EAST HARDWICK — The farming Michaud family produces quality.
They’ve got a large dairy operation off Route 16 that yields the milk needed for their Kingdom Creamery business across the road; four hard-working boys representing a fourth generation on the farm; and a special and endangered breed of cattle known as the American Milking Devon.
It was the quality pairing of boy and beast that made it’s mark recently at the Virginia State Fair.
Gabriel, age 13, the son of Leslie and Jeremy Michaud, guided Gemini, a 2-year-old Devon heifer to a championship at the Mid-Atlantic Regional American Milking Devon Show in Virginia earlier this fall.
Gabriel is one of four sons who help work the family farm and spend much of the summer showing cattle.
While his brothers, one older and two younger, got ready after school to go outside to do their chores on Wednesday afternoon, Gabriel delayed his share of the farm duties to discuss his success at the fair, his knowledge of the Devon and his fondness for working with the rare breed of cattle.
The event in Virginia was only the second showing of the Devon breed at the annual cattle showing event at the fair, and it was the second time a Michaud-raised Devon won. In the inaugural Devon show in 2018, Colonial Williamsburg presented a Devon cow that won grand champion. Named Peach, it was raised on the Michaud farm.
The fact that the Devon breed is now being shown at the large regional cattle show at the Virginia State Fair is in part due to Jeremy Michaud’s efforts to promote and celebrate the breed as director of the American Milking Devons Association. Another Northeast Kingdom man, Ray Clark, of Lyndon, has also been a driving force in education and awareness about the breed that first came to America in the early 1600s. In fact it was Clark, also a director of the AMDA, who helped get the Michaud family into the business of raising Devons 14 years ago.
The Michauds started with two Devons. They now own 25. Gabriel said there are only 1,500 registered Devons in the U.S. In an interview last year with Clark, he estimated the total worldwide is only 2,000.
On the Michaud farm are Devon heifers, cows, bulls and working steers. The family seems to have a good time naming the cattle. Standing outside in the fresh snow Wednesday afternoon were two working steer teams, one comprised of Tom and Brady, and the other one Red and Neck.
Other teams raised by the Michauds and recently sold were named Bo and Luke, and Boss and Hog.
The new home for the older team of Bo and Luke is a sanctuary in upstate New York where the cattle are sometimes used in movies. The Michaud-raised Devons were used in a scene for the HBO series “I Know This Much Is True,” starring Mark Ruffalo.
A few factors led to Gabriel’s opportunity to show at the Virginia event. Jeremy’s role as director with the AMDA promoting the breed contributed, as did the fact that the Michaud-raised Peach was a champion last year.
“When we had the grand champion cow, all the breeders said ‘you guys need to get down here,”’ said Leslie.
Also, Gabriel is a veteran at showing cattle at fairs, including the Orleans County Fair, the Caledonia County Fair and the Tunbridge State Fair. Plus, there’s one other advantage Gabriel said he has over his brothers when it comes to working with the Devons.
“The biggest thing with them is you have to have a lot of patience and out of all my brothers I have the most patience so I end up training the little (Devons),” said Gabriel.
Leslie said another factor contributed to which of her older boys would go. Since the dad needed to be there, oldest son Lincoln — a freshman at Hazen Union School — needed to stay home and run the farm.
Since being a good showman at a cattle show requires knowing your animal, Gabriel has impressive Devon knowledge. He knows their history, what to look for in a quality animal for showing and why they were so effective as a cattle breed when the country was first being developed.
The Devon is known as a tri-purpose breed, which means it’s got good quality as a dairy producer, a beef provider and a strong, smart working animal.
The bigger dairy producing breeds — the Holsteins and Jerseys — became more popular for farmers because the need for working cattle waned over time when the tractor was built.
“John Deere came along and the cows didn’t have to do the work anymore because the machines did,” said Leslie.
Gabriel said he likes working with the steers.
“I enjoy being around them and doing tasks that they’re meant to do,” he said. They’ll pull logs, clear debris from the nearby railroad track, drag the Christmas tree, and rescue the snow machine when it dies in the middle of the field.
His recent trip to Virginia meant a 17-hour drive with a cattle trailer that included three Devons and a Holstein. He won overall junior champion with the Holstein, in addition to the Junior Champion Female and Fitting and Showmanship Champion with the Devon heifer, Gemini.
He recalled how his presentation with Gemini impressed one particular judge.
“She was like, ‘well I’ve never had respect for anyone with a Devon before, but the way I’ve seen you show today I now have respect for the Devon breed,’” Gabriel said.
It was not the only successful fair show of the year for Gabriel and the Devons.
At Tunbridge fair this year, he worked with a team of Devon steers to earn the title of overall teamster for all youth.
“That was a pretty big honor,” said Leslie. “There’s a lot of kids at the Tunbridge Fair.”
At the same fair, the Michaud’s farm was honored for the best in Rare Breeds Presentation for their educational exhibit on the American Milking Devon. It was the second year in a row for the honor.
Michauds with Devons also do educational presentations at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington.
“It’s a historical place and they’re a historical breed,” said Gabriel.