GREENWOOD/NORWAY — Where have all the cows gone?
That’s what some local residents may wonder as they pass by the mostly vacant fields at Kuvaja Farm at 38 Kuvaja Road, off Richardson Hollow Road in Norway.
Marie Kuvaja and two of her sons, Fred and Stanley Kuvaja, sold off their 48 cows, which means the farm has stopped producing milk after almost 110 years of supplying locals and large milk companies with the nutrient-rich liquid.
“We’re lucky. Our whole heard is going to Pennsylvania to the Amish country. I’m sure they’ll get taken care of. They’ve never seen such a big cow,” Marie laughed as she sat at her kitchen table earlier this week.
The large white farm house is dotted with red shutters and overlooks the rolling Oxford Hills. When it’s clear out, there’s a fabulous view of Oxford and sometimes the family can see the cell tower situated on top of Pikes Hill, closer to downtown Norway, Fred said.
But on Tuesday, the dreary gray weather matched the tone of the tale of how family farming is no longer a profitable way of life.
At one point, the Kuvajas had between 370 and 380 milking cows, but over the years had to downsize and now have had to get rid of the animals all together. Running a dairy farm is a big headache and a foolish thing to get into, Fred cautioned. Marie agreed, saying she wouldn’t encourage young people to go into farming nowadays.
“How the hell can we make it there?” Fred asked. “The milk prices are lower than the price of grain. … Only thing you can do these days with farming is farmers’ markets.”
There’s a number of other factors that led the family to sell off their cows, including large milk companies buying out their competition. Every two days, milk trucks from Hood and Cabot would travel down the bumpy, country road to pick up the family’s milk.
“It’s kind of a joke. You had to pay them to pick up the milk,” Fred said, adding that because of the farm’s rural location, it cost the family a $1 more than other farmers for the big companies to haul off part of their milk supply.
Gas prices are higher now, which cut into the family’s bottom line. And as Fred mentioned before, grain prices are through the roof because of the flooding in Texas and Oklahoma.
“They’re going to be importing milk pretty soon,” Marie predicted.
Also underscored is the hard work that goes with farming life. Fred and Stanley would rise at 3 a.m. every day to start their chores, which included feeding the animals and cleaning out the long barn that’s attached to the house. Then there’s the field work. That had them spreading manure and fertilizer and going up to the pasture and making hay. And by the time dinner rolls around, it’s time to feed the cows again. They spent at least six to seven hours a day on chores.
“That’s the one thing. You don’t get any vacation on the farm. It’s seven days a week,” Marie said, matter-of-factly.
On top of the original 100 acres attached to the farm, Marie said more land had been purchased on Upton Brothers Road and Greenwood Road that were hayed. Now Larry Durgin and his son will hay the land not situated next to the Kujava homestead.
A bit of a breather is what the family is looking for. Marie will turn 84 come August if “the good Lord’s willing.” Fred is 45 and Stanley will be 59 in September, and his health hasn’t been the best lately. The brothers will continue to hay the land associated with the house and rent some acres to local guys who raise animals on it. They also have a wood lot with 60 acres on the market with the hope that someone will take it off their hands as life at the farm slows down.
But life wasn’t always slow at the Kuvaja Farm. Marie and her late husband, Eino, raised eight children there, four boys and four girls. Fred half-heartedly joked that “only two of us were dumb enough to stay on the farm.” Marie said having eight children around the homestead was a great help to her and her husband when it came to their daily milking operation.
“It’s good for young people to have something to do like that,” she said, noting it helps keep them out trouble.
The farm has been in the family for almost 100 years. It was first developed by William Noyes of Paris in 1813. It changed hands a couple of times before Edward Packard sold it to Peter and Esterio Kuvaja on April 1, 1906. Marie said her inlaws deeded the property to her and Eino in 1953, shortly after they were married.
The rest, as they say, is history.