Hamilton Heights Dairy has been in the Hawbaker family for over 160 years, and Cliff and Maggie Hawbaker are the 6th generation to farm the land, but they’re the first generation to grass feed their cows and be certified organic. Cliff told us, “We switched to grass based dairy in 1998 as a means to give the dairy cow more access to the grasses for herd health and to balance the soils, crops and waste management. This was a decision following a trip to Switzerland. I visited with a dairyman there and he told me how they produce great tasting milk by not feeding grain and fermented forages.”
Once Cliff switched to a grass-fed diet for his cows, he inspired other farmers in the area to do the same. Since Trickling Springs is in the area, it gives farmers an outlet for their organic, grass-fed milk. Cliff is grateful that Trickling Springs will buy his milk, and loves to see how much the company has grown. When he was a conventional dairy farmer, he was losing money even though he was getting more milk out of his cows. Cliff explained that the outputs, mainly the grain he had to buy to feed the cows plus the supplements and managing all the waste was so expensive that it wasn’t a profitable operation. Now that the sun does most of the work, he gets to see how the land naturally feeds his cows.
Cliff is a mentor for other farmers in the area. He helps young dairy farmers get established in the business, as well as switch other farms from a grain to a grass-fed operation. He loves advising and guiding the Chambersburg dairy farmer community, even if that means getting calls from farmers at 5 in the morning sometimes.
In addition to being a mentor, Cliff is also an inventor. He created his own solar panels to run his farm, as well as a contraption that traps hot air to warm his house in the winter. He has the barns angled in exactly the right spot, and slanted going down the hill so that it maximizes the sun exposure in the winter and maximizes shade in the summer. Additionally, the way the wind comes from the north in the winter, it hits the rooves of the barns and deflects off, creating protection. However, in the summer, when it’s more of a southerly wind, it comes in the front open faces of the barns and is funneled to the back, creating a nonstop breeze near the back of the barn where the cows huddle. This decreases Cliff’s energy costs and lets nature work in harmony with the barns to create the best environment for the cows.
Cliff uses a rotational grazing system to feed his cows, moving them from pasture to pasture to ensure that the grass has a chance to regrow. During the summer Cliff allows some of his fields to grow without cutting. He combines that with stored organic hay to feed his cows in the winter. When the weather is nice out, the cows still love to be outside in the winter and enjoy the sunshine.
One of Cliff’s greatest thrills is seeing a newborn calf, representing new life and a future to him. Cliff’s grandkids also love helping Cliff out on the farm, and 2 of his 4 children went on to become dairy farmers in the Chambersburg area.
Cliff loves what he does, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.