Media Archive

Sebec dairy farm sells off Jersey Herd

Article from Bangor Daily News, Friday, September 17, 2004

By Chuck Veeder
Special to the NEWS

SEBEC - Next Tuesday morning, Bob Dow of Bendwood Jerseys on the River Road can sleep late. There will be no cows left to milk.
It will be one of the few times since Dow, 73, took over from his father, Elwood Dow, in 1951 that the alarm hasn't gone off at 3:30 a.m.

After Monday morning's milking, the remaining cows and young stock will leave for the Vermont State Jersey Sale being held at the North Haverhill, N.H., fairgrounds on Sept. 24. Earlier this summer, 30 cows were sold to a farmer in Danville, Vt.
The transaction is bittersweet for Dow, who will miss the cows and even the early mornings. He's a man who has to have something to do."I'm going to be lost. I'm half sick, yet I know I have to [sell the herd]," he said Thursday. "I'm getting tired."

As a result of the sale, Sebec has lost its last commercial dairy farm. This isn't just any family farm. Part of the Bendwood operation is made up of land settled by Eli Towne, the second permanent settler of Dover (circa 1804-05). Dow, who said he "got bitten by the Jersey bug at the age of 6," is a direct descendent of Towne.

This is not the only Maine herd of cows to leave ancient haunts in recent years. According to the 2002 Dairy Cost of Production Survey by Tim Dalton of the Department of Resource Economics and Policy at the University of Maine , approximately 110,000 dairy cattle grazed in Maine when Dow assumed responsibility from his father. Today there are about 35,000.

In 1989, there were 665 dairy farms in Maine, according to Stan Millay of the Maine Milk Commission. Today that number has shrunk to about 390. Low milk prices and high costs of production have been one problem. In some areas, high land values have precipitated changes from agricultural production to house lots. More unsettling is that when the report was prepared, 62 percent of the participating dairy farmers were 55 or older.

Dow and his son Zachary Dow, 45, his partner in Bendwood Jerseys, originally had planned to keep the cows for another five years. Recent increases in the wholesale price of milk, however, have driven up cattle prices to the point where selling out now became financially attractive.

Other factors in the decision were that Zachary Dow has been slowed by three hip operations and none of his three daughters is interested in carrying on.

Bendwood Jerseys has been beating the odds for years. The new-age dairy farm in Maine milks 200 to 600 cows.

The Dows have never milked more than 50.

The family has been able to compete against the titans, the large herds scattered throughout Maine, because Jersey milk, with its high butterfat content, rates a hefty premium from milk processors. That, coupled with the sale of a few purebred cows or heifers every year and a dogged determination to minimize production costs, provided sustenance for two families over the years.

Almost nobody gets rich dairy farming. In recent years, the price paid for milk by processors has been several dollars less per hundredweight than it costs the farmers to produce.

Asked why he milked cows for so many years, Bob Dow responded: "Because I loved every minute of it!

"It's the cows ... and the land ... doing the best I can to groom these acres," he said.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.