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The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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WRITTEN BY: Carol Anderson

Twenty years have passed since Sunny Slope Poultry Farm in Gilford closed and the land was sold. Robbie and Sue Robertson owned "Sunny Slope", as it is still affectionately called, until it was sold in l987, and it was then that the Robertson's moved from Gilford. They were more than willing to make the return trip to Gilford to share their stories and memories of Sunny Slope with Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society.

It was apparent from the beginning that the years that the Robertson's owned and operated Sunny Slope were good, wholesome ones. Their four children grew up there. Sunny Slope became more than just a poultry farm; it was a place that affected the lives of so many of Gilford's residents.

Sunny Slope came into being in the l920's and had numerous owners throughout the years. By l965, it had become the most modern poultry farm in the state. As Sunny Slope changed hands over those years, Robbie Robertson, in the meantime, was busy working for John Weeks of Weeks Dairy. Robbie, an extremely hard-working man, worked his way to shipping foreman.

In l970, Robbie and his wife, Sue, made the move to work at Sunny Slope, which was then owned by Cliff Eastman. Robbie and Cliff made a deal where Robbie would work on the farm for six years, and he could then take possession of the property. The Robertson's became the proud owners of Sunny Slope Poultry Farm in January, l976.

It was then that Sunny Slope developed into something far more than just another poultry farm. It became a gathering place for many of Gilford's youth. The Robertson's always enjoyed children, having four of their own: Andy, Jean, James, and Ethan. As their children grew, one by one they would help out with the chores on the farm.

The employment of Gilford's youth at Sunny Slope came about in a rather unique way. "We had a professional chicken shipping crew scheduled to come in and help us gather up the 6,000 chickens that needed to be shipped," said Sue. "At the last minute that fell through and we needed help. We sent one of our sons down to the local baseball game to ask if any of the kids would like to help out and earn some extra money." The Robertson's had an abundance of kids show up to help, and never again did they have to use a professional shipping crew.

From that point on, there was always a crowd of kids at Sunny Slope. They would help out in all phases of operation, many of them remembering "candling" the eggs, a process where a light is shone through the back of the eggs and allows blood spots or cracks in the shell to be seen.

There was always plenty of work to be done. Sunny Slope had a total of approximately 37,000 chickens with 24,000 laying hens any given time. Most of the operation was automated, but the eggs were always packed by hand. While Robbie would deliver eggs to stores and restaurants in the morning, Sue worked on the bookkeeping end of the business and ran the numerous errands. Sue remarked, "Our business office was in a room in the front of our house and it was always like Grand Central Station!"

Sunny Slope became an even busier place when the Robertson's decided to start their own 4-H club. The Sunny Slope 4-H Club members kept sheep, pigs, dairy cows and dogs as 4-H projects and also learned sewing and cooking. They created a cross-country ski trail from the Sunny Slope property (located off Route 11-A and Gunstock Hill Road) through to the Persons' Farm. The Robertson's were very instrumental in the development of the current 4-H grounds in Belmont.

During the interview, Mark LaBonte, one of Gilford's current Fire Engineers, stopped by to reminisce about the fun times at Sunny Slope. LaBonte worked for the Robertson's for many years. He also belonged to their 4-H club and his cousin, Steve LaBonte, taught welding to the 4-H members.

LaBonte, commenting on the years he spent at Sunny Slope said, "The Robertson's were wonderful people to work for, and I most certainly learned so much from them." Mark and Robbie share more than just memories of Sunny Slope. Robbie also served as a Fire Engineer for Gilford, along with Pat LaBonte and "Doc" Hoyt.

Eventually, as with many farmers, the Robertson's began to see the price of their expenses rise and egg prices drop dramatically. Reluctantly, in l983, the Robertson's sold the hens at Sunny Slope, hoping they had made the right move to sell the farm. Robbie said, "We wondered for a long time if we had made the right decision to sell, but we now know that we did. We've watched eggs prices since then and they have never returned to what they were." The way for poultry farmers to survive was to become very large scale.

Farming has stayed a big part of the Robertson's life. Their son, James, owns a large dairy farm in Contoocook. Robbie is still very much tied to farming and serves on the Farm Bureau. Sue is a 4-H leader in the town where they live now. They currently own three hens; they just can't seem to completely get away from chickens.

Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society is thrilled that the Robertson's shared their much-talked-about part of Gilford's history. If you would like to share your family's stories and history, please feel free to contact Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical at thomames@worldpath.net. Be sure to check for the historical society's upcoming events at: gilfordhistoricalsociety.org .