Dutra Farm in Jamestown, RI
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Jamestown, RI - Joe and Jessie Dutra own this 140-acre farm on which they raise 110 Holsteins, half of which are used as active milking cows and half which are heifers, too young to milk. Until a few years ago, the Dutras sold their milk wholesale, attempting to succeed despite the complicated formula used to price milk in this country that frequently causes small dairy farmers to lose money. They began working with four other dairy farms in RI to create a cooperative business under which they would be able to calculate their own price that would better reflect production costs. The milk would be promoted as local, fresh milk from small, family farms in Rhode Island that supports farmers as well as the local economy. "Rhody Fresh" milk is now sold in numerous groceries, markets, and other food stores across the state and has broken even after only five months: a phenomenal feat for a new small business.
The Dutras cows are mostly grass-fed, left outside during the warm seasons of the year to graze in fenced pastures. Their diet is supplemented by hay throughout the year, and when the weather turns cold and the cows are brought into the barns, they feed on corn. Feeding the cows on corn enhances their diet and results in better milk production. Not only do the Dutras plant approximately thirty acres of corn and twenty-seven acres of alfalfa on their land (as well as a bit on Foxhill Farm, Jamestown, RI), they also purchase about 200 tons of grain to feed their animals throughout the year.
Automatic milking machines milk the cows twice per day, every day of the year. The cows are lined up, sixty at a time, thirty on each side of a center aisle to be milked. Each time, it takes about 2 hours to complete the milking process, after which the milk is stored in a 1,000-gallon cooled tank on the farm. A large tanker truck arrives at the farm three days per week to transport the unprocessed milk (which can weigh between 8 and 9 pounds per gallon) to the processing plant.
The Dutras reside on the farm. Joe Dutra, Sr. is the third generation of Dutras to farm the same land. Dutra Farm was originally known as Wanton Farm, owned by Joseph Wanton, Jr., the Deputy Governor of Rhode Island for part of the 1760s. Joe’s grandfather, an Azorean immigrant, bought the farm from him in 1917. Joe, Sr. hopes his son, Joe, Jr. will someday take over the farm.
As is the nature of any type of farming, dairy production is a huge commitment of time and energy.