By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care (Battersea)
It’s coming up on an exciting time for the Sleeth family farm in Battersea, Ontario. In a few
short years, Ron and Eileen and their family will celebrate the 200th anniversary of their ancestors’ arrival to Frontenac County from Ireland in 1820’s. They will also soon celebrate a century on the present farm, purchased by Ronald’s grandparents in 1921.
Ronald took over the dairy and cash cropping operation from his grandfather and father in 1962 when he married Eileen, who also comes from long-standing farm family in the area. In 1986, after their son Paul graduated from Kempville College, they established Eilevale Farm in partnership with him. Paul works off-farm, but plays a major role in the farm with repairs and cropping. Ron and Eileen’s other son Jeff is a veterinarian who looks after the health of the farm’s 75 Holsteins (30 milked daily). Ronald is the principal operator of the farm, with Eileen in charge of records and accounts in addition to maintenance of farm’s beautiful grounds and gardens. Eileen was recently recognized for 36 years of school bus driving as well. Two of Paul’s four sons are old enough now to feed the calves and heifers, and do the most of the field work and raise 100 meat chickens each year. Paul and Jeff recently purchased a neighbouring farm, increasing the family’s land ownership to 250 acres.
The Sleeths use minimum tillage and conduct a lot of soil tests in all parts of a field, which help to reduce fertilizer use. “We’ve also reduced the fertilizer needed, and improved yield as well, by sticking to a rotation of hay, corn and soybeans then underseeding barley,” Ron explains.
“Crop rotation also helps with lowering the amounts of pesticides needed.” All in all, they’ve been able to reduce the amount of fertilizer they need by half over the past five years, and pesticides by a quarter over the past three years.
The land and environment of Eilevale Farm is treated to effective stewardship in many other ways. Grass along the farm’s waterways is important in preventing erosion and possible spring run-off from fertilizer and chemicals. “The grass slows down the water, so less top soil is lost,” Ron notes.
Five years ago, they installed an outdoor wood furnace, switching from non-renewable oil to renewable trees grown on the farm. The furnace heats the farm house, milk house and machine shed, and provides hot water for the milk house and the farmhouse. “Furnace oil was costing us between three and four thousand dollars a year,” Ron explains. “By heating our hot water in the house and milk house, we cut our hydro bill by a hundred dollars per month and our work shop is heated the same way, allowing for a comfortable place to do our own machinery repairs in the winter time.”
Several years ago, Paul started researching other options, and determined that a clean solar energy system would be a good investment for today and the future. Three years ago, a 10 kW solar panel was installed on the barn roof, generating electricity that is sold into the provincial grid. The payback will occur in three short years.
The Sleeths are heavily involved in numerous farm associations and church activities. They also ensure that Eilevale Farm is a big part of the community, by doing things like hosting the Frontenac County Family Fun Night in 2011 and numerous school visitors over the years. The Sleeths have also hosted four students from France. The family provides wagon rides for the Battersea Pumpkin Festival and Eileen helps run the canteen for this event. Among other things, Eileen has been secretary of the Frontenac Federation of Agriculture for fourteen years. Ronald is a former Reeve and Warden of Frontenac County. He was named Farmer of Year in 2009 by the Ontario Soil and Crop Association.
“I have lived on our farm my whole life, and my wife also came from a farm background and we hope this tradition continues,” Ron says. “I am a fifth generation farmer to live in our area and my grandsons are very keen to take over after our son Paul. We all hope to be here for another hundred years.” He adds, “Seeing good crops grow and that new special baby calf born into the world is something you cannot measure with money. It is our way of life and we are proud of it.”