By SCOTT MERZBACH
Daily Hampshire Gazette
HADLEY — Taking tentative and seemingly nervous steps, six heifers had a new experience awaiting them Tuesday morning as they jumped from a trailer into the pasture where they will be spending the next few months.
Only moments after their hooves hit the grass, though, the young cows were excitedly hopping and leaping about, running from one end to the other of the small field situated below Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery on Hockanum Road.
“It’s a fun day for them,” says Denise Barstow, Marketing and Education Manager at the store, noting that it will be the first time the 7-month-old heifers have been able to consume grass, now that they are old enough for their digestive systems to move beyond just a grain and feed diet.
Normally part of an annual celebration known as Barstow’s Pasture Day, held on the first Saturday of May, the cows’ first foray into a field also marks the beginning of the warm weather season, when the field is dry and the grass is long enough to sustain them, with some feed, until they become pregnant.
But unlike a typical year that would bring visitors to the hillside overlooking the pasture, with families laying out blankets and enjoying ice cream, the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing mandates prompted the Barstows to hold the event without advance fanfare and visitors.
The six heifers are among 600 cows, 300 of which are milking cows, at Barstow’s Longview Farm, which has been in operation since 1806 and is now run by the sixth- and seventh-generation farmers.
Though spectators couldn’t be part of the event, Barstow did a Facebook Live video, which she began by placing a yellow lei around a cow statue that greets people at the store and then talked to viewers who could stream and watch.
The event comes at a time when dairy farms throughout the region have had to change practices due to lower demand for dairy products, caused in part by the closing of schools and college campuses during the pandemic.
“It’s definitely been very stressful and sad,” Barstow said.
Barstow’s is one of 850 farms that is part of the Agri-Mark Cooperative and the Cabot brand.
She said Barstow’s has taken a series of steps to decrease production so that milk has not been dumped.
Though only family could be on hand for Pasture Day, Annalise Kieley, farm relations specialist for New England Dairy, participated to help the organizations find new homes for dairy products and support endeavors that promote locally produced milk.