New Beginnings for a Brighter Future- The Link Article

While Bill Troup may be relatively new to farming on Canadian soil, his passion and sharp eye for dairy cows travelled overseas with him and helped establish his top quality herd of today known as Vale-O-Skene Holsteins.  Bill, along with his wife and three children emigrated from Scotland six years go back in 2004 and took up residence on a preexisting beef farm just outside Lindsay, Ontario.

In the beginning Bill explains that “it was a risky move at the time, but we have been fortunate enough that everything has worked itself out and we could not be happier with our outcome here in Canada.”

The home farm back in Scotland, was first established in the late 1950’s when Bill’s grandfather and grandmother began milking a variety of different dairy breeds.  Although Bill’s father, Bill originally planned to go through school to become a veterinarian like his older brother, he was called back to run the family farm when Bill’s grandfather passed away.  Upon returning to the farm Bill senior proudly carried on his father’s dairy operation where Bill, his brother and two sisters were first introduced to the “diary way of living”.

Growing up in Scotland on his family’s large dairy operation, Bill always knew that dairy farming was a lifestyle he loved and wanted to pursue as his future career.  “Like many farm kids, I got my start feeding calves before school in the mornings and helping with other chores on the farm,” Bill explains.  He attended a two year agricultural diploma program in Scotland, similar to the program offered at Kemptville College here in Ontario.

Upon returning to the farm Bill went into partnership with his brother, Gordon and father with a stronger focus on incorporating purebred Holsteins to their herd.  They farmed 850 acres in the UK which was split between a cash crop operation and the 100 head milking herd which was comprised of two owned farms and another two rented properties.  Due to increasing regulations and a limiting land base, Bill knew the farm could no longer last at its current size and expansion was quite simply out of the question.  So he went in search of other options that would allow him to continue his eagerness and fondness for milking dairy cows.

And thus the decision to move to Canada presented itself rather appealing to Bill and his wife, Wendy.  Although some may think that Bill’s decision was rather drastic he explained that “we moved to Canada for a lot of different reasons.  The farm in Scotland was in need of many costly repairs and with talks of a crumbling milk market in the UK; we wanted something that offered more stability.”

Before moving Bill was no stranger to Canadian dairy cows as he made regular visits to Canada beginning in the early 1990’s.  Typically around the time of the Royal Winter Fair, he would meet up with Jim Phoenix and look for one or two Holsteins to buy and have shipped back to Scotland.  “I always liked the cows over in Canada, so I had no reservations about starting up my own herd overseas,” says Bill.  “Also at the time my son, Gary was 13 and already expressed a keen interest in showing and fitting cattle and we wanted to let him pursue his passion in the industry.”

Arriving in Canada in 2004 with only one cow, Bill and his family got right to work on getting their farm prepared to ship milk.  Within two years all renovations had been made and the first load of milk was trucked off the farm in February of 2006.

Currently Bill and Wendy along with help from their two daughters, Laura (24) and Gemma (22) and their son Gary (19), milk 31 cows in their tie stall barn and tend to a herd size of 80 purebred Holsteins.  While Laura was married last year, her husband (Ryan) and her still help out on the farm when needed and house half a dozen or so Holsteins on the farm with their own prefix of Ryla Holsteins.  Gemma currently attends Flemming College in an accounting program and is able to find time to come home and help on the farm in between school and part time work at a local accounting firm.  The youngest Gary also remains involved on the farm part-time when he is not running the show circuit fitting cows in the summer months.

“Both Gary and Laura were involved in 4-H for a number of years and we are very proud of their accomplishments, both at the Royal and many county shows,” says Bill.  Laura and Gary both brought home ribbons from the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto for 5th place senior showmanship (Laura) and 1st place heifer conformation last year with the astounding Vintage Dollman Milly (Gary).

In terms of his perspective on farming Bill says that he likes to “keep thing simple and keep his cows producing high quality milk.”  Currently his practices involve feeding wet wrapped hay, dry hay, cracked corn and distiller’s grains.  Bill says that “we like to try and be as self-sufficient as possible and maintain a good work and life balance as well.”

When asked why he chose to farm dairy cows Bill says that he grew up with the farming lifestyle and had an eager interest in showing top notch cows.  Cows were what he loved and there was never a doubt in his mind that farming was his destined career path.  On the home farm in Scotland Bill says that “we had two or three full-time hired hands working for us right around the time we sold the farm and near the end I found myself doing a lot of the paper work and sitting behind a desk.”  Since being in Canada Bill has been able to manage his own cows and balance paper work in a much better manner.

Before making his way onto the Ontario show circuit, Bill showed in the UK and achieved numerous awards including the prestigious Scottish Herd of the Year.  Since then Bill has accumulated numerous ribbons and banners in Ontario including 2008-2009 Premier Exhibitor at Kawartha Lakes County show, Premier Breeder in Kawartha Lakes and numerous All Ontario nominations as well as Gary’s first place 4-H heifer at the Royal Winter Fair.

When asked what he looks for in a good purebred Holstein Bill says that he likes to walk into the barn and see great looking cows with lots of stature and rib who are also able to produce lots of milk.  He focuses on both high production and type in his breeding program and loves to see large framey 2 years olds in his barn.

He uses a variety of various bulls on the farm in his breeding program including some of the Goldwyn sons, Spirt, Dundee and Champion to name a few.  Bill says “I have never been one of those guys who hops on the latest trend in terms of bulls.  You’ve got to know your cow families and look at the daughters and have an understanding of what is truly out there.”

Over the years Bill says he has had the chance to work with a lot of great Holstein cows and hopes to continue to breed better and better pedigree lines in his barn.  Bill says that some of his most prized Holsteins in the barn today include his original first cow on the farm, Ballcrest Heidi who gave him two daughters who went on the have pedigrees of very goods and excellents, Kallanda Factor Heather who was bought in 2005 from the Phoenix’s and flushed, Kagize Gibson Juice currently 4-E has given five heifer calves and done very well in the herd and Tiny Acres Dundee Cathleen who was nominated all Ontario as a 3 year old at 88 points.

“One of our greatest achievements on the farm has been last November when Gary did so well at the 4-H show with Vintage Dollman Milly.  She had done well all summer long throughout the show season taking junior champion at the Lindsey show and doing very well at the autumn opportunity show as well.  She was a delight to have on the farm and we got a lot of interest in her from other farmers,” says Bill.  Although Milly is no longer on the farm, Bill says that she is one heifer that he will never forget.

Although Bill does not yet have a master breeder award, he is very determined at working towards this as one of his future goals.  “I really look up to those guys who have bred cows for years and have achieved two or three master breeder awards; it’s something that I only dream about doing one day.”

With his positive outlook on the Canadian dairy industry Bill says that he is currently happy with the way his farm has turned out.  “We don’t have any plans to expand the farm right now; it’s just the right amount of work for us,” says Bill.  Current future plans for the farm are for Gary to eventually take over the operation and continue to in his father footsteps of breeding superior cows with excellent production.

Over the last six years Bill says he has learned a lot about Canadian dairy and has enjoyed his experiences with other farmers.  Being involved in the farming community is something that Bill says he enjoys and he believes is important for many farmers.  When he moved to Ontario knowing only a handful of people from buying cows here and there he says his friend base has grown quite a bit.

“Just from having Gary’s 4-H heifer do so well last year at the Royal, people come up to me, who I don’t even know and congratulate me on our success with her,” says Bill.  Bill happily welcomes visitors to his farm to have a look at the cows that he has poured his blood, sweat and tears into and could not be happier for it.

Above all Bill is a firm believer in the mentality that hard work and dedication have been the key factors to where his farm and cows are today.  He could not be happier with the current management of his farm and thoroughly enjoys any time that he is able to spend at shows.  Bill jokes that “I consider my holidays the time when we are off getting ready for and showing the cows, and to me that’s the best holiday I could ask for.”

Learning through the Ages

A view of Vioris Holsteins in Hawkesbury, Ontario.

If there is one thing Stephane Villeneuve knows when he sees it, it’s a good quality Holstein cow.  Being raised around Holsteins his entire life Stephane’s keen sense of dairy perfection has become a sort of sixth sense, allowing him many successes over his farming career.  His family farm, Vioris Holsteins, began back in the late 1950’s when his grandfather and grandmother, Vioris and Irene, established a small milking herd.

“My grandfather had a large family,” says Stephane.  “He held a number of jobs including owning a general store, working as a butcher and doing office work at a paper mill.  But he wanted something that he could raise his 13 kids off of and figured dairy cows were a good place to start.”

And thus the empire of Vioris Holsteins began.  Over the years Stephane’s father Robert, showed an eager interest to take over the family farm and manage the growing herd of purebreds.  Through hard work and dedication, he and his wife Diane, gained ownership of the farm in 1976.

Being an only child growing up on the farm, Stephane showed great interest in pursuing farming, with a particular passion for breeding cow families and showing.  He enjoyed being actively involved on the farm throughout high school and upon graduation at 18 years of age he knew dairy farming was the right path for him.  Stephane joined the farm in 1989 as a partner with his father and could not have been happier.

While his father focused more on the field work and growing crops, Stephane says that he was able to spend more of his time with the cows.  “The cows are what kept me going,” says Stephane.  “Breeding was what I was most passionate about back then and still am to this day.”

Stephane farmed with his father in partnership for nine years until 1998 when he and his wife Julie, fully bought out the farm.  Currently Stephane and Julie and their two sons, Joey (18) and Mathieu (17), milk 60 cows and care for a herd of 135 head.  Nestled halfway between Ottawa and Montreal they farm 350 acres and rent an additional 250 acres in Hawkesbury.  Julie also comes from a farming background as she grew up on a chicken farm.  She now works off the farm as an insurance broker as well as managing the books for the farm.

Much like Stephane himself, his boys have grown up working on the farm.  They have both been involved in 4-H for a number of years, and have done a fair bit of helping out at shows with Stephane.  “While the boys enjoy the farm and all it has to offer, both plan to pursue a university education involving engineering,” says Stephane.  Joey is enrolled at the University of Ottawa for the fall in the civil engineering program and Mathieu is considering applying to an agricultural engineering program in a year or so.

Stephane’s uncle works on the farm full-time helping to milk twice a day in the family’s original tie-stall barn.  Stephane credits his uncle and says “I would not be farming without him.  He is a great help to me and I appreciate all of his hard work over the years.”

When asked why he chose dairy farming as his career path, Stephane simply says that it was what was available to him at the time.  His keen interest in breeding and cow families lead him to experiment with showing cows at local shows which then branched out further.  Over the last 20 years Stephane has made regular appearances with his string of cows at the Prescott County show, as well as Kemptville and Maxville shows.

“It started off 20 years ago by taking one or two animals and then I was hooked, taking a full string to every show I could possibly attend,” says Stephane.  Over his showing career Stephane has accumulated numerous ribbons, banners and trophies including premier breeder and exhibitor of the Prescott County show in 1998 to 2008; an astounding 10 years in a row.

Although Stephane does not attend as many shows with quite the number of head as he did in his younger years, he still remains very active in the dairy and farming communities.  His participation in his county’s Holstein Club over the last 21 years has been quite extensive as well as being involved in the OFA, the fair board and being a 4-H dairy leader.  Stephane says that “he always likes to give himself a new challenge to overcome and make it a success.”

His latest challenge has been being involved in organizing and coordinating cattle sales around his area, particularly the Celebration Sale.  Two years ago Stephane hosted the sale on his farm and loved the thrill of putting together an event and meeting lots of new people.  He and two of his friends, Mark Smith and Cameron MacGregor, have taken on the task of arranging the annual sale and immensely enjoy the new challenge.

Another recent accomplishment that he has added to his name is becoming an official judge.  Stephane attended to judging schools and upon graduating he is generally asked to judge 5 or more shows a season.  Being bilingual gives him an advantage when judging close to the Quebec border.  He can easily converse in both French and English with farmers about their cows and give his reasons.  “Overall I am just very appreciative that someone cares about my opinion when they ask me to judge a show,” says Stephane.  Later this summer, he will be taking a flight overseas to France to judge his first international show.  He is very ecstatic about this rare opportunity.

Back home on the farm Stephane’s specialty lies in the breeding of his own cows.  With a careful eye he meticulously studies each of his cows for their strengths, weaknesses and areas of improvement.  Based on this he picks and chooses an array of bulls to suit his needs based on the cow herself.  In the past Stephane has used the acclaimed bulls of Butlerview Matador, Startmore Rudolph and Hanoverhill Jethro and says that Braedale Goldwyn is one of his top picks for today’s bull selection.

Udder traits are something that Stephane focuses heavily on in his breeding program.  He tries to maintain a balance of 60 per cent type and 40 per cent production when selecting traits between cows and bulls.  “I used to select a lot for show type traits when I was younger,” says Stephane.  “Now I try to breed a show winner that will last in the barn and whom I will enjoy working with on a day-to-day basis.”

Stephane says that some of his most esteemed cows standing in the barn today include descendants of Sunnylodge R F Geraldine, many member of the Sunnylodge Prelude Spottie family and Vioris Baxter Speed.  He also has cow families on his farm that go back to the Roxy’s and Black Rose families, as well as a few close Goldwyn family members.  All of Stephane’s hard work and dedication to his farm has paid off considerably with a current herd classification of 10EX, 37 VG and 22GP.  Currently he is working towards his goal of attaining the ultimate reward for any breeding enthusiast; a Master Breeder award.  He hopes to achieve this goal in the near future and wishes to continue to work with his cows for a long time to come.

With all of his experience in the dairy industry over the years, Stephane’s insight into farming and advice to young farmers comes with a great deal of knowledge.  “The way that I see it is you can break down your life into three sections,” he says.  “Your 20’s are to listen and learn from others.  This is a critical part when you need to have an open mind and get out and see things off of the farm.  Your 30’s is the time when you need to take the knowledge you have been given to prove yourself and make your own path.  Your 40’s are then a time to become the teacher and look back at what you have accomplished.  This is the time to relax and share your experiences with others around you and aid them in their successes.”  Although not everyone looks at life this way, Stephane credits his success as a farmer to the way in which his father allowed him to take charge and have responsibilities on the farm as a young adult.

Over the years Stephane says that his philosophy on life has changed with time.  He enjoys spending more time with his family and has continued to find new challenges to keep himself interested and passionate about dairy.  “These days everything in the barn is for sale, as opposed to the past when a buyer would come into the barn and want to buy a cow and I just couldn’t let her go,” says Stephane.  He happily welcomes visitors and buyers to the farm to look around and see the cows that have become his livelihood and given him so many incredible experiences.

As for now Stephane is very happy with the management of his farm and his close relationship with his family.  He is and always will be a proud Canadian farmer and his passion for cows will follow him for many years to come.  One thing that Stephane says he has always enjoyed is the “friendly part of farming” where farmers learn from one another, interact together and acknowledge each other’s accomplishments.

Correction…

It came to my attention in that I have discussed the topic of whole milk in the last few posts on my blog. I want to make it clear that I was simply informing that drinking whole milk is not a bad thing. I was not trying to promote the sale of whole milk, seeing as Ontario dairy farmers want nothing of the sort. I apologize for any misleading messages that may have come across.

On a brighter note I will begin writing regularly on my blog once again seeing as the school year has started and I will be spending more time behind my computer rather than out in the field.

Cheers!

Black market milk is back!

I do apologize for my absence on blogging.  Spring time has proven to be quite a busy time for me with my new summer job and I have been at a loss for free time these past couple of weeks.  I do however, plan to continue my blog so don’t worry I have not forgotten!

As promised I am continuing part 2 of illegal milk trading….

While raw milk is full of nutrients, it's not always the publics best choice

Let’s begin on a positive note, the pros to illegal milk trade.  I’ll be very up front and say that as a dairy farmer who has grown up with the quota system embarking on the positive side to selling milk under the table is a bit difficult for me.  I would argue that the main pro is to the consumers.  They benefit from the vitamins, nutrients and full flavour of raw milk. Dairy farmers come in second place for reaping the benefits, however it is bitter sweet.  The pot is sweetened for them in that they can sell their product straight to the public creating a new market.  They benefit by asking for a premium (more money) for their product because it can be classified as a ‘specialist product’.  A bitter taste can be left in the mouths of farmers when the public begins to become sick from consuming raw milk.  This can lead to a bad reputation for raw milk which decreases demand and potentially lead to lawsuits.  This then creates problems for the government and health officials (but I will discuss the cons in another post).  Overall there are two main positives that I can conclude.  I found it quite entertaining that you can find a raw milk distributor online, contact them and have fresh milk delivered right to your door step.  I always knew that the internet assisted illegal activity, but I would have never guessed milk would find it’s way to the black market!  Here is a link that I found for finding your contacts, a campaign for real milk.

Oh for the love of milk!

Illegal milk trading has brought up a lot of controversy in the dairy industry both south of the border and in Canada.

When it comes to milk, consumers have many choices to quench their thirst.  Skim, 1%, 2%, homogenized, chocolate and butter milk commonly line the shelves of the grocery store and now consumers in New York state can order their milk straight from the farm!  Don’t get me wrong this defies all laws concerning milk sales, but when the public wants a product a market appears.  I came across this story from an article written on New York Restaurants website.  Needless to say this got me thinking and doing quite a bit of research on the topic.  Basically what is happening is that anyone (typically urbanites) who wants real whole milk can go online and find a farmer who is willing to deliver the ‘real deal’ to their door step.  This act is both illegal in Canada and most of the US states.  I can see both sides of the argument and over the next few blogs I plan to discuss in more depth the opposing views.  This topic has become very controversial between farmers, the public, government and health officials.  For this reason I have decided to dive off the deep end and immerse my blog over the next few weeks in illegal milk trading.  So stay tuned for more on the pros and cons.

Dairy farming can be sustainable!

A view of the materials that comes from digesting dairy manure. The end products are electricity, nutrients that are used back on the fields and dry matter that is used for bedding the animals.

For all people out there interested in sustainable agriculture, I urge you to check out this short video explaining what dairy farmers are doing to make their practices sustainable.  http://www.realcaliforniamilk.com/sustainability

Dairy farming has gotten a bad reputation with greenhouse gases and how the cows breath out methane gas which is environmentally harmful.  While this is very true, people fail to see how dairy farmers (like the ones in the video) are becoming even more environmentally careful.  I believe that dairy farmers are some of the best environmental stewards of the land today.  They continue to find new and innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle waste on their farms.  Farmers deserve a pat on the back for all of the hard work they do to keep their practices environmentally sound.

Maple makes a message

Maple the cow serves as an excellent educational tool for children.

I’m a firm believer in education as a tool to help deliver meaningful messages to the public. Maple the cow has done just that for the dairy industry.  This educational plastic life like cow was an invention of a few farmers from Durham county.  They wanted to find an interactive way to get children’s attention about milk and the dairy industry.  Maple has made many appearances at local fairs, schools and is now a regular at the Royal Winter Fair.  Anyone can rent out Maple and have them attend their function to raise awareness of milk and it’s production and nutritional benefits.  I feel that this type of innovation and promotion is just what the dairy industry can use more of in education the public on how milk is both safe and nutritious for everyone!