The next time you watch a dog show, think cows.
Like show dogs, dairy cows are evaluated on criteria based on their breeds. They are scored on everything from their color to their height to the shape of their face. Holsteins have to be black and white, Jerseys have to be brown, and so on.
Becki Benson will tell you that of the 74 registered Holsteins that make up the Benson Farm milking herd, 25 cows are “Excellent,” having achieved the highest scores.
You could also say that the Benson Farm also scored big this year, having been named the 2013 Maine Dairy Farm of the Year, receiving the New England Green Pastures Award.
The award is given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states, with winners evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
Benson Farm is a third-generation dairy operation, located in Gorham on land bought in 1918 by Edward Young, who started one of Maine’s early herds of purebred registered Holsteins. His daughter, Katherine Young, and her husband, Alton Benson, later took over the farm with a commitment to purebred Holsteins and land conservation. Today, their son, Eddie, and his wife, Becki, continue their legacy.
The couple continues to make improvements. In the early 90s, Eddie began making compost to diversify the business and offset the cost of small-scale dairy farming. The facility was approved to accept seafood waste from Maine’s working waterfronts and the compost was also certified for use on organic crops.
There have been setbacks. A 2010 tornado demolished the farm’s iconic five-story barn, killing two animals and injuring three, but the family replaced it with three new barns.
“That tornado updated us 100 years,” Becki recently said. “It took a lot of money, it was a lot of stress, but we now have a state-of-the-art barn and other facilities that rose from the ashes.”
She and her husband were proud to win the New England Green Pastures Award, but she pointed out the farm won the honor back in 1967, after being named a runner-up in 1954. “This is a very nice honor, but it’s the most meaningful because my mother-in-law can experience winning this award a second time,” she explains.
She added that this time ‘round, the award may mean even more to Katherine Benson, since she expects to be able to enjoy the meal at the ceremony, held annually at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA.
“Back in 1967 at the awards banquet, they only made room at the banquet table for the men,” Becki said with a laugh.