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Billings Farm event in Woodstock milks 150th birthday till the cows come home

  • Gregory Macharia, middle, and fellow Dartmouth College students from left, Qiyao Zuo and Hana Ba-Sabaa, pet Jersey calves during Billings Farm's Dairy Celebration Days in Woodstock, Vt., Saturday, June 26, 2021. The event is being held this weekend in conjunction with the farm's 150th anniversary. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Dairy cow judge Ed Crossland, of Cumberland, Md., speaks to visitors at Billings Farm in Woodstock, Vt., about the qualities of a good dairy cow and criteria for judging as Matt Deome, the farm's assistant manager, holds Khaleesi, a cow from the farm's herd of Jerseys in Woodstock, Vt., Saturday, June 26, 2021. Billings Farm is celebrating its 150th anniversary. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/26/2021 9:34:26 PM
Modified: 6/26/2021 9:34:30 PM

WOODSTOCK — Check out that udder, Ed Crossland said.

Crossland, a Maryland probate judge and champion cow breeder, was explaining to a stand full of onlookers at Billings Farm & Museum on Saturday afternoon what to look for when sizing up a Jersey dairy cow. The udder will tell you a lot.

“The main thing we look for on a cow when she is being shown is the udder, obviously the most important part of the cow because it gives the milk,” Crossland said about a 3-year old Jersey named Khaleesi, a royal title for a queen from the TV series Game of Thrones. She was standing regally while held on a rope by Billings Assistant Farm Manager Matt Deome.

“This udder is wider across the back and it’s a little bit higher, so it’s a good high and wide udder,” Crossland pointed out. That’s important because “about 60% of a cow’s milk is produced in the back half of the udder.”

Crossland’s tutorial on what makes for a prize Jersey cow was part of the weekend-long “Dairy Celebration Days” at Billings Farm tied into the dairy’s 150th birthday that included the opportunity for attendees to brush a cow, sample cheese made from the dairy’s milk, watch how soap is made from goat’s milk, and sample homemade strawberry rhubarb ice cream made from the dairy’s milk and rhubarb grown on premises.

And one unplanned but inevitable activity was witnessing the unannounced emission of a cow pie, as occurred during Crossland’s talk. The sudden ejection elicited a collective “Oh!” from the audience, but the pie was dutifully scooped by an attentive farmhand with a shovel and rake.

Billings Farm, established in 1983 as part of Laurance and Mary Rockefeller’s nonprofit Woodstock Foundation to educate the public about dairy farming and sustainable agriculture, attracts about 60,000 visitors annually (although in 2020, because of the pandemic, only about half that number showed up).

But on Saturday many of the people showing up to pet and brush and look at cows were having their first bovine experience.

“I’d never seen a proper big cow before,” said Hana Ba-Sabaa, a rising senior at Dartmouth College from Yemen who is studying engineering. “But these are huge.”

Ba-Sabaa, who was on an outing to Billings with several of her Dartmouth classmates, said that after she brushed one of the Jerseys she was surprised at “how soft they feel,” although she expressed disappointment that “they are not that playful” and seemed “very opinionated.”

In the bovine world, Jersey cows stand apart in their field (figuratively), explained Deome, who with his father, mother, sister and brother oversees management of Billing’s herd of about 125 Jerseys.

For starters, Jersey cows produce milk high in butter fat — about 5% compared to 2.5% from Holsteins. And they do so by consuming less hay and pasture grazing than other dairy cows, making them highly efficient (they are also, despite Ba-Sabaa’s impression, smaller and several hundred pounds lighter than other breeds).

Although it’s largely a showcase operation — most operating dairy farms don’t have neatly mown lawns and costly split-rail fencing around their pasture fields like Billings does — Deome said each of the dairy’s 40 Jerseys that are currently lactating produce about 50 pounds each of milk per day (milk production is measured in pounds, with each gallon weighing 8.6 pounds).

The majority of the milk produced by Billings is sold to Agri-Mark, owner of Cabot dairy products, and the rest is sold to Norwich Farm Creamery and Grafton Village Cheese, which makes the cheese sold under the Billings brand name. Deome said that Billings actually makes a profit from its Jerseys, in part thanks to the extra “bonus” above the regular per-100 weight price it gets due to the high butter content and quality of its milk.

“It’s not a huge, gigantic profit, but we do make a profit on our milk sales every year,” Deome said. The Jerseys “are doing their job and making some money.”

Tyrone Scott, an attorney from Bloomfield, N.J., was visiting Woodstock on vacation with Chris Shemanski, a higher education administrator, when they “were walking through town and saw a sign that said ‘dairy celebration’ and wondered what that could look like,” related Scott.

Now, Scott said, they were at Billings “having a selfie taken with a cow.”

The Jersey who was selected to pose for selfies with visitors was 5-year-old Debut, described by the woman holding her, Amy Deome, who is Matt Deome’s mother, as “docile.”

“Very pretty” was how 9-year-old Annalise Bladyka, from Shrewsbury, Vt., described Debut. Annalise was at Billings for her second visit with her mom, Anne Bladyka, and she had a professional interest beyond selfies and ice cream samples.

“I want to be a vet,” she said.

Some cows know their names and will turn their heads when called, according to Amy Deome. Her son Matt Deome said he knows all 125 Jersey female cows by name on Billings Farm by sight — working around the Jerseys all day breeds familiarity.

“I can tell who they are just by looking at them. Every cow has a different personality,” he said. “They are like big puppies.”

Contact John Lippman at

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