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.



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.