By Steve Fuller
Special to The Ellsworth American
FRANKFORT — Given their backgrounds, it is perhaps only natural that Mike Manner and Lauri Philbrick ended up running a farm.
Manner’s father raised sheep and also had Belgian horses, cows and chickens, and Mike fixed the tractors and other equipment when needed. Philbrick’s father, meanwhile, worked on a dairy farm in the Kennebec River valley and she found she also enjoyed the work.
“I preferred to stay and help hay than go to the beach with my siblings,” she recalled.
Since 1990, the couple has operated Boyd Brook Farming in Manner’s hometown of Frankfort on a couple hundred acres of land. They have a herd of about 65 Herefords, a breed of beef cattle, and also pasture-raise pigs for pork and bacon.
Philbrick said beef cattle have a different mentality than those raised on dairy farms and are not the kind of animals strangers can just come up and pet. She and Manner raised other breeds early on at Boyd Brook, including Angus and Simmentals, before settling on Herefords when they found that they had the temperament that best-suited their needs.
A common question from customers, Philbrick said, is how they keep the meat from tasting gamey. She said they make sure to give their herd quality feed throughout the winter and then do rotational pastures in the summer.
“When the herd leaves a pasture we take extra care to make sure there is good quality grass for their return on the next rotation,” Philbrick explained on the farm’s website. “It’s a lot of work but well worth it at dinner time!”
Manner and Philbrick got into raising pigs because they “found it difficult to find pork that wasn’t too fat or too gamey,” she explained. The key, they have discovered, is to avoid extremes.
Philbrick said some people are inclined to feed pigs any scraps or junk food they can find, but that results in too much fat. If they rely too much on pasture-feeding, meanwhile, that can make the meat taste gamey.
“No junk food and plenty of vegetables,” she said, produces the best results.
Boyd Brook Farming’s cuts of meat range from sirloin to strip loin steaks and rib eyes to roasts, along with hamburger and more uncommon offerings such as hearts and livers. The product packaging proudly proclaims it is all-natural, grass-fed beef.
With dozens of Herefords in the Boyd Brook herd, knowing who is who among them can be a challenge. One year almost a decade ago, Philbrick said, she was chatting with a customer at a farmers market and mentioned they were expecting 20 calves. From late May to early October, Boyd Brook Farming’s products can be found at the Blue Hill Farmers Market among others.
“You ought to have some kind of contest,” the customer said, and from there a naming tradition took root. In a given year, the suggested names must start with the same, alphabetical letter. Customers can put suggestions in a jar at the Boyd Brook table. If their suggestion is drawn, the calf gets that name and the customer receives 10 percent off the meat purchase.
In 2019, for example, the letter was H, and so names for the 14 calves born at Boyd Brook Farming ranged from Horace (first of the season) to Holly (final one of the year). Another calf born this year was named Hank. In 2020 the letter will be I, which Philbrick said should — fittingly — be “interesting.”
The randomly drawn names are reported on the farm’s lively Facebook page (search for Boyd Brook Farming Inc), where fans can see Horace, Holly and other farm animals and get a behind-the-fences glimpse of farm life.
Philbrick regularly writes blog posts about farm happenings from baling hay to corralling wayward cattle, which happened this past August when it was 95 and humid.
“Not a good day to be chasing 5 heifers and a steer,” Philbrick wrote (the animals were recovered successfully).
Perhaps the most dramatic post detailed delivering a bull calf this past June. After coming out backwards (hind legs first), Philbrick had to administer CPR because the newborn animal was not breathing. She wrote that giving the chest compressions felt like she was kneading dough, and she breathed into the calf’s nose after cleaning it and his mouth off. After a few more complications, the calf eventually was fine on his own.
“I guess you can say farming is not for the faint of the heart!” said Philbrick.