Good health from the soil up
For the Choiniere family, switching to organic pastures was a lifesaver.
Before the Choinieres’ farm was certified organic in 2002, Guy (pronounced “Ghee”) says, “We spent way too much time tending to sick cows. Everybody told me that going organic would improve the health of my animals and that in turn would keep our family healthy. Since we transitioned to organic, all of that has fallen into place. We worked hard to improve our soil health, which improved the feed we grew for the animals, which improved their health and our family’s health.”
The Choinieres appreciate the network of Organic Valley family farms in their area. Over the years, those farmers have provided valuable advice. “The first few years after going organic, I went overboard to micromanage the soil quality. But one of my farmer-mentors gave me the greatest advice, which was, ‘Just give it the right nutrients at the right time and it will do the work.’”
As for the cows, the entire 100 acres on the home farm is dedicated to pasture. Eighty Holsteins rotate twice a day to fresh forages throughout the grazing season. The family is impressed with the cows’ ability to perform well on a 100 percent grass diet and their herd health has never been better.
The Choinieres’ farm has become what used to be the norm in agriculture: a classic diversified farm. They grow and raise as much as possible on-farm to provide for themselves and their animals, plus some extra to sell to local folks who don’t have a farm but really appreciate good, healthy food from their neighbors. Think of it as the original local food movement. In addition to the milk provided to Organic Valley, the Choinieres raise chickens (broilers and layers), pigs and beef that they sell from their farm store along with honey from their bee hives.
A number of changes continue to shape the farm as it moves into the future. The Choiniere children, Matt and Hannah, have been essential to the function of the farm through the years. Both have finished college, and Matt returned to the farm full time after finishing his degree in dairy management at Vermont Technical College. Matt has been looking at possible areas of improvement on the farm, and some significant changes have been made in recent years. This included managing their farm as a 100 percent grass-based dairy, which means the milk from their cows will be used in Organic Valley Grassmilk® products including milk, cheese, and yogurt.
The future for the Choiniere Family Farm is bright as they continue to focus on improving soil health and the quality of the hay and grass they feed their cows.