NH Tidbits: Cow Hampshire Revisited

Postcard of HP Hood Farm in Derry NH

Vintage postcard showing scene at H.P. Hood Farm in Derry NH. Property of the blog editor.

After fifteen years as editor of this blog, I received my first “hate you” email recently. You’ll never guess the reason why.

A reader spotted my blog title, Cow Hampshire, and it sent them into a cud-chewing frenzy. They mooed  on and on about how I was belittling the State of New Hampshire, how I must be a grass-chewer to have chosen such a name.

I think someone must have been having a bad day. Perhaps they needed a bovine hug. Cows are very good at hugging–I bet you didn’t know that. Oh I know they don’t have arms (typing this quickly before someone accuses me of not knowing cow anatomy).  Actually they prefer accordion music to hugging.

View of Mt. Adams and Madison from Pinkham Notch, White Mountains NH. Cows enjoying the view from the Glen House. Postcard property of the blog owner.

Why are we in such a hurry to disconnect from the term, Cow Hampshire? Why are our native feelings so easily hurt if someone uses that epithet? Didn’t our moms tell us that when someone wants to pick on us, they will poke the spot that they think will hurt us the most?

In the case of New Hampshire, it is a fabulous place to live. Folks with a “want to be better than you” envy have trouble finding serious reasons to criticize us. Those are the ones doing the derogating. Grasping at udders they use a benign nickname to evoke a heated response. The less informed, the insecure and the hostile-prone will always get offended by name calling. We should view ‘Cow Hampshire’ as a constructive and progressive term.

Photograph: Mr. Dickinson farmer, Lisbon near Franconia NH, 1940; US Farm Security
Administration; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Education And Husbandry.
In its early days, the University of New Hampshire was known as the New Hampshire College of Agriculture. The attendees of that school were highly intelligent and practical people who understood the value of agriculture to life and to our economy. Graduates were able to use their new-found knowledge to produce healthy and tasty fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. Within the school the students playfully wisecracked about cows and how they seemed to outnumber the humans who were learning about them. “Cow Hampshire,” they joked, with no slight intended. That is the story I heard from my Dad, and also read later in a newspaper clipping [Portsmouth Herald (NH) Monday, Nov. 29, 1971].

Spotted Money Makers
Agriculture and milk production remains vitally important to New Hampshire for several  reasons including economic and scenic ones. Cows and dairy farming in New Hampshire make up a substantial portion of agricultural income in the State of New Hampshire. That percentage is dropping as farmers leave the commercial milking business. Is our own apparent disdain for cows and Cow Hampshire hurrying along the demise of our farms?

“Perfect Seventh” of Canterbury (NH) Shaker Village. Postcard property of J.W. Brown

“Bossy” mooing at the pasture gate
New Hampshire’s pastoral landscapes are also an essential part of our heritage. Close your eyes and think of how you would describe New Hampshire to someone. I’m sure that a bucolic field surrounded by a stone wall, and full of wild flowers (and probably cows) would be included. I highly doubt that you pictured acres of parking lots, factories and housing developments. Yet the latter is what happens when we don’t support agriculture. When the farmers are bled dry from not being able to make a living, they will sell the land to be built upon or industrialized.  When the milking farms close, the odds are against them to ever open again.

Landscape painting, Cows in pasture. Artist, Charles Franklin Pierce (born in Sharon NH); cira 1890. New Hampshire Historical Society. Painting was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Field.

Cows and history.
I write about the past. I blog about New Hampshire history. From its earliest days following European settlement, the land that would eventually become known as New Hampshire was agriculturally-focused. Back then almost everyone was a farmer. Back then owning one or more cows was a boon to a family, not a curse. A herd of cows in a field was a sign of prosperity. The by-product they produced (in additional to milk) was sought as fertilizer, not cursed as being too smelly.

Cows are Smart.
Cows have not changed a great deal. What seems to have changed are human attitudes. The more people grip and punch their keyboards the more they disconnect from reality, and less they understand cows and farming.  This is followed by their feeling and acting superior to the science of husbandry–a topic they often have no clue about. Have you ever noticed that when people learn that someone is a farmer they automatically act superior to them, even if oft times those farmers have a better education than they do? Working with the land doesn’t lower your IQ, but acting like getting one’s hands dirty is bad just points to someone’s own lack of knowledge.

Udderly Buy Local.
It’s high time that we embrace our agricultural past and promote cows and farms as an important part of New Hampshire’s present and future. We should support our farmers to sustain our future.  Buy their local products–stop at their market stand. And to the folks who get their nose out of joint at hearing ‘Cow Hampshire,’ open up a few local history books.

Old postcard, Cow Bells, Plymouth, New Hampshire. Property of the blog editor.

Hoof in Mouth.
New Hampshire has always been in the forefront to promote education and culture and we’ve never been lacking. We don’t need to defend our intelligence, our appearance, or our favorite foods.   If people want to think of us as “a rural backwater peopled with taciturn, flinty-eyed characters who eat cold apple pie for breakfast and rob tourists blind” so be it. [quote from The Portsmouth Herald, February 23, 1968, Frank B. Merrick]. Just guide me to that backwater, as it is probably a great fishing spot. Give me a piece of that delicious pie, for it was made from local apples. As for flinty-eyes, take a look at paintings of New Hampshire men such as General John Stark or Daniel Webster. It was their flinty-eyes that gave them heroic vision.

The Cream.
What right do I have to say anything at all about cows? Answer: personal experience.  I’ve milked a cow by hand, I’ve brought in the cows (multiple times), I’ve shoveled cow poop,  and I’ve even had a cow officially named after me. Over the past 11 years [15 years in 2021] I’ve blogged about New Hampshire’s prize cows (and bulls), cow travelers, our unique barns, bovine poetry and prose, and fantastic cow events.  I wear all these experiences like a badge of honor.  I saw a headline once that read “It’s not ‘Cow Hampshire’ any more.” That statement should make us feel sad, not filled with pride.


Bringing in the Cows: Arthur Corning White

Concord Monitor: A Conversation with the ‘Cow Guy’ (2016)

NHPR: “New Hampshire Milk Production Up Slightly” (2016)

“Keeping Agriculture Viable in New Hampshire Communities” (Agricultural Commission) New Hampshire Municipal Association

Updated in 2021 to reflect the number of years this blog has been in existence!

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20 Responses to NH Tidbits: Cow Hampshire Revisited

  1. Let’s hope the person was having a bad day. The name of your blog and the content you share set you apart.

  2. Paul A Sand says:

    You’re correct to have been unmooved by this terrabull criticism.

  3. So sorry to hear about the troll attack. I’d bet you a dollar to a doughnut that the troll in question didn’t bother to actually READ the blog to understand and appreciate its purpose of preserving, honoring, and communicating the history and people of our state.

  4. Virginia Penrod says:

    What beautiful article, Jan! One of my husband, Allen’s dreams that came true was being a Herdsman on Theodore farm in Merrimack, NH. He loved his hours of peace in a mooing barn as he helped make the healthy supply of precious milk possible for many people. He would be most proud to tell anyone he was from “Cowhampshire”. And he would be enjoying your blog daily just as he did the Market Bulletin!
    Keep up the good work. You keep our roots happily mooing ❣️‍❣️

  5. Nadine says:

    Well done, well said, and keep on blogging about Cow Hampshire! I live next to a cattle farm so I appreciate this article. Although I have not had a cow officially named after me, years ago at the Hopkinton State Fair, I was thrilled to see a 4H cow named Nadine.

  6. Katerina Philbrick says:

    Pay no mind! Cows – New Hampshire – and your blog – are great!!

  7. Janice I so enjoyed reading this and laughed through all the mooing! Whoever stopped on your blog put their hoof in mouth! I’m def planning a weekend through New Hsmpshire as I love riding on roads where I can see cows and barns! Great response to those bullish remarks!

  8. Amy says:

    At least you are keeping your sense of humor! To be honest, I’d never heard NH referred to as Cow Hampshire and even wondered why that was your title. To me, Vermont is cows. New Hampshire is the White Mountains, skiing, the lakes (Sunapee in particular), and Portsmouth! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cow in New Hampshire. 🙂

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, Vermont has always predominated in the dairy farm arena. Currently for example, Vermont has 900 dairy farms compared with New Hampshire’s 130. The nature of land in New Hampshire is primarily the reason (and the state is not called “The Granite State” for nothing). Our most prolific natural resource is a rocky hillside, so our dairy farms are located mostly along the Connecticut River valley where the land is quite different. If you really want to see a New Hampshire cow just head out that way. You won’t see many at the top of Mount Washington, boating on Lake Sunapee, or taking a tour of Portsmouth’s historic houses, though anything is possible . As always I appreciate your reading my stories and commenting.

      • Amy says:

        Well, we have many times driven up 91, which runs the border between VT and NH at points—but I’ve never yet seen a cow! (Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough.)

        • I live just down the road from Durham, where the University of New Hampshire still supports dairy farming in the state. If you would like to see some NH cows, UNH is hosting a “Meet Your Milk” event on June 17th. https://colsa.unh.edu/nhaes/article/2017/06/openbarn

        • KatPhilbrick says:

          I visit New Hampshire often, and see plenty of cows. You would indeed have to get off the highway, but they are there. I’ve always wondered why cow dairy farming persists as it does (to the degree that it does) in New Hampshire, where the terrain and geography are much better suited to sheep farming, for example, but the iconic New England cow is part of the appeal. As much as I love sheep, I would miss seeing cows. It’s just not New England without them.

  9. Luis says:

    “Cow Hampshire” t-shirts were quite popular at UNH went I went there. ’81-’85

  10. Ellen McGrath says:

    I am a dairy farmer’s daughter. My father was a third generation farmer. If he was alive today, he would appreciate the title of your blog. Please don’t change it!

    • Ellen McGrath says:

      And speaking about education- My father had a master’s degree in agriculture from UNH and my grandfather was an alumnus of UNH as well.

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