LANCASTER — For more than a century, the Forbes Farm has been producing milk of distinction and recently it was honored for also producing what makes that milk possible: the best grass and corn silage in New Hampshire.
Founded in 1902, the farm has some 1,300 dairy cows, almost all of them Holsteins, 1,150 of which are milked three times a day, producing about 10 gallons of milk each.
All those cows need to eat often and a lot — roughly 100 pounds of feed a day — and to meet that demand the Forbes Farm cultivates 1,200 acres of corn silage, in which the entire plant, including the ear, is turned into cow food.
The farm also grows 1,200 acres of grass, which is combined with the corn silage as well as other nutrients, such as soy beans, grains, and bakery yeast, to provide the cows with an optimal energy supply.
A member of the St. Albans Creamery Cooperative, the Forbes Farm has received numerous awards from the cooperative, including being named a Dairy Farm of Distinction for the high quality of its milk. The milk commands a premium price, appearing as drinking milk for Garelick Farms, but also for Hood, and frequently being used as the main ingredient in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Currently owned and operated by third and fourth generations of the Forbes family — Allan “Mickey” Forbes Sr. and his wife Judith and their sons Scott and Allan Jr. — the farm doesn’t seek accolades, said Scott Forbes, but often the awards just show up, like the one from the New England Dairy Promotion Board.
Sponsored by the New England Green Pastures Committee and Cooperative Extension at each of the New England land-grant universities, the Green Pasture Award is presented annually to the Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year in each of the six states.
The award program began in 1947, when then-Granite State Gov. Charles Dale, pleased by the quality of pastures in New Hampshire, famously challenged the five other New England states to “produce better pastures than New Hampshire and I bet a hat that they can’t do it.”
Over time, as the regional dairy industry changed, so did the focus of the Green Pastures Award to where it now recognizes not only pastures and forage management but total management as well.
To be considered for the Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year award, a dairy farm must be: operated by a full-time farmer; have a quality dairy herd in relation to milk production, breeding, and animal health; must be run efficiently and in an economically-sound way; exhibit leadership and contribution to the immediate and extended community; and exhibit acts of environmental improvement through management or appearance, according to the dairy promotion board.
Forbes Farm, the dairy promotion board said, “has been putting a priority on animal comfort and high feed quality,” noting that among other improvements, the farm has built new calf and heifer barns and enlarged calving pens and added two new feed storage and two bunk silos, with most of the work done onsite by farm employees.
The farm has sped up milking time and improved udder health and, finally, according to the dairy promotion board, it has reduced the somatic cell count — which is an indicator of pathogens — from an average of 150,000 to 85,000.
UNH Cooperative Extension agent Michal Lunak, who is also the state’s dairy specialist, said the Forbes Farm deserves the Green Pasture Award, saying “they do a good job and they’re an important element to the community.”
Statewide, the dairy industry generates about $51 million a year through the sale of milk from about 140 commercial dairy farms and 10 licensed goat farms, according to the dairy promotion board and, cumulatively, those farms use more than 20,000 acres to grow forage crops.
The majority of the state’s dairy industry is found along the Connecticut River Valley on the western side and along the Merrimack River Valley in the center of the state. While Grafton County has the largest number of dairy farms, the Forbes Farm — which is the largest by virtue of the number of cows milked — is located in Coos County while the 2013 Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year — the Parnassus Farm — is in Acworth in Sullivan County.
The extended Forbes family will receive the 2014 Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year award on Sept. 12 during a ceremony at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass.
Scott Forbes said he and his family members are grateful and honored to receive the award because it validates a lot of what they’ve been doing for a long time.