October 19, 2013

Auction marks end of Fairfield dairy farm, start of beef one

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — As the number of dairy farms in Maine continues to dwindle, one farmer is trading his milking cows for beef-laden steers.

click image to enlarge

Auctioneer Toby Lussier, left, of Northeast Kingdom Sales, sells the Dostie farm's 250 dairy cattle on Wednesday in Fairfield.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Dairyman Egide Dostie said he is selling his milk cows and will now raise cattle for meat. His dairy herd was auctioned at his Fairfield farm this week.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Additional Photos Below

Egide Dostie, 68, an Oakhurst Dairy supplier who has kept a herd for more than 40 years, said national trends toward large farming conglomerates have hurt Maine's dairy farmers, who can't scale up as easily as farmers in states with more wide-open spaces.

When he and his 43-year-old son and business partner, Egide Dostie II, look at the cattle industry landscape, they see a way forward for the cattle farmer.

"The future in beef looks good in the state of Maine," he said.

The number of dairy farms in Maine has been dwindling steadily. Today there are fewer than 300 dairy farms left in the state, down from about 600 farms 20 years ago.

Dostie has been planning to close his farm's dairy operations since May, when it became obvious the family had to get out or go deeply into debt.

"Our barns are getting worn out," Dostie said. "Our milking equipment is all worn out. In this business, there's no money left to reinvest."

The end of the Dosties' dairy operation was made official Wednesday, when he sold his livestock in a traditional auction.

Along with births, funerals and weddings, the auctions are major life events within the farming community, drawing farmers from near and far.

Dostie remembers one from 1971, when his father sold his own herd of cattle. Since then, Dostie has gone to many auctions as a purchaser.

Last week it was his turn to sell.

At the auction

On Wednesday, about 50 farmers gathered on Dostie's farm. They sat on folding chairs beneath a tent, their plaid shirts and overalls giving them ample protection from the crisp October air.

They were there to buy cows, but their sober, respectful attitudes showed their sympathy for Dostie.

"It really stinks to see someone finishing for good," said Unc Brock, a burly farmer who has a couple of hundred dairy cows at his own farm in Schaghticoke, N.Y., about 350 miles away.

Next to the tent, in a dairy barn full of animals, the Dosties and their employees ushered each cow through a series of paths lined with metal gates and into a pen beneath the tent.

The farmers, quiet but attentive, watched with appraising eyes as each cow was displayed by employees of Northeast Kingston Sales, a Vermont-based auction company.

Dostie said he chose the company because they have deep connections with cattle farmers throughout the Northeast, an important qualification when Maine's own struggling dairy farmers are unlikely to be adding to their herds.

"Everybody in Maine, a lot of them didn't have any money," Dostie said, "and this auctioneer was able to bring up some Pennsylvania people that are expanding, so that helped a lot."

The auction itself was a blend of hard work and showmanship, as the head auctioneer tried to get the highest price from farmers who wanted to pay the lowest one.

Wearing a red silk jacket advertising his company, Toby Lussier, the head auctioneer, spoke in a deep voice, announcing each cow's number and any relevant information that might make it more salable.

"This one was just 2 years old in August," he called for cow number 2149. "She's short-serviced."

"She's short-serviced!" his assistant, standing in the pen, repeated fervently.

Two years is young for a dairy cow, which typically lives only six years. Cows are usually short-serviced, or inseminated, two months after they give birth, which maximizes their milk production.

As the auctioneer called for bids, his speech disintegrated into a rapid-fire blur of incoherent syllables, in which only the prices could be understood.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Dairy cow buyer Unc Brock keeps track of his purchases during an auction at the Egide Dostie Dairy Farm in Fairfield on Wednesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming


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