Below is an essay I wrote recently about my family’s farm. With trade negotiations putting ongoing pressure on the government to dismantle Canada’s supply management systems for dairy, egg, and poultry farmers, it seems like no better time than now to share a little about our approach to dairy farming. Enjoy! – Jen
If we can grow a little more than inflation every year, leave the land a little better than when we got it and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle doing what we love, that’s success. It’s not a fancy strategy, but this straightforward approach and commitment to continuous improvement is how our family dairy farm has grown, become well-respected in our community and is sustainably helping to feed a growing global population.
Located in southwestern Ontario, Christhill Farms Ltd. is owned and operated by Jim and Helen, Mike and Trevor Christie. Each family member specializes in an area of the farm, but everyone works together to identify areas for improvement and make investment decisions.
Our primary goal is to increase operating efficiency without adversely impacting herd health and maintaining a size we can comfortably manage as a family. Initially, Jim’s focus was on improving genetics to breed productive, long-lasting cows. He’s accomplished a great deal and developed a strong genetic foundation for our herd.
In 2014, we built a new loose housing-barn and installed a Lely A4 robot and Juno feed pusher. The new system proved that happy cows are productive and profitable cows. Average production increased nearly ten liters per day per cow and reproductive health also improved, with the number of breedings per cow decreasing by half. In spring 2018, a second robot was installed, which reduced the daily labour required in the barn by over an hour and increased the average number of times cows were milked.
Equally important to achieving long-term profitability and remaining sustainable is managing our natural resource use. In Canada, sustainable management and efficient use of resources is one of the areas needing the most improvement to hit the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for Responsible Production and Consumption. (Source: PWC, A Guide to Navigating the SGD’s) In agriculture, we see the impact of this on our soil health and in our waterways.
As a result, we have added conservation practices to compliment regular soil testing and responsible nutrient application. Increased crop rotations, use of cover crops and no-till are all helping build soil organic matter and microbial diversity.
Additionally, our facilities are designed to maximize natural airflow and daylight and all lighting is LED to save energy. We were one of the first barns in Ontario to build a south-facing heifer barn with automated curtains to moderate temperature. All waste water and liquid manure is captured and stored for future application on the fields, along with solid and composted manure from the pack.
Going forward, we want to further reduce our water use and increase nutrient placement accuracy by better leveraging precision technology.
Finally, as fewer Canadians are connected to the farm, it is more important than ever we are involved in our community. Our family volunteers at the fall fair every year, in addition to being very involved in the past with 4-H, the local snowmobile club and sports. Previously, Jim and Helen were involved with several dairy organizations, including the Gay Lea Foods Cooperative. Mike is a Director with the Ontario Canola Growers Association and a volunteer firefighter. Trevor has participated in the Cooperative Young Leaders (CYL) Program and was instrumental in helping set-up the facilities for a new hands-on agriculture program at the local high school. Since building the new barn, we have also held several open houses for the community to see the new technology and learn more about dairy farming.
For us, farming is more than a business. It’s a rich lifestyle we have been blessed to enjoy and through continually improving our efficiency, responsibly managing our environmental footprint and giving back to our community, we have also been able to sustain a profitable and growing dairy farm. God willing, this approach is one we believe will allow us to continue farming successfully for generations to come.