Happy EndingsRiverPlainDairy_crop

Dairy farmer Jeff Cone might have taken a gamble hooking up with a city girl, but as he explains, the story has a happy ending.

His now-wife Alexis, raised in Bridgeport, “fell in love with the whole farming thing – and with me!”

Jeff Cone, owner of River Plain Dairy, is now celebrating another sweet victory: his farm is Connecticut Dairy Farm of the Year, as the 2014 winner of 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.

Focusing on forage quality, River Plain Dairy in Lebanon is a relatively small operation, but it represents the best in sustainable dairy farming. The 49 cows graze 30 acres, entering a fresh strip of grass twice per day, as Jeff moves the temporary fence after every milking. The grasses regrow rapidly when harvested at an immature stage, allowing the herd to return in 10 to 21 days, depending on the season.

Pasturing has its benefits, among them the fact that it gets the cows out of the barn. The time the herd spends on the pasture reduces the barn chores for Jeff during the summer, allowing him time to plant 60 acres of corn and harvest hay at the proper time. This is confirmed by the excellent milk yields and milk quality.

Jeff bought the farm from his dad, Ted Cone, who retired after 40 years of dairy farming. Jeff, Alexis, and their four children run the place, with a hired milker coming in on weekends so the kids can keep up with sports and other activities.

Jeff grew up on the farm, and decided he liked the way of life, “especially the field work with the cows, and the growing side” of the operation. With children ages 10, 9, 7 and 5, his goal is to give his kids the same childhood he had by sharing in chores. The youngsters let the cows out of the barn, they feed calves, and generally pitch in whenever they can.

Yes, it’s a small operation, so winning the New England Green Pastures Award has special significance.

“I think it’s great to be recognized as a small farm,” he explains. “Ideally, I’d like to stay small. We’re big enough for the size herd we have now, and if you decide to get bigger, you have to get bigger everywhere.” That’s not a choice for Jeff and Alexis at the moment, he says.

Size matters when you treasure moments off the farm as well as on. Jeff admits it’s nice to get away occasionally to see a son’s baseball game or go to a school event. Nicer still to see his children living the life he remembers as a boy.

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