It has been a BIG week for us here on the farm. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll have gotten a hint about what was happening. But before I get into said happenings, I want to actually and formally introduce you to my/our farm.
Bellson Farms is located in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, and consists of myself, my Huz, and my in-laws. And I suppose Kid 1 and Kid 2 but since they’re 2.5 years and 9 months old respectively, they pretty much just up the cuteness factor in the barn as opposed to actually helping (although Kid 1 IS pretty good with her pink plastic shovel). We farm 450 acres of land, using it for both cash crop (we harvest corn, wheat and beans to sell to the co-operative in town) and feed, and milk 60 Holstein cows.
The Huz and I officially started farming with my in-laws in 2012; it will be 3 years this January already! We are the third generation of farmers on this land; it was owned entirely by my in-laws before us, and by my mother in law’s parents before them. Grampa J turns 85 this month and still farms with us 3 days a week. He actually was out ploughing a field just today (and has been all week; yay for beans being done!). He is the perfect example of a “retired” farmer – you can take the person away from farming but you can’t farming away from the person.
We live in the house my husband and his mother grew up in. Another part of our farm that was purchased about 5 years ago is land that has never been owned by anyone outside of my mother in law’s family. So, like, since the late 1800s, I think. I’m pretty sure Grampa J still has the original land deeds from the government somewhere, too.
60 cows might not seem like a lot but you have to keep in mind that those are just the cows that are being milked. We also have calves, heifers and dry cows. All together, we have about 100 animals, as long as you’re not counting the 3 dogs and many, many barn cats (plus 5 more kittens that were born last week. Cue Kid 1 being ecstatic every time she’s in the barn).
Calves are baby cows that are born year-round. We keep the females to raise up into the herd as milking cows and sell the males at market unless we raise one or two of them for beef (you can’t get more local than your own backyard – or in this case, barn). Heifers are females that are not old enough to breed/become milking cows yet. Dry cows are those who are pregnant and going to calve soon. We “dry them up” (take them out of the milking cow rotation) 2 or 3 months before their calving date. Ladies, think of it as early mat leave with about 15 of your closest friends. Fun times!
We milk our cows twice a day – or every 12 hours – 365 days a year. There is no such thing as weekends off when it comes to milking cows. Every morning, my Huz gets up at 4:30 and is out in the barn shortly after to start chores. We have what’s called a tie-stall barn where we carry a milker to each cow and, one at a time, crouch down beside her to put it on and then let it milk her out. Suction cups attach to the teats of the cow and gently suck the milk out, where it travels through the pipeline and into the bulk tank for holding until the milk truck’s next pick up (for us, that’s every other day). Once the cow is finished being milked, a computer attached to the suction cups sends a signal to those cups to come off automatically. That same little computer also tells us all sorts of cool (and important) details about the cow, like how much milk she just gave. Milking cows this way takes about two hours from start to finish. While having a tie stall barn is a bit more labour intensive than, say, having a robotic milker (yes, we farmers have our own robots!), it also allows us to closely interact with each cow twice a day, every day, making it easier to keep an eye on them and make sure they’re staying healthy and happy.
Our cows mean a lot to us. They are literally like an extension of our human family. When you work closely with animals for the majority of your day, every day, you get to know them just as you would anyone else. It warms my heart, seeing my kids interact with the cows and have fun, but also learn about and develop respect and love for animals at the same time (especially animals that are much bigger than you).
Although I was raised in the country, I was not raised on a farm. We had one beautiful Quarter Horse mare for a number of years but did not have the day-in/day-out commitment of full time farming. And I gotta tell you – after having made that commitment to full time farming with my husband and in-laws, I was a bit apprehensive. Farming is hard. There are many things out of our control, like weather and market prices, which can drastically affect our livelihood from year to year. For some, the weather can be the difference between a financially great year and bankruptcy (seriously). Farming is dangerous. I have heard stories of people finding their loved ones in the barn, having been kicked in the head by a cow. Both in my family and my husband’s, family members have passed away while farming. And I don’t mean they got sick and passed away. I mean they were out, working their job for that day, whatever it was, and died doing it.
But despite this, I am so proud to be a farmer and to be raising my children as farmers. Yes, it is hard and it is dangerous. It is not always all sunshine and rainbows. And I, personally, have a lot more to learn. But to know that we help to make safe, nutritious food for thousands of people is awesome. I really feel that working with animals every day keeps you humble, and working the land every day keeps you wondrous. And knowing that we have a family business to pass on to the next generation – one that’s full of lessons in humility, commitment, patience and strength – is always worth the days that lack sunshine and rainbows.