Rogersville monks bid farewell to dairy farming tradition
The last North American monastery in the dairy business is selling its cows
The last North American monastery in the dairy business is selling its cows.
Facing a financial crunch, the monks of the Cistercian-Trappist Monastery in Rogersville, N.B., have voted to liquidate their business.
The move means a sea of change is on the way for the brother who has cared for the herd over the past 35 years.
Brother Stephan Hewitt arrived at the monastery from Cape Breton at the age of 24. He was hitchhiking and believed a bit of divine intervention led him to Rogersville.
"I had just a suitcase, and I got to the Cabot Trail and put out my thumb," he said. "The first car came by, stopped, picked me up and brought me right to the door of the monastery. That was like a six-hour drive. So I wasn't arguing. It's amazing."
He's cared for the herd ever since. He knows the name of each of the 90 milking cows, 80 heifers and some calves.
At the time of his arrival, monks outnumbered the employees six to one. Now it's the other way around, and that didn't add up to good economics for the monastery.
The operation was also hindered when a fire burned an underinsured garage to the ground last summer. Crucial tools and farm equipment were lost in the blaze.
At that point, they realized the interest off the $2-million sale of the milk quota would be more than than the herd was making for the monks.
"I made a presentation to the community, the brothers, stating basically that I am 59 years old, and I'm pretty well burned out, working seven days a week, plus there's no succession in the community," Hewitt said.
"And with [the] little profits we make I said, 'I think we need to discuss the liquidation of the dairy farm.' …and the vote was almost unanimous that we give up the dairy farm."
It's not the first agricultural operation that has come and gone at the monastery. Over the years, there has been an aviary, a piggery and a gristmill.
Hewitt says selling the cows is just the latest change.
"We need change in our lives," he said. "We can't keep things for nostalgic reasons. We can't exist as a museum. We've got to live."
With files from Catherine Harrop