Using the Land -- Making a Living
Hope in 2000

Dairying in Hope

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Hope did not have dairy farms until quite recently. It had cows and produced milk from the 1780s, when the first English settlers from New Hampshire and lower Massachusetts arrived. But the dairy farm was the invention of the 20th Century. And by the end of that century, they are almost gone.

Milk is highly perishable. Until recently, it was extremely difficult for a farmer to produce fresh milk in Hope and sell it somewhere else. There was little refrigeration and certainly no refrigerated transport. So, until those modern "necessities" came along, milk from Hope cows was consumed by Hope calves or Hope people.

Hope Cattle as Work Animals

Cattle, of the genus Bos, are not native. They are exotic species introduced by the European settlers. For Hope's early settlers, they were a prized investment and possession. Settlers' priorities were clearing land, planting grain crops, and building enough shelter to survive the winter. Strong backs and an ax were what settlers needed first. The better-off settlers owned cattle to help move things. They were indispensable for de-stumping and de-stoning fields. Records from other towns show that settlers would pawn or sell their cattle only in the direst straits, e.g. to pay greedy proprietors for land or to avoid debtors prison. Clearly, these were mainly work animals. Whatever milk they gave was a cherished by-product.

The transition from settlers to farmers and artisans was not sudden. But when it had happened -- when Hope's citizens had built frame houses and barns and had cleared at least enough land to subsist -- cattle were still part of the life of most families. Most of the land that was going to be de-stumped and de-stoned for farming had probably been so by the 1830s. But cattle were the prime movers. Only "squires" had horses, which were a bit of a luxury anyhow. Cattle were the prime means of getting things around the farm, and of getting things to and from other towns.

This is the period that comes through the descriptions in Anna Hardy's History of Hope, Maine. Roads were little more than trails through the woods. Hope was turning its forest cover into cash by hauling it to the coast, where it was the fuel for reducing limerock. Oxen did most of the hauling. Anna Hardy (1918- -) describes the movement of goods over the "winter roads" -- the ice on ponds and streams -- because the roads were so poor. Kiln wood was about 34% of the cost of producing lime and the casks to put it in were about 32% (compared to 23% for the limerock itself).

Hope's farms produced largely for their owner-families' consumption. Hope's cash crop was kilnwood and casks. Cattle played a major role in logging and in transporting products to market. But, well before the Civil War, Hope had sold its primary-growth forest. Robert Grindle reports that, by 1846, kilnwood for Maine's limerock industry, previously brought to the coast on ice or snow, was mainly "brought by water from regions east." By the 1880s, not only Hope but all of coastal Maine had been stripped of its primary forest and reduced to supplying kilnwood from regrowth; the industry's primary supplier was Nova Scotia, whence the wood was brought by small ships. During the entire 19th Century, cattle were important to Hope families, but more as sources of power than as milk producers.

Milk Products Before Electricity

Although roads gradually improved, lack of cooling meant that most milk was for home consumption. Hope people did cut ice from Hobbs and Fish Ponds. Where Ron Russell's (1928- -) workshop is on Camden Road was once an ice house for the poultry plant there. A lot of ice boxes were still in use during and right after World War II, well after electricity had reached most of Hope. However, no one remembers refrigerated transport using ice. Farmers sold fresh milk to neighbors. After all, not everyone was a farmer. And, there was some peddling fresh milk door to door. Still, this must have been a minor matter. Joel Morse (1937- -) remembers his father telling how they stored fresh milk in the well in 8-to-10 quart metal cans with wooden stoppers to keep it cool. Not too many gallons could be stored in this way. Pre-electricity, cattle must have been mainly for work, not for milk.

Except where value-added products could be produced from fresh milk. Societies without much cooling capacity develop a variety of milk products that are more resistant to spoiling. There is no recollection of cheese production in Hope except for cottage cheese, mainly for home use. Yogurt, sour cream, and yogurt-like drinks from turned milk were not part of our culture. The way of preserving milk for sale was to turn it into butter and buttermilk.

William Pearse (1920--) remembers the butter routes. His maternal grandfather, William Pierre Barrett (1864-1940) started a butter/buttermilk route to Camden in 1890. The milk and milk products were kept cool until transport with ice cut from Hobbs Pond at the foot of the Barrett farm, now the Ralph C. Pearse (1893-ca. 1965) Farm, one of the original farms from Hope's 1780s' settlers. Buttermilk was carried by horse and wagon in 10-quart metal cans and transferred to two-quart cans at the customers' houses.

Several other Hope farmers developed butter routes. Earl (1897-ca.1965) and Lura (1898- ca.1996) Norwood on Jones Hill Road had one. Earl also kept pigs and hens and peddled pork, sausage (for which he was famous) and eggs. Milk by-products were pig feed.

Butter routes were the beginning of specialization. Farmers with butter routes kept 8-to-10 cows instead of two to three. Churning butter, then delivering it and the buttermilk are labor-intensive operations. But this was probably the extent of dairy specialization until electricity arrived in the 1930s. Farmers with a butter route still had to run diversified family farms; they could not live on the income from the butter route.

The same pattern applied for those farmers who separated the cream from whole milk and delivered it for sale to the nearest creameries in Union and Belfast. The whey was fed to pigs or young cattle.

Electricity, Collection, and Dairy Farms

The arrival of electricity made specialized dairying possible. Electricity came to South Hope in 1926, to Hope Corner in 1930 and later to outlying parts of town. In 1939, a line came over Howe Hill and up the Barnestown Road to the Ralph C. Pearse farm. That made cooling much cheaper and easier.

In the 1930s, Ben Nichols (1889-1981), whose new barn still stands at the junction of Hatchet Mountain and Jones Hill Roads, was the first and only Hope farmer to bottle milk and to deliver it. He had moved here from the family homestead in Woburn, Massachusetts, for health reasons right after World War I. Initially, Nichols probably had about a dozen milking cows. And dairy cows then produced a fraction of what they do today, perhaps 7 quarts/day, compared to an average of 30 today with some cows producing as much as 44 quarts/day. Early on, the Nicholses had a separator and made butter and cottage cheese. They had no butter route, but this was probably not all for their own use. Neighbors Earl & Lura Norwood had a butter route; they also made and sold sausage. Connie Nichols Durkee remembers "how we kids would dip our cups in the separator."

When Nichols started to bottle milk and deliver it in the 1930s, the Alford Lake Jersey Farm specialized and expanded. In 1941, Nichols built his new barn and expanded the herd, keeping about 36 Jersey and later also Holstein milking cows in the new barn and the young stock in the old one. Alford Lake was easily Hope's biggest dairy farm. In 1943, Nichols engaged two Durkee brothers. The elder, a recent University of Maine graduate, was herdsman; the younger, Doug Durkee (1925- -) also worked on the expanding farm. Doug married the owner's daughter, Connie (1929- -) and they settled down in their (then) home on 60 acres on Jones Hill Road. Ben Nichols and the Durkees built the new milk room, bottle washer, the bottling machine with its sleeves of paper caps,.... And, they installed pasteurization equipment. Although the Nichols farm finally got power, Ben had his own generator. Connie Durkee remembers the ranks of batteries in the barn. The downside of a power outage of more than a few hours was just too great to risk. Mary Berry Gurney, now a stalwart of the Appleton Historical Society, worked in the milk room during this period.

The Alford Lake fresh milk route initially went to Union and Rockland. It later included Carleton, French's (now French & Brawn) in Camden, as well at the Alford Lake Girls Camp and the Beaver and Highfields boys camps, all on Alford Lake. Initially, Nichols bottled and delivered raw milk in glass bottles. Before and during World War II, delivering milk was no picnic. There were no paved roads. The Alford Lake milk route was served by several of Ben Nichols's trucks. During mud season, as late as 1940 anyhow, Ben had to keep them up at the top of Buzzell Hill because the north-facing slope from there to his farm would not thaw and dry out early. The road then went down Barrett Hill to Union, a much shorter route than what we have to use today.

Alford Lake Jersey Farm operated its fresh milk route for about 30 years. But Ben Nichols was aging and had Parkinson's Disease. In 1965, he sold his business to Grant's, providing in the deal for his son-in-law, who continued to work for Grant's into the 1980s. The herd and whatever machinery was not part of the Grant's deal were auctioned. The Nicholses kept a few animals for a few years, then stopped altogether.

No other Hope farmer followed Ben Nichols in converting from a butter route to a daily fresh-milk route.

Except for Nichols, the other (with electrification) critical event for dairy specialization was the advent of fresh milk pick-up. This did not occur until 1945! Starting then, Hope dairy farmers hauled milk to Camden every other day in large, metal milk cans. At the corner of Free and Elm Streets, by the Congregational Church, they were loaded onto a larger truck from Round Top Dairy in Damariscotta. Round Top had developed a larger sales route than Alford Lake. So most Hope milk went to Damariscotta for pasteurizing and bottling and, in some cases, shipping back to Hope. There were other bottlers. Aubrey Pearse sold to Cripps in Camden, where the Goose River Golf Course is now. When Jimmy Carver (1927-1998) started his dairy farm in the 1950s, he sold to Harold Nash in Camden who had a milk route.

Fresh-milk pick-up evolved from farmers converging at Free and Elm every other day to pick-up from the farm. In the 1950s, there were fewer families keeping a cow or two. Farms either specialized in dairying and expanded to over a dozen milking or stopped keeping cows. As farms kept more cows and cows became more productive, on-farm milk coolers got bigger too.

A rash of innovations swept through Hope dairy farming in and after 1945. Milking machines arrived in 1945 and rapidly replaced hand milking. New Holland came out with its field baler and Hope farmers shifted from loose hay to baled hay. Tractors came in the late 1940s too. The Ralph Pearses had a home-made tractor in 1938, made by putting together a Republic truck body and a model-T Ford, but it was just a, well, tractor -- something that pulled. PTOs and attached farm machinery came later. The Pearses got their first commercial tractor, a John Deere, in 1949. Hope dairy farmers started using artificial insemination in 1951, though some did not give up their own bulls for some time. Some farmers felt that cows would not be content and feel that they "had a life" without a bull around. The larger, more specialized farms shifted from feed delivered in bags to bulk delivery; the Ralph C. Pearse farm built the new barn in 1954 and shifted to bulk feed delivery in 1955.

Hope's number of dairy farms maxed out in the 1950s. There were nine. Older family farms that had started to specialize in dairy with butter routes specialized further once fresh milk collection started. Besides Alford Lake Jersey Farm, examples are the Ralph C. Pearse farm and the Norwoods. Others who went into dairying then were Frank Morse (1898-ca. 1975) (on Morse Road in North Hope), Reuben Barrett (1893-ca. 1985)(on Barnestown Road), Ed Ludwig (1888-ca. 1975), who returned from Massachusetts to his father Daniel's farm on Ludwig Road in North Hope in about 1930, Aubrey Pearse on Howe Hill Road, Frank Willis (1925- -) towards South Hope, Raymond Ludwig (1907- -) who, with Neil Libby (1907-ca. 1985), started a dairy farm from scratch at North Hope Corner in 1945, and Jimmy & Barbara Barrett (1924- -) Carver, who started their dairy farm at Hope Corner in the 1950s. Simultaneously, the number of farms that kept two or three cows declined.

After the 1950s, the number of dairy farms in Hope declined. The only new start was that of Earl Pearse's (1925- -) Rocky Top. Earl & Joye (1930-ca. 1985) started at the corner of Camden Street and Robbins Road in the 1950s, then, in 1964, moved to Rocky Top, more or less the site of the Hitt farm, the first European settlement in Hope, on what is now Pearse Road.

Hope's Dairy Farms in 2000

In 2000, there are two dairy farms in Hope. Both are run by Pearses.

The Ralph C. Pearse & Sons farm is the oldest. It is run by William Pearse (1920- -), one of Ralph C's sons, and his wife Francina (1940- -), daughter of former egg farmers just across the town line in Camden, as well as their son, Chris (1965- -), whose wife, Linda (1962- -), was like an adopted daughter to former Hope dairy farmers Jimmy & Barbara Barrett Carver. William's brother John (1923- -) and his wife Ruth (1927- -) are retired from the dairy farm but live on a piece of it. Also in a house on the farm is William's older son, Bill (1964- -), who works as a comptroller, but who also does a lot of work on the farm.

The Rocky Top farm on Pearse Road is Hope's youngest, not just of the two surviving dairy farms but of those that have gone out of business. Earl Pearse started when others were giving up. Earl has now retired and passed the reins to his sons, Tim (1960- -)and Eric (1964- -).

These farms may seem similar, but they are significantly different. Ralph C. Pearse (William & Chris) is a smaller but self-contained operation. Rocky Top (Eric & Tim) is almost twice as big, but has to depend on others for its hay. William & Chris milk about 25-30 cows; Tim & Eric milk about 55. So, most of the time, William and Chris have about 60-to-70 animals, counting young stock, while Eric & Tim have about 120. The Ralph C. Pearse milking machine can milk four cows at a time in their stalls, while the Rocky Top one can milk five. Rocky Top was the first to stitch to "baleage" (see below) in 1993, while William & Chris didn't switch until 1997 and didn't take their silo down until 1999.

But Ralph C. Pearse farm is self sufficient in pasture, hay and silage, counting the land they rent from brother John & Ruth Pearse and from Bob Wright (1922- -), both next door. As a result, they can pasture their stock as long as weather conditions permit (six months) and do not have to go far for hay and silage. The Rocky Top farm has to curtail grazing when there is no more to graze (usually five months) and to feed hay, silage and grain the rest of the year. Tim and Eric have to go fairly far afield to get their hay and silage, which takes time and energy and costs. This is a bonus to Hope and Appleton because it keeps hay fields -- and panoramic views -- open, but it is extra work for the Pearse boys. It also keeps the Rocky Top rolling herd average for milk per cow somewhat below the 22,000 lbs./cow/year William & Chris reach at Ralph C. Pearse.

Another difference is that the Pearse boys at Rocky Top decide when to cull stock in the traditional way, by observation, using their experience and judgment. The father and son at Ralph C. Pearse use those too obviously but, since 1950, they have belonged to DHIA, the Dairy Herd Improvement Association. This dairy-farm membership organization sends a representative to the farm each month to measure and sample the milk output from each cow. (Readers may be pleased to know that cows all still have first names at both farms.) Samples are sent to Cornell University, analyzed, and computer print-outs sent back with recommendations on culling.

With these exceptions, the farms use similar technology. Their pastures are similar, based on timothy grass and clover. Their feeding and milking techniques are similar. Their manure handling and use techniques, tightly regulated by government these days, are similar. Both sell their milk into the same pool, the West Lynn Creamery in Massachusetts, owned by a company in Texas. The milk is collected from both and delivered to Lynne by an independent collector from Unity. Both are big compared to Hope's dairy farms 50 years ago, but small compared to the US average today. Both families work, as all modern dairy farmers, especially relatively small ones, must, very long hours for modest returns.

Dairying Techniques

Modern dairying is a highly technical business. In Maine, handicapped by climate, it is based on grazing with supplemental feeding for half the year, and stall feeding for the other half. Good barns, therefore, are needed for the winter half. Cows are in them full-time for half the year. When they come out, they are some tired of looking at the front of their stall and curious at everything that passes by. Even in grazing season, the animals are in the barn for milking twice daily and for insemination, other veterinary care and giving birth. Young stock have their own quarters.

Preparing good pasture and hay fields is complicated business, not just a matter of clearing forest and mowing whatever grows. Stony land can be pastured, though de-stoned land is better because good pasture is planted grasses and clover without too many weeds. This doesn't require plowing, but it does require harrowing. The timothy-clover mixture sustains itself pretty well with the addition of manure, but it still has to be re-harrowed and re-seeded from time to time. Hay fields have to be de-stoned because they are harvested by machine.

This was not the case in pre-machine days when hay was cut by scythe, then, when dry, raked and pitched into wagons by hand and hauled by horse to the barn.

Haying has changed greatly the last 40 years. In the 1940s and in the 1950s when tractors were coming in, many dairy farmers cut hay with horse-drawn sickle bars. It was then raked into piles with a horse-drawn hay rake. When dry, the hay was pitched up into a horse-drawn hay wagon by hand with a pitchfork. Small boys would "help" by tromping down the hay, as Bill Jones (1937- -) and Jackie Brown (1937- -) used to do for Tile Noyes (1871-1953), one of the shrinking number of farmers with a couple of cows. The hay wagon was backed into the barn. A large harpoon hay fork, suspended from the ceiling by a pulley, was inserted into the loose hay in the wagon. Tripping the harpoon line turned the tines into hooks, and a fork full of loose hay was lifted by a horse and a pulley to the barn's upper floor for loose storage.

Wet hay is dangerous because drying hay heats for three weeks, causing fires, like the one that destroyed Frank Morse's barn in 1961. Once the hay is down, if the weather doesn't cooperate, farmers have difficult, high-risk decisions to make about how and when to get it in the barn.

This labor-intensive and risky operation has changed greatly. Of course, tractors have replaced horses. They are expensive, but don't have to be fed when not in use. However, farmers have had to learn a host of new skills. A farmer cannot afford not to make most of his own repairs. Perhaps more important though were two labor-saving devices, one of which also saved storage space. Baling hay as it was cut saved space and a lot of handling. But a great complement to the baler was the loader, a conveyor belt run off the tractor that permitted the farmer to drive the tractor through the field, picking up bales the baler had spit out and conveying them up onto the towed wagon where a helper stacked them neatly. At the barn, a second conveyor lifted the bales from the wagon to the upper story.

Hay is not as nutritious as pasture. That's the main reason daily milk production per cow goes down in winter. Moreover, hay has to be dry. With the "wrong" weather, getting it dry is difficult and not getting it dry is dangerous. Storing silage instead of hay preserves more of the nutritional value of pasture and avoids both the necessity of drying and the danger of fire when it isn't. Some of Hope's proto-dairy farms started using silage in the butter-route era. The Ralph C. Pearse farm had silos from 1920 to 1999. Initially, "horse" corn was used for silage, harvested with a sickle <Pearse photo of bearded John Wright (1843-1941)>, handled loose, and chopped into silage. Over the years, grass and clover mostly replaced corn and the process got more mechanized. Most Hope dairy farms, like Rocky Top, never used silage.

The distinction became moot in the 1990s with the introduction of baleage, a cross between hay and silage. Thanks to new machinery, a hay field is cut and the cuttings rolled into cylindrical bales, which are then wrapped in air-tight, shrink-wrap plastic while still succulent and stored in the field. To laymen, these are the white marshmallows seen in fields. Silage and silos have become obsolete. The Ralph C. Pearse Pearses took their silo, the last working one in Hope, down in 1999.

Milking is no longer by hand.

Since the universalization of artificial insemination, there are no bulls on Hope farms anymore. All males are for meat. All cows eventually get there too, but they get to have a much longer life. How long depends on their milk production and calving.

Breeding has changed with artificial insemination, but perhaps more of an art than it was before. With semen available from bulls with different characteristics and carefully-documented ancestry, dairy farmers can and do select mates for their cows, not just to increase milk production but to "engineer" the other physical characteristics of the next generation.

Waste handling is more mechanized and carefully controlled. The days of simple large manure piles at the lower edge of the barn are gone. US Department of Agriculture and the Maine Department of Agriculture have elaborate regulations to assure that run-off from dairy-farm manure and urine does not pollute the environment. The dairy cows' manure and urine is a valuable product, an organic fertilizer that helps keep agriculture sustainable. It is spread on pastures and hay fields to enrich them and make them sustainable, though it seems to be increasingly difficult to get neighbors with romantic views of farming to appreciate that the smell that goes with manure spreading is part of keeping our ecosystem healthy.

Our dairy farmers now have to have a manure management plan, which must be certified by a USDA engineer. The plan specifies where manure may be spread, when, and how much may be put on. Dairy farmers have had to construct manure holding areas because they are not allowed to spread manure between December 1st and April 1st, lest it might run off to enrich the soil somewhere other than their fields. While these dates generally accord with the frozen period, they are arbitrary and inflexible, something that Hope weather is not. Manure may be piled outside only at a government-approved site. A government agency tests the soil after manure application to make sure there is not "too much" phosphate, presumably because government is more concerned that some phosphate might find its way into recreational ponds and increase plant growth there than in the plant growth it stimulates on pastures and hay fields. However burdensome these regulations may seem to dairy farmers, without question, they are good stewards of their land and an asset to their community.


A photographic project entitled "Using the Land, Making a Living HOPE in 2000" was done by Jay Leech. The photographs of the Dairying part of the project can be viewed by clicking here.