Holterholm Farms: The Happiest Cows on Earth
Farmer Adam Holter Continues the Family Farm Legacy With 3a.m. Wake-up Calls and A Cold Quart of Milk
Adam Holter and his father, Ron, of Holterholm Farms are tilling the path to success with their farming practices in Maryland. I had the privilege of spending the day on the farm with Ron, Adam and his wife Kristin, to learn about a typical day on the farm and to milk my first cow, of course!
Since 1889, generations of Holters have been farming on their land in Jefferson, MD. Things have changed dramatically from the first farming practices back then, including the decision to go organic. Holterholm Farms is one of the only organic farms in Maryland, which Ron and Adam are trying to change by spreading the word about the benefits of going organic. In 2005, Holterholm Farms converted to organic and became a member of the Organic Valley farmer-owned cooperative. Holterholm Farms sits upon 207 acres, where 130 Jersey cows and a small, organic, all-pasture Hereford herd of 12 cows graze contentedly.
Although the farm is known for the dairy, the Herefords should not be overlooked. I purchased 1/4 of one of their happy cows, and have been enjoying it all year long thanks to Hemp's Meats for the perfect portioning and packaging. You can find the different cuts from one of their cows used in my recipes. I encourage all of you to invest in purchasing meat directly from the source - you know exactly where it came from, what it ate, and how it was treated. I feel great relief knowing that I am eating an animal that had a wonderful, happy life.
The bovine residents at Holterholm Farms are all grass-fed, and are able to constantly graze on fresh grass. They are resilient animals that can withstand temperatures of extreme heat and cold - perfect for Maryland. I was amazed as I watched Adam open the gate in one of the fields and the cows filed gracefully into a line to walk themselves up to the milking parlor. I filed in behind them and, watching my step, enjoyed the sites and sounds of chickens, bees, cats, goats and pigs on the way!
Holterholm Farms' organic practices even include a mineral bar (so trendy right now) for the cows! Adam told me that the cows just know what minerals they need and will graze on different ones on their way to the milking parlor.
The cows are herded into the milking parlor in a circular pattern to prevent any unnecessary stress, and they saunter into the parlor for one of two daily milkings. Ron and Adam are true professionals and have clearly milked a time or two - watching them attach and detach the milk suckers (?) to the udders in a perfectly choreographed ballet-like performance was mesmerizing.
Not one to miss out, I asked if I could get down in the parlor and milk one bare handed. I was warned that a poop shower could happen at any moment, but it was a risk I was willing to take. After Adam picked out a friendly cow, I went for it - the udder was much warmer than I expected and a good strong squeeze is necessary. It was an unforgettable experience and I'm excited to say that I have officially milked a cow!
I also tasted the milk straight from the udder and then again after pasteurization. Udder milk is warm, almost hot, and tastes like... well, milk! It was grassy, sweet and delicious! Bill the cat finished up my leftovers.
After the milking was complete, Adam poured me a glass of fresh, literally, cold milk straight from the cows I could see with my own eyes. I had seconds and it was absolutely magical. A lot of HARD work goes into maintaining an organic farm and I have so much appreciation for what the Holters do to keep our food safe and sustainable.
Keep reading to find out more about Adam's typical day on the farm and treat yourself to some of their products found at their farm in Jefferson, MD.
Holterholm Farm has been part of the Holter family for six generations. Have you always wanted to work for the family business? Can you tell me a little bit about the history of your family farm?
I have! Ever since I was 4, I remember playing around up here [on the farm], wanting to do this for the rest of my life! The farm was purchased by my ancestor George Holter in a bankruptcy sale from a plantation owner in 1889. It was in very rough shape when purchased, so the following generations have sought to constantly improve the ecology and soil life here at the farm. My great grandad had the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Great Depression come out and lay terraced waterways to divert runoff and keep topsoil on the farm. It's things like that, like going organic, like grazing cattle, that we do that is part of our unique legacy and story.
Do you remember the first time you milked a cow? What was it like?
I don't! The first time I milked in the morning I remember very well. I was 7, and for some crazy reason loved getting up at 3:00 in the morning with Dad. Obviously my perspective has changed!
How much milk do you drink? Do you ever get sick of it?
I drink about a quart a day...dad drinks about a half gallon. Not at all! I love it!
Do you ever slaughter dairy cows for their meat? Is there a difference in taste?
We have sent old dairy cows down to be butchered, however only for ground beef. Typically we work with the Chambersburg, PA company The Family Cow to do this. They buy the cow and then make the ground beef available (I think) to low income consumers.
If not, where do you send the cows when they are finished milking?
When a cow leaves our farm, it's not because she's worn out or sick. It's because she's pregnant and productive, but is bred outside our calving window of March 1-April 15. That means this cow, 9 times out of 10, is going to another dairy farm to live a productive life.
Tell me about a typical day for you at the farm.
3:05- Get up to the farm, start setting up the parlor for morning milking
3:10-3:30- Get cows up and bring to parlor
4:30-4:59- Clean up
5:00-7:15- Nap time! ;)
7:15-8:30- Breakfast time (I eat whatever I can while trying to put Annabelle [his five month old baby girl] down for her morning nap. Oftentimes, organic yogurt, nuts, and a big glass of milk are all I have time to eat. And bacon.) ed. note: There's ALWAYS time for bacon!
8:30-10:00- Feed/shut gates for cows, heifers, nurse cows, etc.
10:30-11:30- Go to rental farms to move cows
1:00-2:40- Miscellaneous chores, repairs, painting, maintenance, etc.
2:50-3:20- Set up parlor and go out to bring the cows in
4:40-5:00- Clean up, collect eggs, feed goat [named Bob Dole, haha], other small things.
That's a normal day, and then factor in cows calving, hay to make, tours to lead...it's a long day!
It seemed to me that you knew each and every one of the dairy cows - you told me which to milk because you know who kicks. Is that true? Do you kind of create names for each of them? Or do you just know them by markings?
All cows have an ear tag and a name. Dad knows all the names, I do not. In the parlor, cows have different udders, mannerisms, colors, and so it's easy to recognize them.
ed. note: Easy for you to say! I guess I need more time in the field..literally.
Where can we find your products outside of the farm? (Farmer's Markets, grocery stores, restaurants, etc?)
Our milk is marketed by Organic Valley...everything else we sell directly off the farm.
What is your favorite thing to eat using the products from your farm?
I love frying chicken the old fashioned way in cast iron pans and in lard. If that's my chicken, all the better! And with mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans from my garden, that's a meal worth waiting for!
When you get hangry, what one food item or dish is your go-to?
Honestly, I love making a good, simple burger, using our beef, Organic Valley cheese, and our own bacon!
Do you have a favorite animal on the farm?
Bill the cat. He's a scruffy, huge, tomcat that I raised from a kitten. He loves hanging out with me when I milk. He's a good milking buddy. ;)
ed. note: Bill gets his own milk pan that Adam fills straight from the udder as a special treat to his loyal buddy every day. :::heart explodes:::
I know losing animals is part of the job, but have you ever lost an animal that you were really sad about? I think I would cry every time!
Death is part of life, and so it does happen. It's tough, sometimes very frustrating, other times sad. The worst was one time when I was a kid. Dad had two cows go down with milk fever in the field and bloat. He had to stab them both in the stomach to relieve the pressure so they didn't die. It was my job to IV them calcium out in the field so they could hopefully stand up. One died before she could get up. The other I managed to get up and we started walking her into the barn. As soon as she got into the barn, she collapsed dead, from shock. It was the first time I ever saw death happen right in front of me and it still haunts me.
At what point does cow poop stop bothering you? I couldn't stop thinking about it... haha.
Haha...I think dealing with it every day and seeing how much it benefits the soil is a decent reason to get used to it. As far as when, probably the first time you really get coated in the parlor is part of coming of age on a farm. Hey, shit happens, right?
Watch the video below for a sneak peek at Farmer Adam's hidden talent!
A Photo Tour of the Beautiful Farm!
Adam and Ron Holter are setting the trend for organic farms in Maryland. Their hard work is inspiring and their message is educating other farmers across the area. Farmers can ease many frustrations by making the decision to farm organic and sustainable. Ron was just awarded the "Farmer of the Foodshed Award" from Future Harvest CASA for being a stellar educator that takes great care to farm in ways that ensure his farm, and the land and water surrounding it, will be around for generations to come. Thanks to Adam, we know the future of Holterholm Farms is in good hands. Thank you Adam and Ron for being Hangry Heroes and letting me spend a day on your beautiful farm!