NEW SHARON, Maine — Dressed all in white, Sophia Davis pulled her Brown Swiss calf into the Windsor Fair’s 4-H show ring.
Just 11 years old, Sophia is used to showing dairy cows. She handles them with confidence and proudly takes them to the ring. It's all part of life and growing up on her family at Silver Valley Farm.
“I like to bond with them because then they know us and they know we won’t hurt them,” said Sophia.
In a time when few Maine children still have any contact with farm animals, Sophia, her 12-year-old brother James, and 14-year-old sister Samantha all have their own cows, which they handle, care for, and show at the fairs.
It's all part of a life their father, Jim Davis, knew himself as a youngster growing up on the farm.
It's also a life he left behind as a young man, choosing to become a carpenter and tile installer instead. But then life changed again.
“I was happy where I was, making good money," Jim said, standing near a group of his cows munching hay.
“And then my father asked if I wanted to come back. The kids were getting older, could get into 4-H, and I wanted them to be in 4-H, be with animals.”
So Jim came back to the farm, and the family came with him.
They are now milking about 50 cows each day, selling their milk to an organic dairy. And while his brother and another relative are also part owners of the farm, Jim said his kids also share the work.
“Sam and James get up in the morning with me, come in and milk, help me do chores."
This was just a few days before Labor Day, and Jim was mindful of the schedule change about to begin.
“I kind of dread school starting up, [I will] lose half my workforce.”
Caring for their animals clearly has special meaning for all three of the Davis children.
James was washing one of his four cows to get her ready for the fair, soaping and spraying the big, two-year-old Holstein, scrubbing her, and working the mud and manure out of the tail. The job is wet and dirty, but James said he likes it.
“It's fun and it's good work,” he said, as he rinsed the cow with a pressure washer.
Samantha may be the most passionate of all of the when it comes to the cows.
The day they were preparing for the fair, she was clipping the hair on one of the 16 animals chosen for the show. She worked the electric clippers to get an even length, paying close attention to the “top line," the hair along the cow’s spine.
For Holsteins, that top line is supposed to look straight and flat.
She, too, said she likes forming a bond with the animals — an especially strong bond with her first cow, named Maci, now four years old.
Samantha has a lot to choose from. She now owns 10 cows in this herd, bought with money earned from working on the farm, and from raising and selling steers for beef.
Even as a freshman in high school, she is clearly serious about the farm and its future. And her own.
“Because someday I want to take over the dairy farm," she said.
Jim Davis said his daughter’s goal pleases him — though it also brings an added burden.
“More pressure on me to keep it going long enough for her to have that choice when she’s old enough to do it.”
But then he added, “I do like the idea of her taking over.”
Farm kids carry on the family tradition
They all showed cows at the fair, won some ribbons, then came home to Silver Valley for work and school. Lessons are also being learned in the barn, Jim said, every day.
“You learn a lot, a lot of hard work, and it carries you through [in life].”
They also came back to greet a new resident of the farm. Samantha’s cow Maizy, daughter of her favorite, Maci, gave birth to a bull calf, and so is now also giving milk that helps support the farm and its family.