May 16, 2013

On a Large Dairy Farm

I am inordinately fond of dairy farms: they have provided me with subject matter for my paintings for over 25 years; they are often in beautiful settings; they remind me of the complex issues regarding our food supply. This morning was lovely, with fog lifting to bright and clear skies, so I went out to one of my favorite local farms, Hatchland Farm, to take photos for paintings.

It is located just over the border in New Hampshire, in Connecticut River floodplain, so the soil is rich and moist. The views looking south (this photo and the one above) take in a large sweep of plain and low hills. The dairy farms of the Northeast have kept the land open and vistas deep, but there are industrial techniques that go along with a successful dairy farm. In the top photo are silage bunker and Ag-Bags, and above is a pump for a manure lagoon.

Young calves are kept in hutches, in order to keep them healthy. The milking cows live in large, airy, free stall barns, so they can move about. On a large farm such as this one, which milks around 500 cows, the cows do not go out to pasture, which of course gives one pause, but it is the modern management system; the cows seem calm and happy in their environment. This farm is nearly unique in that they bottle their own milk, which is excellent, and make ice cream too.

I enjoy seeing the ingenuity, the not-letting-anything-go-to-waste attitude, using old tires to hold an earthen bank. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see a few cows wondering what I'm doing. They are the most curious of creatures.

Some of the architecture around the farm is dramatic; a white quonset barn, protecting the sawdust bedding for the cows, is stunning amid the green and gray.

Some of the most remarkable structures on a modern dairy farm are the silage bunkers and Ag-bags, which store silage––chopped grass, alfalfa, or corn––in such a way as it becomes fermented, so much more nutritious for the cows. This farm feeds its animals almost solely from its own fields which are fertilized by manure; they use no artificial growth hormones. So even though it looks like an industrial farm, it is truly healthily run, and a family owned business. The owners are warm and friendly people, not minding me trudging around taking pictures each year.

Here are a couple of huge Ag-bags with different kinds of silage. I love the shapes of these, so wonderfully sculptural.

As I love the sea of tires, row upon row of circles, holding down the plastic protecting the silage in the concrete bunker. These objects, these structures, provided me with subjects for painting over many years. You can see a few of the paintings I did that include plastic and tires here on my website.

This is a closeup of corn silage; you can see the kernels of corn chopped along with the stems and leaves and cobs; nutritious stuff. 

The ultimate in recycling on a dairy farm is the turning of animal waste into the best of fertilizers. Liquid manure is being pumped from the lagoon into a tanker, which will spread it on the fields. I am assuming that they are getting ready to plant corn. Another modern touch: the worker atop the tank is busy with his cell phone while waiting for it to be filled. A bucolic pastoral this is not, but it is a beautifully managed and maintained farm, and I'm happy to be able to buy their milk, and hope to try their ice cream soon; and, their machines still provide interesting images for painting.


  1. I look forward to your posts Altoon and learn something each time. Not always 'art' related either! Reading that the cows don't go out to pasture but stay in their airy barns I thought oh dear what do they eat? Happy to discover that their diet consists of foods grown on the farm but not sure of modern management systems whereby they get it from massive ag bags. Surely they don't get much exercise this way?
    Really enjoyed the links you've posted and also looking at your earlier paintings and other work to follow the path you've been on so far. thank you Altoon for all your posts.

  2. Thanks, Maureen, for reading my posts; I'm so glad you enjoy them.
    No, the cows don't get any exercise at all. It is a working life for them.