Three generations share their lives, work on dairy farm

Editor’s Note: The Vermont Dairy Festival is in full swing in Enosburg Falls this weekend. This article runs in conjunction with that event as an example of the many area families involved in dairying and the full lives lived on the farm.

ST. ALBANS — Upon first arrival at the Manning Farm, you may not find anyone else around the big red barn besides the NewGeneration Genetics semen salesman, who’s busy shuttling containers of sperm.

That’s because all the Mannings – grandparents Robert and , 54, both 72, parent David, 54, children Rebecca, 31, Nick, 24, and Oliver, 21 – are usually busy working, or, in the cases of grandchildren Ryland, 1, and Regan, 4, helping.

They have plenty to do with 700 cows (360 of which are milked), 1,200 acres of owned and rented land and Regan’s two new goats and piglets. Nick might be driving a tractor while Oliver and Regan manage the goats. Rebecca – with Ryland in a pack on her back – can be found feeding hours old calves. David, Robert, and Sandy all keep well occupied, too.

“Everybody’s in different directions,” said Rebecca in a recent interview. Aside from barbeques, cookouts or, in this case, a family interview for a newspaper story, the Mannings don’t gather together much.

They do, however, run the farm as a family, day in, day out.

Family tradition

The Manning Farm, located on Bushey Road, has been a family operation ever since it began with Robert’s grandfather, Gerald Griswold about a century ago.

“[He] originally started across the road in 1917,” said Robert. Soon after his grandfather died in 1966, Robert and Sandy bought the farm from Robert’s mother, Myrtle, and then purchased the current Manning Farm in 1971.

“We just ran it, my wife and I and the kids, until about 1980,” said Robert. “We had, like, 65 cows.”

Sandy added, “And why we didn’t stay at 65 cows is beyond me – it was great.”

But the Manning Farm did grow when David, Robert and Sandy’s son, returned from Vermont Technical College. He helped built the farm’s first free stall barn in 1980 and another addition was made in 1997. In 2005, the original barn burned, so the Mannings built a new facility that houses their hundreds of cows today.

“He stayed at the farm with us and worked,” said Robert. “Now he’s kind of gone into a partnership with us. [We’re] gradually turning it over to him.”

In turn, three of David’s children have decided to work on the farm, too. After attending the University of Vermont to become an English teacher and working for a heifer breeding service, Rebecca returned, English degree and breeding skills in hand.

“So when she yells at the cows, she can do it correctly,” Sandy joked.

Nick and Oliver decided they wanted to continue farming, too, saying it was a natural choice.

“Always liked doing it,” said Nick.

All together, everyone on the Manning Farm has their own role. Robert is the boss.

“I’m supposed to be,” he said. Jokingly he added, “I don’t know – they don’t listen to me.”

Sandy helps with calves and with the gardening and landscaping around the bright red barn, which sits on Bushey Road with a giant “M” on the front.

“Gram makes it look nice,” said Rebecca. Sandy also has another job: Robert.

“She has to kind of keep him in line,” said Rebecca, smiling.

David described himself as doing “a little bit of everything,” as he shares the responsibility of running the farm with his father, Robert.

“He’s trying to get ready to take over,” said Sandy.

Rebecca is the herd manager, while Oliver works with calves and does field work. Nick fills in wherever needed. “Pretty much everything else, I [do],” he said.

Working with family

When asked if they all work well together, Oliver said it depends on the day. “We’re all related – we don’t always get along,” he said. His sister added that it helps everyone has their set of tasks.

“We all have our own areas,” Rebecca said.

Regardless, tempers, personalities or disagreements don’t matter on a farm when there’s a job to do.

“Bottom line,” said Sandy, “something needs to get done.”

The bright side of working with family is that there’s no mystery in who you’re depending on to do that job.

“You kind of know everybody you work with – you know what you’re getting,” said Oliver.

There’s also the opportunity to spend time with family. “It’s nice to be able to have my kids with me at work and have them enjoy the same things I enjoyed as a kid,” said Rebecca.

“How often do people see their great-grandkids?” Sandy said of her time with Ryland and Regan.

While Ryland spends most of his time watching over his mother’s work, his feet dangling from his perch securely fixed to her back, Regan may get to ride through the cow barn on her uncle Oliver’s shoulders, help her great-grandmother feed the calves or take care of her two goats, Chocolate and Buttercup (sometimes called Lucy), and her piglets, Emmett and Chloe.

“Named after her cousins,” said Oliver of the piglet names.

Rebecca added that there are unique opportunities for her kids as they grow up on a farm, watching their mother artificially inseminate cows, help birth and then feed calves and the number of other tasks there are to do.

“[Regan’s] vocabulary is probably a little different,” said Rebecca. “It’s pretty neat that she’s seen calves born.”

Though there are plenty of good and bad reasons to work with one’s family, seeing the Manning family in action hints at the innate aspect of a family farm. Once something is begun with one generation, it seems natural for it to thrive, grow and continue.

David said of his choice to continue the farm, “I guess it’s in the blood.”

Robert said of his life’s work, “It’s a time consuming job now, but it always gives me joy to look back, see it changing.” He added, “It just gives you enjoyment…to see how much you improved it.”