SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Glen Cottrell talks to one of his cows, Connie, calling her goofy for sticking her tongue out. Each of his cows has a name. There’s Jingle, Terrific, Allison and Seven (named for the “7” marking on her head) to name a few.
“I have always enjoyed farming,” Cottrell said, explaining his choice to stay at his family’s 73-acre farm in West Kingston. The Cottrells are the third owners of the historic property, which dates back to the 1800s. The family purchased the land in 1990; Glen and his brother, Matt, are the fourth generation of Cottrells to run the farm.
Last week, the state Department of Environmental Management announced the Cottrell Homestead was named Rhode Island’s 2015 Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year by the Rhode Island Green Pastures Committee. The committee chose the Cottrell Homestead because of its outstanding relationship with the community, its active involvement with the future viability of dairy farming in Rhode Island, and its continuing efforts to implement best management practices, a DEM news release said.
The Cottrell Homestead won the award, in part, because of a new calf barn that replaced the original, dilapidated one. The roomy area with sectioned off areas keeps the animals healthier, Cottrell said.
“The historic Cottrell Homestead in West Kingston is one of Rhode Island’s finest dairy farms and we are pleased that it has been selected for this special award,” DEM Director Janet Coit said in a news release. “The success enjoyed by the Cottrell family and other dairy farmers who produce local milk products is helping to protect and preserve hundreds of acres of farmland that will support continued agricultural endeavors for this and future generations to enjoy.”
The farm is part of the Rhode Island Dairy Farms Cooperative that began in 2004, kick-started with a $125,000 loan and additional funding. The cooperative markets the milk, cream, butter and cheese, which is free of artificial growth hormones, under the “Rhody Fresh” label. The Cottrells owe their continued success to Rhody Fresh, although for them, making a profit still isn’t easy, Cottrell said, as the price the farmers receive for milk is at a low, while the price of milk in stores sold to consumers remains high.
The Cottrells have about 54 cows of three breeds, Ayrshires, Holsteins and Jerseys. The farm produces about 2,800 pounds of milk per day. Calves are bred when they are about 2 years old, and can then begin producing milk.
“When I first started helping out my father in 1970, we had a milk tank, before we had a pipeline, and we had to carry the milk buckets,” Cottrell recollected. “It wasn’t too bad at first, until you got down to the other end – at 11 years old, you were carrying 35-pound buckets, with milk slapping all over you. And then you had to get to the tank and lift the milk up into the strainer.”
In 1975, a pipeline was added, allowing the milk to run directly from the cows’ udders through the pipeline into the strainer – no more heavy bucket lifting. But that doesn’t mean the work is easy. Most of the work is done by the two brothers, their father, Oliver, one worker and a few helpers here and there.
“There’s feeding, cleaning, milking, cropping, chopping grass, planting corn,” Cottrell said. “We milk the cows twice a day, at 8 in the morning and in the evening at 5:30. We milk every day, including Christmas and New Year’s. There’s no such thing as a holiday.”
The Cottrell family also grows corn, hay and vegetables to sell at their farm stand. “To all my fans: Corn will be here in just a little bit longer!” Cottrell said with a laugh.