A feature article in our 2022 Late Summer issue written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
Farming in a bucolic setting overlooking Lake Champlain, the Ouellette family believes in the value of registered dairy cattle, and that belief is driving their future forward. They want their children and grandchildren to grow up on the farm, and that goal directs the current decisions they’re making for their operation.
Stephanie Ouellette Pope loves seeing her kids flourish in the fresh air and freedom that defines a rural childhood, and feels lucky that her kids are having the same experience she did growing up. “My grandfather emigrated from an area of Quebec north of Montreal where his family were vegetable farmers and raised sled dogs. There were too many sons to support there, so he headed south in search of a farm, found and purchased this place in 1958,” explains Stephanie. “He and my grandma along with my dad, Steven who was a year old at the time, moved in the next day.”
Harmel and Lila Ouellette were the new owners of 260 acres and 40 milk cows near Bridport, Vermont, and they immediately became dairy farmers. The farm is located near a narrow point of Lake Champlain where the crossing from the east to the west side is one of the easiest along the 125-mile stretch of the massive lake. The Native American trails to this point were still evident as were the remnants of native long house settlements in the woods on the farm. Lila Ouellette was a history buff, and soon decided that the farm would be named Iroquois Acres in homage to the earlier residents of the land.
That little boy, Steven, grew up to be a real cow lover and he cultivated that passion in his children as well. The herd has always been predominantly Holstein, and in the 1970s was all registered before a barn fire tragically killed all but one cow. They rebuilt the barn and replaced the cattle with mainly grade Holsteins in order to get things rolling again.
Steven and his wife, Sherry, purchased the farm from his parents in 1979, and kept improving the operation over the years including a conversion to a free-stall barn in the late 1980s and building a new milking parlor in the early 1990s. They added cow numbers in the early 2000s before selling about 200 head in 2005. That income allowed them to fix up the main barn and to purchase another farm. All of this while raising a family of three, all of whom developed their own love for the farm. In 2017, Stephanie, her husband Seth, and her brother, Aaron formed an LLC along with Steven and Sherry to transition to the next generation.
With the expansion and growth over the decades, the family now has a milking herd of 600 cows – still mainly Holsteins, along with about 25 registered Brown Swiss, and a handful of Jerseys, Ayrshires, and Milking Shorthorns housed in a free-stall barn. They farm about 2000 acres on which they raise all their own forage. They have a rolling herd average of 25,937M 4.0%F 3.2%P and the average age of the herd is 3-07. The Brown Swiss average 85 points in score and the BAA for the Holstein herd is 107.4 after a recent classification, their first for the Holsteins in over 35 years!
If the Iroquois Acres prefix sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard or saw the name Iroquois Acres Jong Cali EX-96-3E-CAN, who has had an impressive show career – All-American and All-Canadian Junior 3-Year-Old in 2018; All-American 4-Year-Old in 2019; and Reserve All-American Aged Cow and Reserve Senior Champion at World Dairy Expo in 2021. Owned by the Pacheco family from California, Cali has been a long-time resident at Lookout Holsteins & Jerseys in Canton de Hatley, Quebec, which is owned and operated by Callum McKinven and his family.
Callum is a long-time friend of the family and Stephanie credits him as being one of her mentors in the business. “When I was in high school, my dad and I would go to Canada on school breaks and ride around with Callum visiting herds up there – some of my fondest memories! He is so knowledgeable and taught me so much on what to look for when buying an animal,” notes Stephanie. “My niece, Ashlynn, who also works on the farm with us, has been helping them at some shows, so the next generations are building a relationship too.”
Callum was at the farm several years ago looking to purchase some commercial Brown Swiss from the Ouellettes, and as he was leaving he asked about the ‘blond’ heifer out in the pasture. Stephanie told him the springing heifer had been Ashlynn’s showmanship heifer the year before as a summer yearling, but now was to calve as a junior 2-year-old. The deal was struck and Cali calved with a heifer calf – Iroquois Acres Total Candy, now EX-93-CAN – and soon they made the move to Quebec. Earlier this year, Candy was the winning 5-year-old and Grand Champion at the New York Spring Brown Swiss Show, so the Pachecos have a powerful dam & daughter pair for 2022.
Stephanie credits her father as the reason the Swiss were in their herd to begin with. Her brother Aaron wanted a Brown Swiss calf to show instead of a Holstein, so in 1990, they bought their first one at a club sale. That calf was Junior Champion at every show around for Aaron, so in the years to come, they bought more calves for Stephanie and her sister, Nicky. “My father was the biggest champion for us as far as anything we wanted to do with cows and the farm. My niece Ashlynn wanted a Milking Shorthorn, so he made sure she got one. He’s always been the person I look up to the most. He instilled a love for cattle in all of us. When we expanded, I always went with him to buy cattle, and he encouraged that – we traveled to Quebec, PEI, all over the place,” Stephanie remembers.
Iroquois Acres C Tearin, a Carter daughter that had been nominated All-American Fall Calf in 2019 sold for $12,250 last year in the National Convention Sale as a senior 2-year-old prospect. She is a potential seventh generation Excellent from the famous Timberline Jetway Toni family, and her pedigree represents what the Ouellettes look for when buying cattle. “Cow families, cow families, cow families! Deep pedigrees. I won’t buy anything that doesn’t have a deep pedigree,” emphasizes Stephanie.
With that in mind, the family has purchased a number of Holstein flush cows with powerful pedigrees in the past couple of years. IVF embryos from these cows will be implanted in herd recipients with the goal of milking more Registered Holsteins and improving the overall genetics. These cows include OCD Defiant Lustrous-Red EX-92 who goes back to Tora Triple Threat Lulu EX-96; Santschi Windbrook Valencia EX-91-CAN, a 10th generation VG or EX cow and the dam of Lookout Sid Voodoo EX-94; and Pierstein Damion Lindsay EX-94. Stephanie likes the fact that the work is already ‘done’ on these cows – they’re scored and pictured – so those boxes are ticked if they decide to merchandise any of the offspring.
They’ve purchased other Holsteins from good herds in the region including Woodmansees, Carpenters, and Liddleholme. Stephanie credits New York Holstein breeder Jason Lloyd for helping them in the process. “Jason gets a lot of calls from me! He is a wealth of information and is always willing to help out. He boards some animals for us as well, and I really trust his advice.”
With IVF calves on the way, Stephanie hopes to market more animals in the future. They’ve always consigned a few to local sales, and sold cattle privately, but they’re looking to make sale of genetic stock more of a profit line for the farm. “Due to our location near the lake and the limits of our milk supply management system, we’re pretty much locked in at about 600 cows. At one time, we thought we might expand to 1,000 cows, but now we’re working with advisors to make sure we can cash flow 600 cows for the whole family. Our future is our kids and we want to ensure they have a chance to operate this farm if they want. Everything we choose to do has an economic impact on the farm, so we have to make smart decisions,” she explains.
One of those decisions is to continue milking mainly Holsteins, primarily for their superior milk production as young cows. They’ll keep working with their key Brown Swiss cow families, especially now that Seth & Stephanie’s sons, Rowdy (9) and Remy (7) are starting their 4-H and junior careers. “We want to give them the opportunity to have some fun and a choice if they want to show Brown Swiss or Holsteins or another breed,” she says.
Stephanie’s sister, Nicky Foster, studied at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese and then started Bridport Creamery after a number of years of managing the Iroquois Acres herd. She produces a variety of flavored cheese curds, and a creamy, mildly nutty cheese they call Swisserella. The creamery maintains a small farm stand at Iroquois Acres, where customers can make the connection between the cows in the barn and the cheese on the shelves. She also markets her products in a number of small and specialty stores in Vermont and Massachusetts.
With four generations active on the farm, one thing is clear. This family loves cows and loves farming, and each generation has nurtured that love in the next. The future for this farm on the lake looks to be filled with the passionate Ouellette, Foster, and Pope kids carrying on the family business.