The staff behind the UNH Dairy Farm

By Tim Drugan-Eppich

Staff Writer

Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, the University of New Hampshire’s dairy farm, is a productive establishment.  It churns out high quality products year-round while both breeding and feeding the cattle on site.  As expected, the operation is not a simple venture and it takes a dedicated and knowledgeable staff to keep it up and running.

Jon Whitehouse, the manager of the dairy, is a one man wrecking crew of sorts when it comes to overseeing the production and management of the dairy.  Having been there 31 years this December, he knows the farm back to front after working long hours there.

“I betcha 80,” Whitehouse said when asked how long he thought he had worked in a week.  “Starting on Sunday, by Tuesday I had 40 hours,” he said.

There is a reason Whitehouse needs to sometimes put in such long hours. He knows how things work better than anyone else.  That is other than John Weeks, the only other full-time employee on the farm.

“John Weeks has been here 40 years now,” Whitehouse said. “We’re the dinosaurs.”

Whitehouse faces a challenge at the beginning of every school year in the hiring of new staff.  This staff consists mostly of students.  The students often come from areas that are leading to veterinary school, and working with the cows is good practice.  Most of the students love the work, but sometimes it is too much for them.

Whitehouse spoke of a year when a student just walked off the farm mid shift.

“All of a sudden I just saw them walking up the road,” he said. “I guess some students don’t realize what a physical job it is.  Cows weigh 1,500 to 1,800 pounds, and they have to be able to move them around.”

Also you have to be all right with getting a little dirty.

“You’re gonna get some manure on you,” he said.

But Whitehouse is not worried about the group he just hired.  Despite having lost a huge portion of his staff to graduating seniors, he thinks he will be just fine with the new students.

“I picked a good bunch,” he said. “They’re picking up on things pretty quick.”

And that is definitely a good thing for Whitehouse, whose hardest part of the year is after his summer crew leaves and before the new hires have a handle on the job.  This means he has to put in longer hours than normal teaching them the intricacies of the milking process and other aspects of working on the farm.

Also it is essential to get the students to work so he can take care of other upkeep.

“The best description of my job is jack of all trades master of none,” he said.

A normal day for Whitehouse includes working on various machinery that needs fixing, managing students, scheduling, looking after sick cows and more.

“Every day is a little different,” he said.

But does he like his job?

“I must like it, I’ve been here 31 years,” he said. “There are definitely parts I hate, like scheduling.  But in April, when I’m on a tractor tending to the feed just as the sun comes up, well, that’s tough to beat.”cow1