By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
HERMON — A consumer-oriented service that vanished in central Maine many years ago resumed last December as Siberia Farms started delivering milk and other farm products to homes in the greater Bangor area.
The delivery service has caught attention and gained customers of all ages — and older customers can remember when dairies named Footman’s, Grant’s, and Pleasant Hill delivered milk right to the door.
Ed and Suzanne Moreshead own the 85-acre farm, located at 719 Newburgh Road, Hermon. Started in 2001, the farm has always raised beef cattle; the Moresheads also raised pigs and turkeys in the past , and a few years ago they added dairy cattle.
“I’ve always been a frustrated dairy farmer, I think,” said Ed Moreshead, a Bangor High School graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of Maine. He works as a Capital Ambulance paramedic.
A grandfather and an uncle operated dairy farms in West Gardiner. Ed worked often worked summers on those farms when he was younger, and “that’s where I got infected, I guess.”
Suzanne Moreshead has degrees in business and nursing; she works as a neonatal intensive care nurse at Eastern Maine Medical Center. She moved from her native Connecticut to Arizona when she was young; when she decided to return to New England about 15 years ago, her Arizona friends “told her that she was moving to Siberia,” Ed said.
The name stuck when the Moresheads established Siberia Farms LLC. According to Ed, on cold and windy winter days, “the barn might as well be in Siberia.” Although the building’s main access lies roughly east-west, the large barn door through which the cows access their paddock faces north.
“The wind just sweeps into the barn,” he said.
The Moresheads raise beef cattle, which use a separate shelter. “Our beef sales are pretty good,” Ed said. “It’s grass-fed beef, we don’t feed them any grain.”
The Moresheads were already selling beef and other farm products when they discussed venturing into the dairy business a few years ago. “We said, ‘Let’s just get a cow and see,’ and the next thing we knew, we found there was a good demand for fresh milk,” Suzanne said.
“It would be crazy” to venture into large-scale dairy farming, Ed pointed out. “We decided to go with a direct market, selling directly to consumers.”
With assistance from friends, the Moresheads created their micro-dairy and creamery by building a milk room and a process room inside their red-sided barn. They started milking Jersey dairy cows; from their milk the farm produces milk (whole, skim, fat-free, and raw), various cheeses and creams, non-fat Greek yogurt.
But the raw product starts with the dairy cows, who “get hay and beet pulp,” a feed product that resembles wood pellets in shape and provides the Jerseys with “a little energy supplement,” Ed said. The cows do not receive hormones or medications to help them produce more milk.
“We feed [our cows] a little bit different than [does] a traditional dairy farm,” he said. “We don’t ‘push’ ours in terms of feeding them large amounts of grain and getting every last drop of milk from them.”
Of their 12 Jersey dairy cows, the Moresheads are milking 11 this winter. “We raise only Jerseys,” Ed said, describing the breed as “a little bit smaller cow” than the black-and-white Holsteins found on many Maine dairy farms.
“The Jersey is a more efficient cow; for the amount of feed that they eat, they give more milk, more butterfat, and more protein than a Holstein,” he said. “The feed efficiency is greater.”
According to Suzanne, “the Jersey’s carbon footprint is less” than other breeds. The Moresheads manage their farm to benefit the environment; lowering the farm’s overall carbon footprint is important, she pointed out.
The Jerseys “have free access to the barn” via the north-facing door and dine on baleage spread in two hay feeders located in the adjacent 5-acre paddock, Ed noted. In winter, the cows eat two tons of baleage a week.
The Moresheads harvest the baleage on their farm. Ed prefers to finish baling his first crop by June 1; he often cuts three crops before the autumn frosts. Baleage “is different from regular hay in that it has about a 50-ercent moisture content,” he said. Hay has a lower moisture content.
Wrapped tightly in white plastic, each bale is “completely sealed. If it isn’t, it will spoil.”
When the cows depart the barn each morning, they can see their future meals stored outdoors far across the farm. The white bales resemble gigantic marshmallows placed carefully on the ground; for the Moresheads, the bales represent tremendous savings.
Suzanne explained that the Moresheads also cut hay on nearby farm fields. Buying hay “is expensive,” she said. “We prefer to provide all our own baleage and hay for our cows. That costs us a lot less than buying it.”
When the field grasses start growing in spring, the Moresheads divide their pasture into separate paddocks and “move the cows every few days so they can always have [access to] green grass,” he said.
The Moresheads milk their Jersey twice a day. Dan Blanton, a part-time employee, helps with the milking, which is done with an automated milking system. No human hands touch a cow’s udders or her milk, which is collected by a stainless steel milking unit and then carried by a stainless steel pipeline to a “milk jar” and ultimately into the bulk tank.
Every bit of equipment “is washed automatically after a milking,” said Ed, a stickler for cleanliness.
The Moresheads process their milk in a vat pasteurizer that heats the heats the liquid to 145 degrees for 30 minutes, a period of time that “doesn’t harm the protein in the milk as much” as other pasteurization methods might, Suzanne said. “It also preserves the taste of the milk.”
The whole milk contains more than 5-percent butterfat; whole milk sold in stores contains 3.25-percent butterfat, according to Suzanne. Siberia Farms sells whole, skim, and fat-free milk and also processes milk into flavorful non-fat yogurts and various cheeses.
On this warm, windy, and occasionally rain-swept day, five calves — three bulls and two heifers — occupied two barn stalls and a small outdoor pen. Nine-day-old Maggie, born on a day when the thermometer bottomed out at –10 degrees, snuggled beneath a blue blanket and a heat lamp in one stall.
Eve and Jack kept company in another stall. Although the calves were only three days apart in age, Jack already outsized Eve, who gazed at the world with those big, brown, soft eyes common to Jerseys.
Two other bull calves fed on hay in the outdoor pen. When they turn 7 months old, the Moresheads will sell them as rose veal.
But Ed’s attention came back to Jack. “He’s going to be a big boy,” Ed quietly said as he peered into the stall where Jack stood next to the smaller Eve. Explaining that he might raise Jack for beef rather than veal, Ed commented that “I have wondered what Jersey beef tastes like.”
The cows are bred artificially. Ed likes to breed a cow 60-100 days after she drops a calf; a lactating cow produces milk for about 300 days.
According to Ed, a typical dairy cow “is put down after she has gone through three lactations.” The Moresheads treat their Jerseys differently, however.
“We expect to be able to milk them until they are 11 or 12,” Suzanne said. “We expect to triple their life expectancy; our oldest cow is Patty, who is 6 [years old]. She will probably be here another five years.
“That’s why we don’t push them to produce more milk,” Suzanne explained. “We don’t want to wear them out.”
Siberia Farms started its home-delivery service on Dec. 5, 2012. “It’s increasing rapidly, probably by three or four customers a week,” Suzanne said.
The Moresheads currently deliver their products on Thursdays in the greater Bangor region. Customers place their orders online early in the week; on Thursday morning, Suzanne and Rachelle Salavarria, a full-time employee, use the printed invoices to “pick” individual orders and load them into the delivery truck. Ed delivers the products, which he leaves in a cooler at a customer’s address.
Customers pay either by credit card or by check. With a minimum $20 order, “there is no delivery charge,” Suzanne said.
Other customers visit the farm to pick up their orders. The Moresheads also sell their products at the Hermon Farmers’ Market, Ingrid’s European Farmers’ Market in Bangor, the Natural Living Center in Bangor, and the Belfast Co-op.
The Moresheads encourage consumers to visit the farms from which they purchase food. “You really need to visit the farm and see how it is run. That way people know where their food is coming from,” Suzanne said. “We invite people to visit our farm and meet our cows.
For more information about Siberia Farms LLC, check out Facebook at www.facebook.com/Siberiafarms or log onto www.siberiafarms.com. The phone number is 207-478-7360.