Cattle farming Oakfield venture
Backyard cows mean agriculture potential to Stan and Gail Maynard. But these aren't your ordinary cows, and the couple isn't farming for a living…the farming is for a future.
"There's an abundance of tillable land in Aroostook County going to waste," notes Stan.
"We're promoting Highland cattle as a breed suited to the County's economy, and as a business that is both sustainable and compatible with the environment," he adds.
The Oakfield residents are teachers by trade and farmers by entrepreneurial spirit. They started in 1992 with two young heifers and this month the herd reached 20.
"People want to know what they're eating," says Stan, who spiels off the animal's table-quality product features - lean meat that is low in cholesterol.
On the hoof, the cows are a gentle stock, hardy in the Northern Maine climate. Stan can easily lay his arm across the backs of most of his shaggy cattle.
"They are one of the world's truest breeds, going back 600 years. They only weigh about 1,100 pounds and dress out at 62 percent of their weight. Highland cattle fit the consumer's changing habit for smaller portions of meat," Gail continues.
Gail and Stan say they need to grow their herd to 25-30 before this farming sideline starts providing an income in addition to their daytime salaries. Gail teaches language arts and social studies at Southern Aroostook Middle School and Stan instructs in technology at Presque Isle High School. They also spent 12 years teaching in American Embassy schools, traveling to Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as California. But they returned to County roots.
"This was always the Plummer place," Gail comments. She and Stan bought out the family farm from her mother's side. Built around 1900, one trademark was its blacksmith's shop.
"This was Burleigh back in those days. It wasn't Oakfield until the roundhouse came," she adds.
The farm has 300 acres, mostly in woods and grown-over potato fields. They lease a nearby 30-acre field for haying.
"Home farming is better than having a therapist," chuckles Stan about his hectic schedule. He gets up around 4:30 a.m. to feed the cows and check on them. He's on the road to Presque Isle by 6:30 a.m. and back home again at 5 p.m. The Maynard young'uns, Teresa, 14, and Zach, 10, also do their share of chores.
The Maynards expect their day jobs to continue for some time. They have a five-year plan to market the beef and breeding stock, and are busy learning all they can about the animals as a commodity while they build up the herd.
"There are small groups in the County promoting Maine beef and some good conferences," says Stan. "The Cooperative Extension service provides wonderful day-long seminars and brings in top-line speakers. A lot of people don't utilize these opportunities that we have in Aroostook."
A USDA slaughterhouse and grain cooperatives are among the Northern Maine resources that Stan hopes to see happen in the near future. And, if the government is going to subsidize farms, Stan would like to see small farms on the priority list.
The couple belong to the Northeast Highland Cattle Association and attend a strictly-Highland cattle fair every Fall. This year the fair will be in New York State; last year, it was in Vermont.
Attending local fairs is also a part of this side business. They enjoy both the exposure the cattle get, and the opportunity to show folks something they've never seen. At the recent Houlton fair they drew many curious visitors to their Highland exhibit.
"There's export potential as well," notes Stan. Sales to Canada in small numbers are a possibility, but he adds that the European market is an excellent one.
"The Queen of England has her own herd at Balmoral Castle," explains Stan. "The Highlands are now restricted to the British Isles due to some herd health restrictions, so stock from Canada is being bought by the European market."
Stan has been interested in getting semen from the royal herd as a way to maintain his purebred stock. He has brought in cattle from Canada and Ohio to maintain his purebred stock, and sees possibilities of cross-breeding in the future.
"There's a big market in embryo transplants coming. Dairy cows serve well as surrogate mothers, but a top-line Highland cow will provide over 50 calves in her lifetime."
Stan grew up on a small dairy farm and was in 4-H when he was a kid. He recalls sleeping nights in the fair barns with the cows during show time. One of his first dates with Gail was to take her out to the fields 'to see the dairy cows.'
"An alternative lifestyle of raising cows in Northern Maine is not so far-fetched," he muses. "There are family values to be considered, and it's a way to make the land work and not have to leave the County for other employment.
"There are thousands and thousands of acres available in Aroostook to support small farming operations."
A productive maple grove, spring water of the purest nature, and good soil for grain crops are all a part of this farming venture. There are a few years to go as the marketing plan is finalized: will it be 'The Alps of Aroostook' or 'From the Highlands of Aroostook'? It will be a meat and potatoes decision when the time comes: the potatoes are her - so how about a nice, lean Highland steak!