February 18

Norridgewock farm named Oakhurst’s producer of the year

Chartrand Farm got the top award for a second year in a row in a tradition that will continue despite the recent sale of the Portland-based dairy company.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORRIDGEWOCK — Recent foot surgery hasn’t stopped Elroy Chartrand from keeping his family farm up and running.

click image to enlarge

DAIRY AWARD: Steve Chartrand feeds some of the cows on Tuesday at the family farm in Norridgewock. The Chartrand family has been named Producer of the Year by the Oakhurst Dairy company.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

TOP FARMERS: Connie and Elroy Chartrand speak on Tuesday at their Norridgewock dairy farm about being named Producer of the Year by the Oakhurst Dairy company.

Staff photo by David Leaming

From a seat near the wood stove in his cozy white farmhouse, Chartrand looks out on the many barns covered with snow and anticipates getting outside again.

About 250 dairy cows are milked twice a day on the farm, where Chartrand, his two sons and a grandson work.

“Normally he’s out here helping, but with the ice and his foot, it’s just not a good idea,” son Steven Chartrand said on Tuesday as he distributed feed to rows of hungry cows.

The work that the family puts in with the daily milkings, cleaning and caring for the cows has paid off. The famr recently was named producer of the year for the second year in a row by Oakhurst Dairy Farms.

Oakhurst, based in Portland, buys milk from 70 farms across the state. The company was sold recently to the Dairy Farmers of America, but its annual tradition of recognizing farmers is one example of how practices at the company will remain intact under the new ownership, a spokesman said.

Elroy Chartrand, 70, said the news is reassuring. He has enough keeping him busy on the farm without having to worry about changes in processing or sales.

The family moved to Norridgewock from southern New Hampshire in 1984 to expand its small dairy farm, which at the time had about 30 cows. Today the Chartrands have 270 cows and milk about 240 twice each day on the 800-acre property, he said.

“The entire family does a great job,” said Jeff Averill, quality control assurance manager for Oakhurst. “I’ve done many inspections there myself and the place is incredibly clean, from the barns to the milking parlor to the tank room. They’re just really passionate about keeping things clean and doing a great job.”

The producer award, which recognizes a high quality of milk production, is based on criteria that are measured throughout the year, including raw bacteria counts of the milk when it is picked up form the farm; preliminary incubation count, which measures the milk’s sensitivity to harmful bacteria; and somatic cell count, a measure of white blood cells that are indicative of cow health.

Also incorporated is farm score, an on-site inspection of the farm that takes into account farm cleanliness and sanitation, cow living conditions and milking equipment inspections.

Before Chartrand Farm, the award was given to R.E. Hemond in Minot for four years; and before that, to Deerfield Farm in Winterport, which received the award for three years.

Bill Bennett, chairman of Oakhurst’s board of directors, said the recognition of farmers will continue as the company continues to operate under the same name.

“Things are going to stay pretty much the same around here. We have the same management team, the same people working here, and we’re buying high-quality milk from the same farms. Dairy Farmers of America was interested in buying us because of who we are and what we do, and they’re not interested in changing us in any way other than positive ways,” he said.

One example could be that the larger company has a larger laboratory and resources that could help Oakhurst develop more ideas on how to improve quality of milk on their farms, Bennett said.

The buying power of the larger entity also could help more farmers buy new equipment, he said.

Chartrand, who said Tuesday that he was not aware the company was recognizing his farm until the Morning Sentinel contacted him, said he hopes to continue to be successful. The farm will turn 30 years old in June.

“Like any other farmer, I’m trying to do a good job just by generally staying busy,” he said, “taking care of the cows and doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 rohm@centralmaine.com
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