Eddie the American Mammoth jack had welcomed a new mule colt– baby boy Bob – and I just had to meet him!

Baby Boy Bob taking a nap. Baby Boy Bob taking a nap.

Northland Sheep Dairy is located in Marathon New York, about 30 miles outside of Ithaca.   The farm can best be described as a collaboration with nature that is part art, part science.  The result is a healthy, tranquil farm that is essentially self- sustaining.  Maryrose is the shepherd and cheesemaker and Donn works the farm with his team of draft horses and mules.  I had tasted some of Maryrose’s delectable raw sheep’s milk cheese in the past (you have not lived until you have some of Maryrose’s Bergère Bleue cheese), and I was eager to see where it came from.  All of her cheeses are hand made from 100% grass fed sheep, and as we meandered up the lane to the meadow, I could see, smell, and feel the terra that created those cheeses – Birdsfoot trefoil, white clover, wildflowers, herbs, mixed grasses and legumes.  The dogs Jack and Miley came along in hopes for a chance to show off their herding skills, but a stern Maryrose said no, so they had to make do with leaning against me for a pat.   The sheep – about 37 ewes, were peacefully resting in the shade of some trees, and when Maryrose called them, they stood up and gingerly came our way, a bit wary of a stranger and the knowledge of those dogs ready to go to work any minute.

As we strolled past the gigantic bleeding hearts, lilacs, and wild roses tumbling along the path back to the barn, Maryrose explained to me that she had come to raising sheep the long way around.  She started with a passion for dairy cows that began after a visit to Ireland at age 9.  Years later, while still pursuing her dairy farming dream, Maryrose and Donn traveled to Europe on a cheese-making research expedition.  During that trip they spent two months on a sheep dairy farm in Timsbury, and that is where Maryrose fell in love with dairy sheep!  After returning from England, they partnered with pioneering dairy sheep farmers Karl and Jane North, and after 5 years of working with the Norths, purchased the property.

[caption id="attachment_50" align="alignright" width="320"] "The darlings" nibble some sweet grass.

Maryrose also humored my hankering to see the mules.  Baby Boy Bob was snoozing so soundly, it was all he could do to raise his head a bit for a photo.  Mom Connie gave me a kindly but stern glance – everyone knows you should never wake a sleeping baby.  Outside, the Percheron mares Lady and Polly graciously accepted a pat while being hitched to the spreader.  In the paddock the gawky mule yearling “Tall Pete” and the stoic elder mule “Uncle George” were being pestered by the lively mule filly Lee, who really was in a “girls just wanna have fun” mood.  Poppa Eddie entertained us with an impressive bray!  Some attention here please!

A chat over a pot of tea with cream, some delectable risotto, and a dish of vanilla ice cream with Donn’s freshly made rhubarb sauce and it was back in the car for me.

Thank you Maryrose and Donn for a wonderful visit!  If you would like more information about Northland Sheep Dairy, you can check out their website at

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