This week, the last remaining dairy herd is leaving Weathersfield, a town once dotted with small milking farms. This is a growing trend in the changing dairy industry of Windsor County and beyond.
But, for now, about 60 cows peacefully chew hay at their home on Fuller Farm. They'll be auctioned off next week.
David Fuller has been a dairy farmer here since 1977. He says it's the life he's loved since he was a small child.
“I talked to my mom this morning, and she joked: We were throwing up grass, my brother and I, and she couldn't figure out what was going on,” he said recently, chuckling at his kitchen table. “So she let us go out the next day, and there we were under the picnic table eating grass. And she said, 'Why are you doing this?' and I told her, 'I just want to be a cow,’” he laughed.
He continued: “How fun is that, and I said, look where it got me!”
Years later, Fuller says there isn't enough money in running a small dairy farm anymore.
He says his children have their own careers and they don't see their futures in dairy farms either. “I think that the kids that grew up on small farms hear their parents always struggling with money, and I think they all ask themselves, 'Why do I want to do that?'” he said. “So there wasn't a transition to go to the family.”
That's the case with a lot of dairy farms in the area.
Fuller says only a couple years ago, the small town had as many as 10 dairy farms. Now his herd will be the last to go.
“They were all small farms, and they all went the same way, where either a family member didn't want to continue or there were economic reasons,” he says.
Since 2010, across the state, the number of family owned dairy farms has dropped by over 165.
Fuller says milk prices aren't enough to keep a sustainable business these days. He gets about the same amount of money for his product as he did when he started about 40 years ago, while the price of living has skyrocketed.
“When I started milking, my first check came from a company called Yankee milk – that was $14 [per hundred weight] in 1977 in May,” he said, looking over his cows. “This last month, on the first check that we got for pay for our milk they estimate the cost at $15.50.”
Diane Bothfeld, the director of administrative services at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, says the prices of milk used to be based on national trends.
That has changed.
“Now, it's global. Totally global operations,” she told VPR. “What's happening in China, what's happening in Australia and New Zealand. 'Oh, the European Union did this' — it is just global pressures on the prices for milk.”
But Bothfeld says dairy products are still Vermont's largest agricultural receipts.
In a 2014 study on the economic impact of cows in the state, it was found that for every one cow about $12,000 was added to the state economy.
“[For every cow that leaves the state] there will be less trips to the hardware store or less trips to the feed store, or the tractor dealership doesn't get as much business,” Bothfeld says. “So it really does have an impact throughout the community.”
And while cows like David Fuller's are leaving, Bothfeld says that one way to keep local dairy's afloat is to enjoy some of the cheese and milk products Vermont is famous for.