The Griffin Family

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Melissa is a fifth-generation dairy farmer on Clessons River Farm in Buckland, Mass. She is a member of Agri-Mark Family Dairy Farms, and she and her husband Adam are the 2017 Young Cooperator Chaircouple. Melissa has been working full time managing the farm since 2005 alongside with her father, Paul Willis. Together, they care for 125 animals, including 60 cows, while growing their own hay and corn for feed. The herd comprises mainly registered Holsteins (including a few Red Holsteins) and a few Brown Swiss.

What do you like the most – and the least – about working as a dairy farmer?

I love working with the cows, caring for the calves and watching them grow and develop. I have been making most of the breeding decisions on the farm for quite a few years now, and it is exciting to see the herd’s genetic progress. Seeing new calves be born never gets old! One of my favorite things about being in a dairy farm family is that even though it’s hard work, it doesn’t always feel like it because you’re with family. You hear friends talk about coworkers they can’t stand, but I never wake up thinking I don’t want to go to work because of somebody I work with. It’s exciting to be able to make decisions as a family and share in the joys and successes on the farm, as well as knowing your family is there on the not-so-good days.

My least favorite thing about working as a dairy farmer is putting tires on the corn pile! After we finish chopping corn in the fall, it is all packed into the concrete silo and covered with huge sheets of plastic to seal out the air and allow the corn to cure. We then lay tires on top of the plastic to hold it down. The tires are always wet and gross with old corn silage, mud, and water, so it ends up being a dirty job with a serious splash factor!

Describe how the work on the farm is shared or divided up in your family?

The day-to-day farm operations are carried out by me and my dad, Paul. My husband Adam works off the farm for Lely North America as a Senior FMS Advisor and helps when he can on weekends and evenings. He and my mom, Judy, are very important members of the team during the summer, getting hay in and showing cows at local fairs.

How do you think your farm’s business plan will change 10 years from now?

We always strive to be more efficient and to better care of our animals, and I think that will certainly continue in the future. The most important thing on the farm is caring for your animals. A clean, well-fed, comfortable cow is the most productive cow, and that’s what we all strive for. We don’t have plans to make any huge changes in the future on our farm (at least not at this point), but we are always trying to be stewards of the land and reduce our environmental impact. This year, for the first time, we are trying no-till planting on some of our corn fields with the hope that it will improve the health of our soil.

During those days when things aren’t going well, what do you do to keep a positive attitude?

Definitely playing with our baby calves! They are the future of our herd and can always make you smile with their antics, expressions and bright futures. Even on the toughest days, there is always something positive that you can focus on. One of the hardest things we deal with on the farm is losing an animal. Sometimes that means a cow was sick and you couldn’t bring her back to health, or sometimes it’s more of a business decision to sell a cow. But either way, it is never easy. We try to take comfort in knowing they were well treated and cared for during their time on our farm.

What would you be doing if you were not a dairy farmer?

If I wasn’t a dairy farmer, I might be a professional trumpet player. I can’t really imagine not being involved with animals and farming, but I do manage to maintain an active performance schedule in southern New England while farming thanks to the flexibility of my family. I would definitely be involved in agriculture and farming in some way!