Strolling of the Heifers

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(Host) Commentator Vern Grubinger tells us about some events this month that reflect a Dairy theme.

(Grubinger) It’s been said that Vermont has more cows than people, and while that’s not true, the ratio is impressive. With 159,000 dairy cows it comes out to about a quarter of a cow, or almost 400 pounds of cow per person. So, on a weight basis, Vermont does have more cow than people!

Holsteins are the most popular, and the largest, dairy cows in Vermont, and they give a lot of milk. The result is that Vermont’s 1,500 dairy farms produce 2.6 billion pounds of milk annually.

To celebrate all this milk, all these cows, and our hard working dairy farmers, June is Dairy Month. And this year, there’s a unique event planned. On June 8, cows go on parade. That’s right, for an hour on Saturday morning, Brattleboro’s Main Street will become Bovine Boulevard, closed to traffic while 30 heifers hoof it from one end of downtown to the other. This event, billed as the Strolling of the Heifers, is Vermont’s answer to the running of the bulls in Spain, although it’s going to be a lot mellower.

The heifers, which are cows that have not yet had a calf, won’t be loose on the streets, and they won’t be running. In fact, they’ll be on leads, guided by handlers, who’ll be sure that the animals are treated humanely. And these are special cows, they come from the Putney School dairy. They’re used to being among people and walking around at agricultural fairs.

The cows will start out, fittingly, from the world headquarters of the Holstein Association, a nonprofit organization with 44,000 members that breed, milk and market Holstein cattle. Nineteen million Holsteins have their genealogy and performance records on file in Brattleboro. Fortunately, they won’t all be strolling up Main Street.

After the parade comes a celebration of local agriculture. Samples of farm delicacies including cheeses and maple products will be available. There will be live music in the streets, and readings of poems and stories about cows and farms. Another highlight will be our congressional delegation engaging in the ultimate political show down: a milking contest.

If you can’t make it to Brattleboro, there’s another way to celebrate farming this month. On the afternoon of June 15, nineteen farms around the state will open their doors to visitors. Open Farm Day is sponsored by the Vermont Department of Agriculture’s “Ag in the Classroom” program. It’s a day to learn about local farms and local food production, up close and personal. Participating farms include orchards, vineyards, vegetable farms, sugar houses, as well as dairy farms. There will be tours, refreshments, and hands-on activities – all for free.

So, whether you stroll with heifers, visit farms, eat local cheese, or just drink milk, June is the month to celebrate Vermont’s dairy farms. With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Visit the Stolling of the Heifers web site. Learn more about the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture in the Classroom program.

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