Through the barn doors of Fairchild

By Tim Drugan-Eppich


On a warm day, students cruising west out of Durham towards Route 4 are treated to the distinct smell of manure wafting through their windows.  This aroma lets them know there is a farm on campus, but does not do justice to the farm’s conditions or the amount of milk being produced there. Those working on the farm are being recognized for their methods and high-quality products.

In 2014, Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center received the Gold Quality Award from the Dairy Farmers of America for the third year in a row.  This award is based on the health, hygiene and sanitation of the farm, as well as the sematic cell counts in the milk produced.  Sematic cell counts are an indication of bacteria levels. 

“Low sematic cell counts means we have very healthy cows,” said Jon Whitehouse, the  Fairchild barn manager.

Whitehouse is passionate about what the farm is doing for the community, and about cows in general.  Even his ringtone is a cow mooing.  But the farm takes dedication in addition to passion.  As Whitehouse pointed out, there are 83 cows that need to be milked “every day, twice a day, 365 days a year.”

The high-quality milk that is sold to Hood is not an accident.  Research optimized diets and carefully managed sanitation practices are to thank for the resulting product.  While this may cost slightly more for the upkeep, the farm makes the expenses back.

“We get the highest prices for our milk because of its high quality,” Lori Wright, the Communications Coordinator said.

Whitehouse believes his effort directly correlates with the progress of the industry. 

“We are the flagship dairy for the state,” he said. “We should be leading the way, not following.”

Students from UNH play a big part in the farm’s operation.  Whitehouse pointed out that there are students who live on the farm to make sure the cows still get milked, no matter the weather, at 4:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Many students come to the farm for the CREAM program, the acronym of which does not have the same meaning as the popular Wu Tang Clan classic.  The UNH program stands for Cooperative Real Education in Agricultural Management.  It allows students the hands-on experience working with their own herd and seeing the dairy process from start to finish. The program requires special students, according to Drew Conroy, CREAM’s advisor.

“The students have to be totally motivated,” Conroy said. “They have to want to learn what we have to offer.”

Whitehouse said that because of the program, he no longer had to advertise to obtain enough workers for the farm’s operations.  “The students flock to me,” he said.

While some of the students are dairy management majors, many of the participants of the program come from other areas, notably the pre-vet program, as an opportunity to get some large animal experience.

Evice Bolton, a biomedical sciences and pre-veterinarian major, lovingly pet the calf she was working with as she praised the program.

“It is the best class I’ve ever taken,” she said. “It has given me a new appreciation for the whole industry.”

She also added that it changed her career outlook in the veterinary capacity.

“I initially thought I only wanted to work with small animals,” Bolton said. “But now I can’t imagine not having cows be a part of my life.”

The farm also is a staple in the New England community outside of UNH.  The tour programs show thousands of people each year the origins of their food.  Whitehouse thinks that as people continue to move toward local foods, the farm will continue to be important.

“We want to create a healthier food system for New Hampshire and support the agriculture community,” Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse mentioned that the farm also grows its own feed, fertilized by the manure produced onsite.  He thought Fairchild could be the model of what the future of sustainable and compassionate agriculture looks like.  And the plethora of awards the farm continues to receive seems to agree.