More than a hobby

By Resi Walt

More than just a hobbyI first joined a 4-H club when I was 10 years old. My brothers had encouraged me to try it and even though I was nervous at first, it was the best decision I could have made.

The 4-H program started in the United States in 1901, when one gentleman offered a group of local boys a bag of corn seed and challenged them to grow it and show it at their State Fair. And so the concept of a youth-focused program in agriculture began. The concept spread north, with the first Canadian 4-H club beginning in Manitoba in 1913.

Today, 4-H Canada is one of the most highly respected youth organizations in Canada, with 25,000 members and over 7,000 volunteers.

When you sign up for 4-H, you can join any of the clubs offered by your local organization. There all kinds of different clubs revolving around agriculture, food or the environment, as well as clubs with non-agriculture topics. For example, you could join a club to learn about beef cows, goats, woodworking, outdoor living or plowing.

Fundamental to the 4-H organization is the motto, “Learn To Do By Doing”. Every club you join will be based upon hands-on learning. That’s the beauty of 4-H. Continue reading

Methodical motions make moving dairy cattle easier

By Matt McIntosh

3K6A6122If you’ve ever had a large dog as a pet, you know how frustrating it can be to move it somewhere it doesn’t want to go, or do something it doesn’t particularly want to do. Indeed, getting it to stand still for even a moment when other dogs are afoot, just as an example, can be downright strenuous.

Now imagine if that dog weighed about 1,300 pounds. That’s the size of an average dairy cow, and as any dairy farmer knows, cows don’t always want to cooperate either. But just like dogs, dairy cows will go where you want and when you want if the right methods are applied.

“Animals learn the same way, and dairy cattle are no different,” says Dr. Don Hoglund, an expert on dairy stockmanship the facilitator of a recent workshop series for Ontario’s dairy farmers.

“Successfully controlling their movements starts with understanding their behaviour.” Continue reading

Blogger Spotlight: Jess Campbell of Run, Farm Girl! Run!

We’re putting the spotlight on Canadian farmer bloggers. Each month, we’ll feature a different farmer blogger to uncover a bit about life behind the blog, on their family farm.

Jess CampbellMeet Jess Campbell of Bellson Farms near Strathroy, Ontario. She blogs at: and is also on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.

Here’s what Jess had to say about blogging and her family’s farm in our Q and A.

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?
Jess: I began blogging in October 2014. A writer by nature and at heart, I had wanted to start a blog for a long time to foster my writing and create a consistent space to hone my craft. I spent months thinking of the perfect name, the perfect topics to blog about, etc. – basically, a lot of time thinking and planning and no time actually blogging! Then one day, I just jumped in. I took the time to create my blog and set it up the way I wanted so I could start writing again – and I haven’t stopped since.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.
Jess: My husband Andrew and I are proud third generation dairy farmers. We have been farming full time since 2012 with my mother and father-in-law at Bellson Farms, just outside Strathroy, Ontario. We milk 50 Holstein cows twice daily in a newly renovated tie stall barn, and farm about 450 acres of oats, wheat, corn, hay and soybeans. Most of that turns into feed for the cows but a small portion gets sold as cash crop.

IMG_5655_smRealDirt: What brought you into farming?
Jess: Andrew and I began farming full time in 2012. Before then, we had been living in Wingham and then in London, Ontario, working full time – me in Human Resources and Andrew in marketing and communications. Andrew was born and raised on the farm but had initially pursued a career in radio (which is where we met). But after Andrew and I had been working and doing our own thing for a couple of years, we started considering the possibility of moving back to his home to farm. We had been helping out on weekends now and again, and it was just really great to get out of the city, be around the family and the cows, etc. Now, I should tell you that I am not a born-and-raised farm girl. I lived in the country as a kid and was in the local 4-H horse club but I didn’t grow up on a large scale farming operation like my husband did. So when we started talking seriously about moving back to the farm, I was excited – and more than a bit nervous. I had no idea what it took to be a farmer and, to be honest, wasn’t sure I could do it! But I trusted in what I knew and in my husband and his family, and in the fall of 2009, we moved back to the farm and began the process of succession planning. We’ve since created a strong partnership, one that benefits and supports the farm and our families.

RealDirt: Who do you farm with and what is everyone’s role?
Jess: As I mentioned, Andrew and I farm with my mother and father-in-law, Phyllis and Wayne Campbell. They started Bellson Farms back when Andrew was just a baby, having purchased the farm from Phyllis’ parents, Alex and Reta Johnson. We live in the same house that both my husband and my mother-in-law grew up in!

Bellson Farms consists of 450 acres across three different farms. A year and a half ago, Andrew, myself (very pregnant with our second child) and our daughter Isabella moved from the dry cow and heifer farm to the main farm where our dairy barn and cows are located, and where Wayne and Phyllis had lived for almost 30 years. This was a very big deal, switching houses – it’s not often that you have to move two families into the opposite house, in one day, for each to have a place to sleep at the end of it all! Moving day was a little wild but, with many helping hands of family and friends, it went better than we could have expected.

Since moving to the main farm, we have undergone a major barn renovation and addition. We added a new tie stall barn onto the existing barn (which is over 100 years old) that is 180 feet long. Where we had room for only 30 cows before, we now have room for 60 cows, and are currently milking about 50.

Andrew gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to start chores. This includes feeding and milking cows plus feeding calves, and takes about four hours to complete from start to finish. Wayne and Phyllis come from their farm to ours each morning to help with chores; but first, they do their own chores, which involve feeding dry cows and heifers.

Wayne and Andrew run our cow program and are responsible for breeding, vet care, foot care, nutrition, milking, etc. As well, they do much of the field work – cultivating, planting, harvesting, etc. With this, they also get help from Phyllis and from Grampa Johnson. Grampa, who is Phyllis’ father, is 85 years young and farms with us three days a week doing things like spreading manure, bedding cows or working ground. Phyllis is responsible for our calf program and is in charge of the feeding and nutrition of our calves as well as breeding and genetics. Phyllis also does the farm’s books with help from our chartered accountants.

I help out anywhere I can. I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because of my daily responsibilities in the house (cooking, cleaning, etc.), and of course, caring for and raising our two children. Isabella is three and Cash is one, and as any mother knows, that’s a full time job in itself! Often, the kids and I will go out to the barn during evening chores so I can help with small, quick items that need to be done and the kids can help Gramma, Grampa or Daddy with their chores. For example, it’s Bella’s job to feed the barn cats and so that’s the first thing she does when she gets to the barn. Cash is still pretty new to walking and so toddles along with me or one of the other adults, “overseeing” the work being done. 

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: Farming is hard work. That may seem obvious to some but until you are actually farming, it’s difficult to understand what that really means. Our cows have to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Our calves, heifers and dry cows must be fed and tended to as well, each and every day. That’s a big commitment, and we definitely have to plan our lives around it. But I love that. I love having that commitment and that schedule to guide us every day. I love the rhythm and the structure that exists when milking cows.

What I love the most about farming, though, is that it teaches great lessons. Responsibility. Respect. Time management. Humility. Hard work. Commitment. Trust. Whether you’re working land as a cash crop farmer, raising beef, pork, chicken or eggs, milking cows or goats or something else in between – farming will teach you these lessons whether you want to learn them or not. But you become a better farmer, and a better person, because of them.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: The biggest challenge for me, personally, is feeling like a contributing member of the farm. As I mentioned, I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because I am the caretaker for our two young children. And while I truly cherish my time with the kids, I sometimes feel badly that I can’t help out more. I’m sure other farm moms will understand this feeling!

The biggest challenge for us as a farm business varies depending on the time of year, really. During planting and harvest, the challenge is weather. Other times, the challenge is quota and whether we were able to purchase any that month or not (this is important given that we are still in a growth stage and want to milk more cows). It was quite a challenging time during the barn renovations but now, the cows love the barn and are very comfortable there, as are we.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?
Jess: When I’m not farming or blogging, I’m either writing or running. I am a freelance writer and have written all types of pieces geared to many different industries (i.e. fitness, business, technology, music). The other part of my blog, Run, Farm Girl! Run, is to speak to my experiences as a runner. I have been running on and off for over 10 years, and I really do love it. So I run as much as I can, given our chores and family schedules, and write about the both the challenges and miracles of running and being a runner.
I also love to bake (I have award-winning bread, cookie, brownie and lemon bar recipes to my name), get lost in a great book (I’m a member of my library’s book club), or keep up with the Kardashians on the PVR (yes, it’s my guilty pleasure, I’ll admit it!).

IMG_5634_smRealDirt: What is one message you’d like to share about what you do?
Jess: My blog is still fairly new and so to keep it consistent, I’ve developed a weekly feature post that I call Farm Fridays. Every Friday, I blog about something to do with our farm or with agriculture in general. I’ve covered topics ranging from our farm dog, Winnie, to how Monsanto and sunshine is essentially the same thing. The overall message that I try to include in every Farm Friday post, however, is for the consumer to educate themselves about both sides of the farming/ag story before making a decision about what they think they know. There is SO much inaccurate, sensationalized misinformation out there, all geared towards scaring consumers into boycotting this or only buying that. It can be difficult for consumers to sift through all of that and find solid, science-based, factual information about where their food comes from and what’s in it. So I encourage people to ask questions and make as informed a decision as possible, no matter whether that decision is to go vegan or drink milk or not eat hot dogs. Knowledge is power, as they say, and that’s no different when it comes to knowing about your food and where it comes from.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?
Jess: To new farmers, I would encourage them to be the kind of farmer who consumers can ask question of and learn good lessons from. Consumers care about their food, the treatment of animals and how their food is grown so it is imperative for farmers to be ready, willing and able to answer questions about those things.

Be sure to check out Jess’ blog: and follow her on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.

June is dairy month. Let’s celebrate!

By Kristen Kelderman

Did you know that June is dairy month? Canadian dairy farmers like my family, want to encourage you to show your dairy love all month long.

Kristen with her dairy heifers

Kristen with her dairy heifers

Here are 10 fun ways to celebrate this June.

1. Do you love local? Join locavores and farmers in celebrating Local Food Week in Ontario from June 1 to 7, 2015. Visit for more details on events, interactive Twitter parties and show your local love.

2. Look for the little blue cow symbol as you pick up your weekly shop from the grocery store, find it on restaurant menus and at the local ice cream shop. Every time you buy a product with the little blue cow symbol on it, you can be sure it was made with 100 per cent Canadian milk.

3. Warmer weather = ice cream! Continue reading

Josée Séguin is passionate about her cows

By Resi Walt

Josée Séguin's favourite place in the whole world is when she’s milking her herd of Holstein cows.

Josée Séguin’s favourite place in the whole world is when she’s milking her herd of Holstein cows.

Josée Séguin doesn’t have to think hard when she’s asked where her favourite place is in the whole world. For her, it’s when she’s milking her herd of Holstein cows. She loves the rural life; the quiet and the peacefulness of being home on the farm. And she’s passionate about her cows.

Josée is a fifth generation farmer in Noëlville, Ontario, an hour southeast of Sudbury in the French River area. In 2015, she appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Her page is sponsored by Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited and she is featured for the month of June. Continue reading

State of the art barn designed for cow comfort

By Melanie Epp

Sixth generation siblings and dairy farmers Graham Johnston and Mary Ann
Doré’s ancestors have been farming in Brampton since 1842. Like each generation before them, Graham (married to Amanda), and Mary Ann and her husband, Joe, are working on a succession plan with their parents, James and Frances. The five are now in a full joint-partnership, working together as a team.

The Heritage Hill farm family includes (back row from left) Amanda, Graham, James and Frances Johnston; (front row from left) Claire Johnston; Mary Ann, Joe and Nadine Doré.

The Heritage Hill farm family includes (back row from left) Amanda, Graham, James and Frances Johnston; (front row from left) Claire Johnston; Mary Ann, Joe and Nadine Doré.

Graham joined when he finished school, and Mary Ann and Joe joined in 2010 when plans for the new farm began. Although Claire, their sister, was not interested in joining the partnership, she was involved in creating the building plans. She also helps out on weekends.

Both Graham and Mary Ann worked on the family farm in their youth. After studying at the University of Guelph, Mary Ann and Joe took jobs to gain off-farm experience.

Since the area around the family farm has changed and grown, there was no room around the original Brampton farm to expand, so the young couples moved to New Dundee where they are surrounded by farmland. The move meant a new facility, and with cow comfort being their main concern, they decided to make the transition from tie stalls to a free stall system.

“My parents are very much active on the farm and custom cash crop,” says Mary Ann. “They are raising our heifers in Brampton while we wait for our new heifer shed to be built.” Continue reading

Lanark dairy farmers are faces of “May” in 2015 Faces of Farming calendar

Amanda and Jason O’Connell’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Amanda and Jason O’Connell’s Faces of Farming calendar page

(Carleton Place) – Amanda and Jason O’Connell, dairy farmers from Beckwith Township in Lanark County, are the winners of the 2014 Outstanding Young Farmer Competition in Ontario. This prestigious award is presented to farmers by industry leaders. The couple will continue on to compete on behalf of Ontario at the national competition in November, 2014.

In 2015, the couple also appears in the tenth anniversary Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by RBC Royal Bank and they are featured for the month of May. Continue reading

After tragedy strikes, the Verburgs rebuild their dairy farm business

By Treena Hein

(Athens) – When a major tragedy strikes, rebuilding can seem like a distant reality. That was certainly true for the Verburgs of Roosburg Farms in Athens, Ontario, who had a major fire in early 2013. But more than two years on, they are again up and running, with the latest technologies in place to ensure top-quality milk, the best animal care and maximized profitability.

The Verburg family stands outside their newly rebuilt dairy barn

The Verburg family stands outside their newly rebuilt dairy barn

It was in January of 2013, in the middle of the night, that the barn fire began. Dozens of firefighters battled through the darkness until noon the next day, but all 130 cows were lost. “Almost our entire pedigreed herd was gone,” says Ian Verburg, co-owner of the farm with wife Abbey, his parents John and Debbie, and his older brother Cole and his wife Anjela. (John’s parents Nick and Jackie are also active in farm operation.) “My father and grandfather had been building up our genetics since starting the farm in 1960, and were close to earning a Master Breeders Shield. We’ve always had purebred lines and it was hard to comprehend that almost all of that was gone.” At the time of the fire, the Verburgs luckily had 48 bred and un-bred heifers in another barn.

Rebuilding the herd would of course be a long-term goal, but getting a new barn in place was the immediate focus. Perhaps the only bonus from such a fire was the opportunity to design a building to meet all their needs and incorporate the latest technology. The new barn features a viewing area for visitors and school groups, a vet diagnosis and treatment room, maternity pens and more. An adjoining nursery has a computerized system that keeps track of calf milk intake and automatically handles weaning. To help the calves feel comfortable, the nursery has skylights and landscape murals, painted by Debbie, Abbey and Anjela.

The Verburgs decided on a robotic milking system that is one of only three or four in Ontario. “In a feed-first system, the first one we had, the cows are obviously fed first and the only enticement to pass through the milker is to lay down,” Ian explains. “So you would get cows laying down after they ate but before they were milked and blocking everything.” In the milk-first free flow system they use now, cows enter the barn and pass through a sort gate into a crowd area. Each cow has an electronic collar, and the system uses its data to ‘decide’ whether or not to milk her through its database of normal individual milking times. Either way, if it’s not milking time or if milking occurs, cows are then allowed to enter the feed bunk area and return to their beds as they like. Cows make 10 to 12 visits through the system a day, and are milked three to five times. Continue reading

A Saskatchewan Farm(er)

By Laura Reiter

I am involved in one of the over 36,000 farms in Saskatchewan. Now if you are like most folks, a picture or two will have popped into your head when you hear “Saskatchewan farms”.
This …

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Or maybe this …

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

You’d be right in thinking that grain and cattle operations make up the majority of the farms in Saskatchewan. But there is so much more!

Continue reading

Ontario dairy farmer grows business with on-farm dairy processing

By Lisa McLean

(Creemore) Fresh-from-the-farm milk in glass bottles is a thing of the past for many Ontario consumers. But for John and Marie Miller and their son Shawn of Creemore, Ontario, it is most definitely the future. The family, and dedicated team, at Jalon Farms and Miller’s Dairy work side-by-side at their new on-farm artisan dairy processing facility that produces milk and cream from their 120 Jersey cows they milk twice daily.

John and Shawn Miller of Creemore

John and Shawn Miller of Creemore

The Jersey difference

Jersey cows — which are smaller brown cows compared to their black and white Holstein counterparts — make up only four per cent of the dairy cow population in Canada. John says Jersey cows produce milk that is distinctly sweeter in taste and provides opportunities for differentiation in the marketplace.

“Jersey cows produce milk with higher butterfat, higher protein and more calcium,” says Shawn. “When people sample our milk during in-store tastings, they can’t believe how good it tastes. I like to think our Jersey milk, in a glass bottle, tastes how milk is supposed to taste.”

Jerseys are easier on the environment too. The cows are small in size and require less feed, making them the dairy breed with the smallest carbon footprint.

The journey to on-farm processing

The Millers broke ground on Miller’s Dairy in August 2011, after John and Marie researched similar setups in the New England states. John says his mother’s family had processed milk, and he was keen to return to those roots.

“We met a dairy farmer, Paul Kokoski, in 2010 who has a similar-sized Jersey herd in a region with similar demographics to Creemore,” Miller says. “Later that year Paul told us about some pasteurizing equipment that was available from a dairy that was shutting down in South Carolina, so Shawn and I went down to check it out.”

The Miller’s Dairy facility is located directly beside the family’s milking barn, known as Jalon Farms. Once milk is tested, it passes through an underground pipe into the next building, where it is pasteurized using a high temperature short time (HTST) pasteurizer and sold in custom-branded glass bottles in a large (1.89 l) and smaller (946 ml) format. They produce cream and milk in a variety of fat contents, ranging from skim milk to 35 per cent cream, but they report each week it’s anyone’s guess whether chocolate milk or 2% will reign supreme. Continue reading