By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario
Keeping a diverse portfolio isn’t a bad thing in the business world, and agriculture is no different. For Rob and Julie Eby, for example, diversification is the cornerstone of their farm business.
The couple live on a small dairy farm near Ayr, Ont., called Pleasant Nook Jerseys on a property near the dairy farm that Rob grew up on. In 2009 Julie’s parents decided it was time to retire, and passed ownership of their dairy herd to Julie and Rob, who are the farm’s fourth generation.
Their dairy herd consists of a mix of 30 Jersey and Holstein cows, a smaller herd by Ontario and Canadian standards, and they maintain 25 acres for hay and pasture land.
The cows are housed in a pack and box-stall barn – the ones located in Ayr, anyway. Pleasant Nook, you see, is actually divided between two locations, one in Ayr and the other further south in Fisherville. Rob explains that, while the farm was originally located in Fisherville, he and Julie are currently discussing moving the entire farm to their Ayr location.
Julie attended Ridgetown College for a general agriculture diploma before taking over the farm, and now she takes care of the farm’s day-to-day operations. Similarly, Rob went to the University of Guelph for agribusiness. And, despite also working as the owner and manager of a nearby farm equipment dealership, he spends a considerable amount of time with their cows during mornings, evenings and weekends.
Milk production, however, is only one part of Pleasant Nook. As Rob explains, his family and Julie’s family are well-known for both dairy cow genetics, and for producing top-notch show cattle.
“We’ve always been involved in showing cattle,” says Rob. “Cattle shows are a hobby, as well as a way to merchandize and get your farm name out there.”
When Rob says his family has “always been involved” with showing cattle, he certainly means it. Just a quick visit to the farm’s website – www.pleasantnook.com – illustrates that point. They have received numerous awards and countless nominations at a wide range of events – from Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair and the New York Spring Dairy Carousel to smaller local events and 4-H competitions.
The root of the Ebys’ success at shows and other competitions, though, is good genetics. According to Rob, studying bloodlines and pedigrees, as well as good animal husbandry, is what helps his family achieve many of their goals. Rob and Julie incorporate this into their farm business through two methods; striving to make their cattle as attractive and productive as possible, as well as selling embryos and genetic stock to other farmers.
“Small farms can still survive, but sometimes you have to be a little more creative,” says Rob. “You can’t always just rely on milk production.”
As for future plans, both Rob and Julie say they would like to continue moving all the cattle to their Ayr farm, while simultaneously expanding their acreage.
Their children are very involved in figure skating, dance and gymnastics. Because of their involvement with cattle shows, the Ebys have a long tradition of involvement with 4-H as both team members and club leaders. Julie also, when time permits, volunteers at their local preschool.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the couple’s favourite pastime is still spending time with their family on the farm.
“Watching how animals develop is fascinating to us,” says Rob. “Everything we do is for the love of cattle and the farm life.”