Rare Breed Coming to Brookmead Conservation Area

John Hammond remembers the advice he received from his uncle: “If you are going to be a livestock farmer,” he said, “pick a breed that can use a little help. If you go with the popular breeds, you’ll just be another number, but if you work with a rare breed, you can really make a difference.” John Hammond listened. He raises Cleveland Bay and Suffolk draft horses and Devon cattle.

John Hammonds herd of Devon cattle.

This spring, after calving season is complete, John Hammond’s herd of Devons will be moving to Norwich to graze pasturage owned by the Upper Valley Land Trust. Devon cattle came to the New World along with the Pilgrims. For centuries these small cows were appreciated for their hardiness and gentleness and known as “triple purpose” animals, providing milk, meat and draft work. Devons pulled covered wagons west. The seal of Vermont, designed in 1778, features a red Devon cow.

But by the mid 20th century, Devons were not needed to supply power for farm activities and their popularity as milkers gave way to specialty breeds with higher production. Now the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists this rare breed as critically endangered.

The Upper Valley Land Trust owns the 350 acre Brookmead Conservation Area on Turnpike Road in Norwich. Most of the land is forested, with access to popular recreational trails. The open land was used by Vermont Technical College before it discontinued its programs several years ago. Since that time, UVLT has moved forward to protect soil and water resources, revegetate wetlands and manage the grassland resources.


Two Red Devon Yearling Steers

UVLT is  pleased that our land can help sustain this rare and special breed of cattle, which is known for its suitability to land like ours. With only 15 breeders in New Hampshire and Vermont, John Hammond’s herd of approximately 20 cow-calf pairs is one of the larger herds.

John Hammond’s North Star Livery, in Cornish, NH was conserved with UVLT in 2013 as part of an initiative that protected more than 300 acres of farmland, Connecticut River frontage and wildlife habitat in the Balloch’s Crossing area of Cornish. John was involved with the Connecticut River joint commissions for years, serving on the Ascutney Region local subcommittee that developed corridor management recommendations. A farrier for 45 years, he’s been involved in farming, animal husbandry and natural resource stewardship all of his life.

Brookmead Land will also support a thriving farm to table livestock farm

Concurrent with the pasture lease to John Hammond, UVLT has selected Tinkhamtowne Farms, owned by Bret Ryan to manage its other meadows. Bret is a lifelong Upper Valley resident who runs a strong and growing livestock farm raising beef, pork, goats, lamb and eggs. Tinkhamtowne Farms is is an independently established business that is fully licensed to sell meat in both NH and VT and currently supplies area restaurants, retail establishments and well-known farmstands. Customers also can purchase meats direct at the farm.

In 2011, Bret Ryan purchased the former LaMountain Farm in Thetford, a portion of which was conserved in 1989. He started Tinkhamtowne Farms a few years later. Josh Swift, another lifelong Upper Valley resident, is farm manager. Tinkhamtowne Farms recently hired Bob Coyle, formerly co-owner of the popular Stella’s Restaurant in Lyme, to assist with sales and product placement. UVLT’s land will play a supporting role in the burgeoning farm to table business.

The eastern pastures at Brookmead Conservation Area

The activities that the two farming operations will bring to UVLT’s property are perfectly compatible with the community impact programming and recreational access at the property. Along with the two farming operations, UVLT is growing an acre of produce at Brookmead this year, including indigenous crops grown in a new partnership with the Abenaki Land Link Program, a program begun by the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation. For more information about the program and to sign up to volunteer click here.