Drive past the Cottrell Homestead on an early summer’s day, and you may spot Julie Brodeur walking down the road with friend Karen Wright and a couple of calves.
Dairy farming to the Cottrell family is personal, and this personal approach is typical of life on the Cottrell Homestead in West Kingston, run by brothers Matt and Glen along with dad, Oliver, and daughter Julie. The Cottrell Homestead is a Green Pasture Award winner and was named the 2015 Rhode Island Dairy Farm of the Year. The Green Pasture 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.
The Cottrell Homestead took this honor because of its outstanding relationship with the community, its active involvement with the future viability of dairy farming in Rhode Island, and its continuing efforts to implement best management practices. The farm is one of the original operations involved in the Rhody Fresh local milk brand, and family members continue to offer guidance to young up-and-coming farmers through the local 4-H program.
Despite its 115-year history, Cottrell Homestead hasn’t rested on its laurels, so to speak: In 2015, a new calf barn replaced the original barn that was built more than 70 years ago, the barn roof was shingled, and the milk room was completed.
The Cottrells also were among the first farmers in Rhode Island to protect their farmland in perpetuity through the sale of development rights to the state in 1986. Five generations of the Cottrell family have farmed the Cottrell Homestead. The farm was started in 1900, when Oliver Cottrell’s grandfather bought and farmed the property. The property was subsequently farmed by Oliver’s father and is currently operated by Oliver Cottrell and his children, along with their cousin Craig Hawksley, who oversees the breeding program and most of the veterinary work.
Cottrell Homestead maintains a milking herd of over 70 Holsteins and Ayrshires, the latter Julie characterizes as “stubborn girls.” Ayrshires’ milk has a higher fat content than Holsteins’, and the red and white Scottish breed is hearty, perfect for New England winters.
The Cottrells are dedicated to helping maintain the future of dairy farming in Rhode Island. For over 40 years, the family has allowed 4-H members to manage animals on the farm so that future generations of children can learn where milk comes from and take responsibility for the care of animals. Many of those 4-H members involved in farming at Cottrell Homestead in the past have advanced their careers in agriculture after graduating from college. One is former 4H-er Val Wright, who’s headed to veterinary school in a couple of years. Val continues to work with the animals, along with her mother, Karen, who loves to walk the calves in the barn.
Julie is proud of the 4-H connection, and enjoys her contact with 4H-ers during her work at the farm. Despite her accounting work for the local visiting nurses organization, and marketing/sampling for Rhody Fresh, Julie gets to the barn as often as possible.
“I love the cows, I love the calves,” she explains. “Dixie and Nutmeg, I walked them home from the farm. I have a trailer, but why bother? We all needed the exercise anyway.”