Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
In 2006, I founded Bob-White Systems in order to serve what I recognized to be an emerging market for Micro dairy equipment and supplies. After many years of being involved in all aspects of the dairy industry, I could see that consumer demand for safe and delicious locally produced farm-fresh milk was quickly growing. I believed then, and still believe now, that a Micro dairy is the only consistently viable model that can satisfy that demand. As I begin to wrap up this blog series I want to share my experiences building the Bob-White Systems Micro dairy in Royalton Village, Vermont including the decisions I made and my reasons for doing so.
In 2001, my wife Wendy and I purchased a long-abandoned farmstead consisting of forty acres of abandoned gravel pits, plateaued hillsides and a small mountain that overlooks Royalton Village called The Pinnacle. It is an ancient tract of land first farmed in the late 1700s. Our farmhouse was built in 1798 by Zebulon Lyon, a Revolutionary War veteran and founder of Royalton Village. When we bought the farm, the house had been restored structurally but lacked plumbing, wiring, a well, a septic system, etc.
By the fall of 2002 I had made enough progress restoring the house to start considering restoring the land. We had a two-acre field behind the house that a neighbor hayed so I decided to create more hay land. I started with a two-acre, ugly, played out gravel pit filled with junk and overgrown by brush that coincidentally would become the future site of the BWS Micro dairy barn (then still unimagined). I cleared and burnt the brush by hand and then hired a good bulldozer operator to grade it off. I planted grass and suddenly I had two more acres of pasture/hay land in addition to the two acres directly behind my house.
In 2004, I decided to improve a seven-acre tract of heavily wooded, abandoned pasture land that had been horribly abused by a previous owner. He had logged it several times leaving a thick understory of immature northern hardwood trees and brush. That fall, I hired a local logger to remove the White Pine and Hemlock over-story to release the immature hardwoods. The two acres I cleared in ‘02 became the log landing. The change to the landscape was dramatic. My wife and kids thought that the land would never recover. My neighbors were shocked. But I knew that the land would recover and it has.
Finally, in early 2006, the idea of building a Micro dairy began to creep into my mind as I continued to improve on the seven acres I had logged. I cleaned up the brush and graded the logging roads. The process of thinning out and releasing the young hardwood is ongoing and provides my wife and me with a sustainable source of firewood.
I slowly came to the realization that my farmstead might actually be capable of supporting three or four cows if I kept improving the land. The two go hand in hand – my farmstead needed cows to keep the brush from regrowing and manure to feed the depleted soils. In addition, three or four cows would be able to supply Royalton Village with safe, fresh and delicious locally produced milk. The previous six years had been the first extended period in my adult life that I hadn't had my own cows to tend and I missed the routine so I decided it was time.
Cows need a barn. Deciding where to locate the Micro dairy barn on our land was complicated by the need to have a septic system and a drilled well in reasonably close but legal proximity. I also wanted to keep the barn far enough away from our house so that we could sell it separately if the need arose. The location I chose for the barn is up the hill behind our house where we can't see it from our house. It is reasonably flat, has good access to the driveway and an area to store and compost manure. Royalton has yet to adopt zoning regulations so that was not a consideration.
All of the pieces were in place.
I built the barn on a slab in order to keep costs to a minimum which we started to form and pour a couple of weeks after Labor Day. As soon as the slab cured, my carpentry crew and I started to build the 22' x 36’ wood frame barn. We finished by early December and I was finally able to bring the cows back home. They took to their new home immediately.
The beauty of a micro dairy is that it can be built almost anywhere you can grow grass. You don't need broad expanses of flat farmland – maybe just a good logger and bulldozer operator.
To learn more about how to manage a micro dairy go to bobwhitesystems.com.