Many of the Chesapeake region’s dairy farms have gone out of business over the last two decades. In Maryland, for example, 50 percent of the dairies have failed over the last decade, and 90 percent since 1970. Competition from industrial-sized dairies in the West and Midwest have made it hard for small family farms to survive.
The trend has been: get big, or get out.
But on the rolling pastures of a 200-acre farm in Frederick County, Maryland, Ron Holter (above, right) has found a way to keep his fifth-generation dairy business in business. He is one of about 50 dairy farmers in Maryland that are boosting their profitability by going back in time.
Instead of confining his 100 cows in a steel building and feeding them a corn and protein mash, Ron and the others are taking the seemingly radical step of letting their animals live outside and feed themselves by eating grass.
“Cows eating grass – ruminants of any kind, eating grass – is the natural way, the God-created way, for these animals to live. They are not created to eat grain,” Holter said, as he tended his cows with his son, Adam, 22, a sixth generation dairyman. “You care about their welfare because they are living beings. They are not robots.”