TOWNSEND — This past September saw the true end of an era when the Rossbach family of Dewmore Farm sold their herd and ceased their dairy-farm operation. It was the last dairy farm in Townsend.
The Rossbachs had been farming on Turnpike Road since 1939, when Laura and George Rossbach bought a house with a small barn on 50 acres on what was then a dirt road. Over the years, they acquired more land for a total of about 250 acres.
George Rossbach died in 2001 when he was hit by a speeding car in front of his home. Laura, 91, and three of her four sons continued to work Dewmore farm. However, the economics of dairy farming have made it impossible for a hands-on family business to survive anymore.
As of this year, it was costing the Rossbachs $18 to produce a hundred-weight of milk, but they were only paid about $16 for it. (At one point, is was down to $12.) Over the last few years, they had to use their savings to keep the farm running and finally decided to concede to the inevitable.
Most of the 250-head herd was sold to a farm in Lancaster, Pa., though 40 cows went to another Massachusetts farm. The last of the cows left by tractor-trailer on Sept. 21.
Charlie, Eben and Philip Rossbach all followed their father into the family’s dairy business simply due to their love of the farming life despite the hardships and hard work. Walter left Massachusetts and had a dairy farm in Maine for more than 20 years. He eventually moved to Tennessee and works in construction.
Walter was in town for his 50th high-school reunion on Oct. 9, so all four brothers were at the house and reminisced with their mother about growing up on a farm.
“Working with our father every day, running and repairing tractors and other equipment, we learned how to fix anything,” Walter said. “Now, when I’m on construction sites, I can see that kids today don’t have anywhere near the hands-on experience for solving problems and fixing things that my brothers and I learned from working with my dad.”
As boys growing up on a farm, all four lived a unique and now nearly extinct type of lifestyle. They had to rise at dawn to do chores before going to school, and often arrived there on a tractor. George and Laura were strict about them doing their school work, and sometimes had the boys reciting multiplication tables while the cows were being milked. In summer, the boys swam in the chilly Squanacook River near their home.
Laura and George originally raised chickens before acquiring more land and expanding as a dairy farm.
“We used to have a regular route delivering fresh chicken on Saturdays to families in Fitchburg,” Laura said. “I’d have two pots set up to boil, pluck and dress the birds.”
Laura also has a large garden than ran along the entire side the house. She regularly canned produce from her garden and was proud that her family lived off the land, enjoying home-grown beans, tomatoes and carrots through the winter. Over the years, she kept the books for the business, too, and still writes everything out by hand, though her daughter-in-law now enters all the data into a computer.
The Rossbachs were one of the first area dairies to have a refrigerated truck in the 1950s. Charlie, 70, remembered delivering fresh milk in the morning before he went to school.
“Even though it seemed like we worked all day, from morning to night,” he said, “life didn’t seem as busy then as it does for people today.”
Over the years, there have been many memorable events, but the three that stand out were two barn fires and a barn collapse in 1996 from the weight of snow. The barn collapse was the most horrendous because many animals were killed or trapped under the fallen roof and walls.
When word got out about the Rossbachs’ emergency, many people from town showed up to help dig out and care for the injured animals. The Shepherd and King families brought heavy equipment to remove the debris and level the ground so the Rossbachs could rebuild.
In its heyday, Dewmore Farm had earned a reputation for excellence. The Rossbachs produced exceptionally high-quality milk in large volumes.
“Our milk has close to 4 percent butter fat,” Charlie proudly reports. “The industry standard is 3.35 percent.”
None of the next generation of Rossbachs went into farming like their fathers and grandparents. Most went to college and work in white-collar jobs.
“Farming is the best life in the world,” Philip said, “but you just can’t afford to do it anymore. Farmers don’t see any profit anymore from all their work.”
Farming has become a lot more complicated, with electronic equipment, like robotic milking machines, bringing high-speed efficiency for maximum productivity. For a dairy farm to be profitable today requires a herd of at least 1,000 cows.
Charlie thinks climate and environmental factors have had an impact on their farm.
“I remember when it used to be 40 below zero in Townsend, but it never seems to get that cold now,” he said. “And it seems to rain more, and with more asphalt causing run-off, we have to drain our fields. In the past, we had to worry more about drought and irrigating the crops.”
The Rossbachs don’t have any specific plans for the future, though they may try to continue growing hay, corn and alfalfa.
Laura is sad about having to sell off their herd. She attributes her longevity to the healthy active life that farming requires.
“I was sickly as a child,” she said, noting that she was stricken with tuberculosis. “But I’m still here. I miss the cows. I’m down to my last bottle of raw milk, and I don’t know where I’ll be able to get any more.”