Building Pedigrees in the Green Mountain State
This story was published in the Late Summer 2023 Cowsmopolitan Magazine.
Red barns, green fields, a white sprawling farmhouse. Coming upon Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vermont is like stepping into a New England postcard.With good reason – there’s been a farm on this acreage since the 1700s, nestled in the Green Hills in central Vermont.
Bob and Beth Kennett purchased the farm in 1979 and are the 5th family to own the property since the 1700s. The striking five-story red barn was built in 1887 by Dr. Charles Emerson, founder of Emerson College in Boston and a distant cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s built on the footprint of an older, smaller barn from the 1780s, while the lovely Greek Revival-style farmhouse was constructed in 1824.
Both Bob and Beth come from deep farming roots and when they married in1975, they formed the ‘Robeth’ prefix that has been carried by the Holstein herd ever since. Their son, Dave, graduated from the University of Vermont in 2001, then came home to the farm to take the Herdsman role. He married Asia in 2012,and they now have four children: Ella (11),Cecilia (7), Leo (5), and Henry (3).
34 cows came along with the farm purchase, and one of those was aGood Plus-84 4-year-old, Bonspecta Minuteman Prene, who developed into an EX-91 4E Gold Medal Dam with almost 300,000M lifetime. Prene goes back directly to Dunloggin breeding and she’s the foundation of their most prolific cow family. They’ve graced these Vermont hills since the 1950s and most of the herd’s Excellent cows trace back to her. Over the years, they’ve added more cattle from breeders they admire, most recently from the well-known VT-Pond View herd. “Scott Langmaid did a great job developing those cow families and the kind of cow we admire,” praises Dave.
The Kennetts have improved and added to the operation over the years with anew heifer barn and in 2007 they added 59 stall sand-bedded free stall, where the high production group lives, in addition to the 51 tie-stall barn with a pipeline, where all the cows are still milked. Bob and Dave do the bulk of the work with the cows. Dave feeds calves and breeds all cows while Bob does a lot of the outside work, haying and repairs with help from nephew, Tony. They have two Hispanic employees that do the milking and barn cleaning. They crop 330 acres with 120 acres in corn and the rest in grass for hay and silage.When they first classified the herd, Bob and Beth walked away with just two Very Good cows. From that humble start, they built a tremendous all-Holstein herd that has earned the Progressive Breeder Registry award for 29 years. The herd averages 25,000 lbs of milk on 2X milking and has aBAA 110.9% with 40 EX, 50 VG, 20 GP.
They strive for a high scored cows with show potential and love strong cow families. They don’t chase the ‘hot’ young bull, but tend to use one or two bulls across the whole herd. “Sometimes you have to wait to find the next game changer or the great bull of a generation, but those ‘brand name’ bulls have generated our most successful cows,” notes Dave. “We have bred 135 Excellent cows and almost all are from bulls you know by one name:Durham, Shottle, Goldwyn, Atwood.We’re a bit old-fashioned, I guess. We’re not worried about putting bulls in stud or getting the highest genomic numbers.Our passion in breeding cows is building great pedigrees,” asserts Dave.
Most of those EX cows come from the ‘P’family started by Prene, and now the herd boasts six EX-94 cows. The first of those was Robeth Durham Pixie, who is a family favorite, and has been joined at that EX-94 score by her daughter, Robeth Goldwyn Pippa. In recent years, the Kennetts have begun flushing more with those donor dams being the EX-94 cows. The eggs go into recipients in a large dairy in New York, and the calves on the ground and the pregnancies to come are exciting, with King Docs, Delta-Lambdas, Warriors.In fact, there are 65 King Docs in the heifer pens right now!
Not surprisingly with the inventory on hand and coming, the idea was floated to have a sale. When classifier Adam Liddle was there last August to score the herd,he saw lots of cattle everywhere. “Adam said we would breathe a sigh of relief after a sale and we’d have more space.And frankly, anytime you flush a lot, you need to create some cash flow to pay for it all,” remarked Dave. “We know that cows don’t live forever, and we wanted some babies out of those EX-94 cows, but now we’re getting squeezed for space.
“The plan is to sell about 100 head – 75of Robeth-bred cattle, and 25 head from other New England herds on Saturday,April 27th, 2024 at The Legacy of Liberty Hill Sale. The event will be managed by The Alliance (Abbott & Hill). They’ve always sold groups of young cows and bred heifers privately, and have consigned to the Massachusetts Blue Ribbon Calf Sale, Cobleskill and Cornell sales. They still have a robust herd bull market – selling about 50 bulls a year to herds in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Now they want to take it to the next level with a sale of their own. They’ve got 30 heifers due to calve in March so that they are 50-60 days fresh for the sale. “Down the line, it probably won’t be our only sale,” notes Dave.”
“I hope it isn’t still snowing on April 27th,”laughs Dave, but the date allows Vermont youth to purchase project animals before the ownership deadline of May 1st. “We all grew up in 4-H, and it’s important to us that the sale provides the opportunity for Vermont kids to get an animal they can show in 2024,” comments Dave.
Speaking of showing, it’s something the family, particularly Dave, has always enjoyed. He had a lot of fun as a junior exhibitor with Robeth Mandel Winnie, who cleaned up in New England as a heifer, then went to Louisville as a milking yearling in 1999, where she won the junior and open shows. She was a VG-89 2-year-old, then scored EX-92 2nd calf and made40,000 lbs. of milk. She really ignited the show bug for Dave, and it’s something they continue to this day traveling their county fair, the New England Summer Show, and the Big E every year.
Their current show queen would be Robeth Atwood Venus EX-94, who won the Lifetime Production Cow class at the New England Summer Show, and was Reserve Grand Champion at their Addison County Fair. On top of that, she’s a remarkable flush cow who made 20 King Doc embryos last year, and lots of Tatoo and Hulu *RC eggs just recently. She is due to Tatoo in the spring.
The Kennetts’ love for deep pedigrees and powerful cows was nurtured by many mentors along the way. Dave mentions just a few: Tink Camp – ‘He was the master of developing the Golden Cross, like Valiant x Elevation, and now we love to find a pattern like that and go with it, such as Atwood x Sid and currently, Doc on Diamondback!”Scott Langmaid- “To see the strings of cattle he would bring to our state show, he was really an
inspiration”. Gerry Audet of Lake Home Farm – “I saw his row of Hanover Hill Starbuck daughters at the county fair as a young kid. I went home and begged Dad to get some Starbuck semen. It was our Starbuck daughters that yielded our first PBR award!”
In addition to the dairy herd, the Kennetts have diversified into agri-tourism. Beth has run a highly-successful ‘Country inn’ on the farm since 1984. Guests can stay, do some family-friendly chores on the farm, explore the area and enjoys Beth’s wonderful meals morning and evening. Asia started giving farm tours a few years ago, and are scheduled to coincide with daily chores to allow guests the opportunity to experience daily farm life. Tours last an hour and a half,and are also quite popular. “Mom can have a house full and then four or five cars pull in for a tour – it can get to be a yard full,”says Dave.
With all that activity and a young family, the days can be long, but the months fly by. But it’s that young family that keeps the Kennetts moving forward. Dave is proud of both the legacy and the opportunity they are providing for their kids. “Our future depends on our youth, here at our farm, in the purebred cattle business and in the dairy industry at large. It’s the youth that drives the passion! My kids all participate in pee wee showmanship and Ella really has a passion to show. CC is magical, as she helps grandma in the kitchen, and the boys love Grampa’s tractors. We are planting the seed for continued success!”
Story by Kathleen O’Keefe