One of Maine’s best-known dairy farmers died Friday on the land where he grew up and lived all his life.

Peter M. Zacharias passed away at his home on Zacharias Farm in Falmouth. He was 68.

He spent his entire life on the family farm, where he went on to raise and own a successful dairy operation and a herd of registered Holstein cows that received national recognition.

“Peter was always attracted to dairy cows. He made them his life’s work,” said his wife, Corrie (Nottingham) Zacharias.

His father, Ernest Zacharias, came to the United States from Greece. He operated the Presto Grill on Congress Street in Portland before purchasing a farm in Falmouth on Eureka Road. The road’s name has been changed to Zacharias Farm Way.

Mr. Zacharias was born in the farmhouse that his father purchased. He grew up in Falmouth, graduating from Falmouth High school in 1961. After high school, he attended the University of Maine, Orono, where he majored in animal science.

He returned to Falmouth and started to raise dairy cattle, a lifelong vocation that he pursued until his death.

During his years as a dairy farmer, Mr. Zacharias won several awards — nationally and overseas — for his registered Holsteins.

In 1979, he won the New England Holstein Association’s “Outstanding Young Holstein Breeder” award and in 1980 he was named “Outstanding Young Farmer” by the Maine JayCees.

He traveled across New England, to Wisconsin and even to New Brunswick to buy cows at auctions or private sales.

“He had a good eye for a cow and he seemed to know how to breed them,” his wife said.

Mr. Zacharias’ herd grew over time to its current size of 60 cows. He sold the milk the cows produced to Oakhurst Dairy.

He eventually sold his land to a developer who proposed house lots, but the development did not move forward.

His wife said that in 1999 the town acquired Zacharias Farm from the developer, preserving 125 acres for town open space.

The sale also allowed Mr. Zacharias to continue using a few acres for his dairy operation, a parcel that included a pasture and space for his barn. The remaining acreage is now Falmouth Community Park, which is used for soccer games, hiking, and by cross country runners.

In the meantime, his dairy herd continued to receive glowing herd classification scores.

Mrs. Zacharias said a national ranking system — which looks at a farmer’s breeding standards and care of his animals — repeatedly placed Zacharias’ Holsteins in the top 10 percent of all herds in the United States.

He exhibited his dairy cows at fairs such as the Cumberland and Fryeburg fairs, and at national and international dairy competitions.

He also was a judge at many dairy shows in the Northeast and Canada.

“You have to be very well respected among your peers to be a judge,” his wife said.

For many years, Mr. Zacharias served as a leader of the Cumberland County Dairy Club, teaching 4-H youngsters how to show, feed and breed dairy cows.

His milking barn became a favorite spot for his six grandchildren to visit when they were young. He took pleasure in teaching them about the farm and even gave them rides on the backs of his dairy cows.

Mr. Zacharias’ favorite cow was Jo. “She was enormous,” weighing more than 1,600 pounds, his wife said.

For now, the couple’s son, Mark, will tend the herd, which may have to be sold.

“My husband never left the neighborhood,” his wife said. “He just wanted to have his farm and raise his cows.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]