At the beginning of November, Alliance staff took a field trip to Chestertown, Maryland to tour an organic dairy farm. Thanks to our friend Ron Ohrel from the American Dairy Association North East (ADANE), we were able to tour Fair Hill Farm, owned and operated by the Fry family. The farm produces about 40,000 pounds of milk a day and is a supplier to Horizon Organic Dairy. 

Fair Hill Farm has been recognized for its many practices designed to protect the local environment and the Chesapeake Bay. This year, Fair Hill Farm’s received an honorable mention from ADANE for the farm’s environmental stewardship efforts. 

The Fair Hill Farm is owned and operated by Ed and Marian Fry, their son and daughter-in-law Matt and Megan Fry, and grandsons Owen and Reid Fry. Throughout the years, the Fry family has been making investments and improvements in their daily practices to help minimize any environmental impact. When we thanked Ed and his family for their efforts, he commented “I’m an environmentalist too, I just have a different job than you do.” The beautiful November day started off on a high note!

The Alliance staff was lucky to get a private tour from Ed Fry himself. He walked us around the farm, showing us the many ins and out of the daily operations and how Fair Hill Farm is working towards producing high quality organic milk. 

First, of course we got to see the cows! Within the first sight of the herd, I realized just how much manure they produce —  and with 500 cows that is a lot! Ed walked us through how the manure system works. The central element is a flush system using recycled water. The barns are flushed multiple times a day and the flushed water is directed underground to a sand lane (the sand is also recycled) on a slight slope, allowing the sand to settle out. Once the sand is dry enough, it gets reused in the bedding for the cows. The liquids that are left from the sand are pumped into a building where a pressing machine pushes solids out of the solution and creates of pile of 25% dry manure solids, which captures much of the phosphorous. The remaining liquids are reused to help clean out the barns. The farm is able to achieve lower environmental impact by reusing water and manure, using the nutrients as organic fertilizer to feed the row crops, which are grown to feed the cows. 

Next, we got to see the high tech milking system they use at Fair Hill Farm. We were able to go inside the rotary system to see how it works up close. The rotary system can hold up to 50 cows at once, and takes about 11 minutes for each cow to go around the system. With 500 cows to milk, it takes two hours and 45 minutes, with milking happening three times a day. 

Another piece of technology that we learned about from Ed was the tracking system that the farm uses to monitor each cow. While there are usually over 500 cows in their herd, Ed assured us that each cow is watched after thoroughly. This is made easier with the radio frequency identification (RFID), which is placed on the cow’s ankle and tracks how active they are. Based on the cow’s activity level, the farmers can tell if she’s healthy, as well as if she is ready for breeding. 

Ed talked about how he cared deeply about the health of each of the cows. “We want to be good stewards of our land and our cows, and I think you can appreciate that we can’t pay our bills if we had a bunch of cows that were mismanaged and didn’t produce good milk. Happy cows makes a happy dairy farmer.” 

Ed made it clear to us that he values the health of each and every one of the cows in their herd. Ed and his family are determined to make the connection between the consumer and the milk they are supplying you with. At the Alliance, we believe in working in partnership with farmers to help them achieve their production goals, while meeting sustainability goals at the same time. Farm Hill Farm is a great example of how a farm can achieve both a healthy herd, production goals, and sustainable lands and waters.