SHELDON — Fieldhouse Farm started with what it sounds like: a field.
Almost three decades later, Jeff and Debbie Kittell stood in their dairy barn with family and farming friends Wednesday saying farewell to their 24 remaining dairy cows before they went to their new owner.
Jeff Kittell is retiring, and in the process, he’s helping a new, 29-year-old farmer get his start with some good dairy cows.
“I’m 59 years old – I’m not going to do this forever,” Kittell said. His wife Debbie estimated that Kittell missed maybe 10 days of barn chores over the last 12 years, and now, the couple is ready for a break.
The Kittells sold their cows to Travis Judd, a young farmer who with his wife is just starting out on a rented farm in Troy.
“It’s the best ending for it,” Kittell said. “That’s going to give him a chance to start out good and make some money.”
Kittell reflected on his time as a dairy farmer, remembering when he built the hillside home on 35 acres in 1990 and when he put up the barn in 1994. Kittell came from a long line of Sheldon family farmers, and he began his own dairy operation with one calf that he kept behind his garage. That one grew to six, and eventually, to his full barn of 44 cows.
“I bought and built,” Kittell said. “This was my dream.”
Debbie Kittell, who has been married to her husband for 39 years and is a teacher at Sheldon Elementary School, said she felt a mixture of sadness and joy to see the barn emptied. “It’s been a way of life,” she said. “It’s a bit hard to see it happen.” But, she added, she and her husband were looking forward to a break, and in addition, the end of their dairy farm means the beginning of a new life.
“The beauty – Jeff calls it beauty – the beauty of this farm is that it’s going to another young farmer starting out,” Debbie said. She added that many of their farmer friends had recently sold off their cows as well. “It’s a trend.”
The cows’ new owner, Travis Judd, was there on Wednesday to help out. “It’s a good day. I’m pretty happy now,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get them home and start milking them, to start farming them.”
Judd estimated that he would be buying about 40 more cows to begin his operation. Judd grew up on a dairy farm, and has his father, Robert Judd, to help him. “My family has done it for years and years,” he said.
Jeff Kittell also was planning to travel to the new farm with the cows yesterday to help Judd learn their personalities, and to get them settled in. “He knows all the tricks,” Debbie said.
What’s next for the Kittells? Jeff jokingly said he would start hoarding in his empty barn, and then more seriously added that he would sell his hay and also plow the roads, as he has done for many years.
“I think we’ll sell our hay and we may put some animals in the barn,” Debbie said. “Maybe pigs.”
“It will be different,” she added.