The Burwell Family

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Story and Photography by Peter E. Randall

New Hampshire Profiles, June 1970, Vol. XIX, No. 6, Pg. 30

Joshua Pike built the farmhouse in 1815. Now Charlie and Vera Burwell and their daughters live on one side and the elder Burwells use the other half during the summer months.

Charlie Burwell said it, "When Spring comes, I'm as excited as a little kid. You can't hold me down. I can hardly wait to begin plowing and to see things begin to grow." His wife Vera and daughters Deborah and Rebecca would agree. This type of enthusiasm is typical on the Burwell Farm which is situated neatly astride the town line between Hampton Falls and Exeter. But the family itself is not a typical one.

(Left to right): Rebecca (Becky), Vera, Charles and Deborah Burwell *.

It takes something extra to be a farmer, something intangible that you can be born with or, in some instances, learn. Call it a "feeling for the land," "independence," or whatever you want. The Burwells' have it in abundance and because they do, they work long hours and realize less profits from their huge investment than most other businessmen would accept.

Statistically, the Burwell farm spans 310 acres and includes a eleven-room house, a large barn, 70 registered Holstein cows, heifers, about 25 calves, plus trucks, tractors and milking equipment. For a number of years young Burwell ran the farm with his father, Charles, who has since retired. Now the Burwells are fortunate in having George Hoyt, who lives next door, as a full-time employee. His two sons also help out around the farm. The two men are able to split many of the duties to give each a little time off on occasion.

There is one other assistant to whom Charlie Burwell gives a lot of credit for the success of his operation -- the all-knowing computer. Through the cooperation of the University of New Hampshire, information prepared by the Burwells, who were originally assisted by UNH Professor George Frick, is programmed into the computer. Now the family receives computer-based reports on the health of their herd, the optimum number of cattle and crops for the farm, or whether or not a Holstein beef program should be continued. The records of the farm and the family's living expenses are programmed and a complete business analysis reports such information as the cost of each cow and gives a comparison with other farms of comparable size in New Hampshire. The computer has eliminated much of the trial and error work which can become costly.

Despite the varied chores which have to be done on the farm, the Burwells still manage to find time for other outside activities. A graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Charlie is active in the school's alumni association. He is a member of the Rockingham County Extension Council, a past member of the Hampton Falls Planning Board and New Hampshire Director for the Heifer Project. This is a program which provides dairy cattle for undeveloped countries throughout the world. Charlie has journeyed to South America to deliver heifers and often lectures about the program throughout this state and Maine.

In addition to her regular farm and family duties, Vera Burwell is an office nurse for Dr. Charles B. Bailey of Hampton Falls. Deborah is just completing her freshman year at the University of New Hampshire where she is majoring in English. Rebecca will be a senior at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton next year. She plans to study nursing.

Charlie is also a member of the Executive Committee of the N. E. Dairy and Food Council and last year the Burwell farm was one stop on the Council's annual Dairy Safari held in connection with June Dairy Month. Playing host to dairy people from all over New England meant a lot of extra work for the Burwells, but they are always eager to share with other farmers the knowledge which they have acquired.

At first thought, life on a farm always seems a bit exciting but a few days spent in the hot sun bouncing on the back of a tractor would be enough to discourage almost anyone except people like the Burwells who want to remain independent and do as much as they can to shape their own futures. Those are ancient Yankee traditions which in this era are possible, perhaps, only if the farmer is able to utilize such modern advances as the computer. However, that mechanical wizard cannot replace the hours necessary for haying, plowing or milking. But these are chores which the family enjoys, for it offers a chance to work outdoors and the Burwells believe that's enough of a fringe benefit to satisfy anyone.

After a long winter, Charlie is anxious to begin plowing.

Becky sometimes has to give the cows a little encouragement when it's time for the afternoon milking.

All of the yearly activities on a farm serve one ultimate purpose: the production of milk. When it comes time for planting,haying, harvesting corn or 101 other chores, the future of the dairy herd always takes precedence. "Noni", a registered Holstein, was recently shipped to the Dominican Republic as part of the Heifer Project.

Perhaps the hardest job on the farm is haying. The work is always performed during the hottest days of summer, a time when weather conditions also include thunderstorms. It's a constant race against the rain when Charlie decides to begin haying. A farmer doesn't always need two big, healthy sons. Mechanization enables the Burwell girls to help at haying time. Here Debby drives the tractor while her father loads the trailer with bailed hay.

Becky and George Hoyt, Charlie's assistant, store the bales in the barn loft while outside David and Peter Hoyt place the hay on the conveyor.

Peter Hoyt puts hay in the feeding stations while the cows are waiting to be milked.

The corn part of the operation is a real example of old-time cooperation among farmers. The ripe corn is cut and loaded into a truck in one operation. The chopper belongs to Geary Hurd of Hampton. Charlie owns spraying equipment and during the year, these two farmers join with several others in the area, working a day or two or longer at each of the farms, helping to cut down on labor and equipment costs.

Charlie bulldozes the corn in a huge bunker silo. Easier to use than the more conventional tall silo, this type holds 1500 tons of chopped corn, enough to last the Burwell herd for the winter. The corn is brought into the barn with a front-end loader.

Harold Perkins of Hampton checks with Charlie to see when the men can come to cut his corn.

Retired after years of farming, Charles and Marian (she was a school teacher) Burwell spend their summers on the farm but look forward to wintering in Florida. Mr. Burwell bought the farm in 1947 and began with 600 chickens, one heifer and a small amount of equipment. Eventually cows replaced chickens and the farm became a father-son operation.

Can any place be friendlier than a farm kitchen?
The blackboard says it all: "Welcoming is Such Sweet Gladness!"

Deborah Ann Burwell graduation photo WHS 1969.
[* POST SCRIPT: Deborah Burwell is now [2009] Deborah Knowlton
and is the Minister of the First Congregational Church of Hampton since 1999.]

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