Falling in Love and Dairy Farming
Many a dairy farm romance has its roots at Cornell University it seems, especially in the Northeast. Betsy and Bill Bullard are among those who first laid eyes on each other while at the esteemed agricultural school.
Back in the 1990s, they were both studying animal sciences, but they came from very different backgrounds—Betsy was raised on the family dairy farm, and Bill grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia in Morton, Pennsylvania. Bill’s family had a couple of what he calls “hobby farms” in New York, mainly producing hay for the New Jersey horse market. He spent as much time as he could on those farms growing up.
“I knew I wanted to do something in agriculture,” he said. After graduation, he and Betsy worked for an animal nutrition company, traveling to different parts of the country and visiting numerous dairy farms.
Bill remembers the early years on what is now his and his wife’s dairy farm—Brigeen Farms in Turner, Maine. At the time it was her parents’ farm, which had been in the family since 1777.
Not coming from a dairy farm, Bill didn’t have the knowledge of the day to day, Betsy said. And she didn’t have much knowledge about how things operated on farms other than her own. Their jobs with allowed them to see how different farms operate and that no one way was the right way. They could pick and choose what they liked about each one to incorporate into their own farm.
“We worked for a good company,” Betsy said. “But we both wanted to work for ourselves. Neither of us is opposed to hard work.” And hard work it was. They married and moved to the family farm in Turner in 2000.
“For the first eight years, we both worked really, physically hard,” he said. He lost so much weight that the neighbors started dropping off baked goods, he added. “They thought Betsy was a bad cook.”
For those first years, they were also working off-the-farm jobs while growing the herd from 60 milk cows to 150 in the first 18 months. “We were making it work, but it was not what we wanted forever,” Bill said.
But they continued to expand, adding cows and moving from milking cows in a tie stall to building a new milk parlor and then a bigger one and then an even bigger one. They were milking 240 cows by the time they started transitioning ownership of the farm from Betsy’s parents to themselves in 2006. That was also the year they had their first child, Sydney. They had a second child, Will, in 2010, and by 2012 the farm was all theirs.
“We were fortunate that my parents were on board with the changes from the start,” Betsy said. “They were always like, ‘Why not?’ and really open to whatever we wanted to do.
The Bullards currently milk more than 500 cows. Betsy’s grandparents and parents had always focused on genetics in their Holstein herd, giving her and Bill a great foundation on which to build, and now they have some of the finest in the business.
“Basically, we’ve added a million pounds of milk a year,” said Bill, adding that it’s been mostly through increased production through better nutrition and continuous improvement.
While he didn’t start out on a farm, Bill has fully embraced the life of a dairy farmer. The work has been hard, “but we’ve always had a goal in mind to work toward,” he said. “We have fun most days.”