Learning the ropes | Swiss immigrants quickly educate themselves on raising Jersey cattle while learning to speak English
DIDSBURY, Alta. — A code of ethics hangs outside the barn door at Lone Pine Jerseys reminding people to be patient and kind to animals.
The philosophy is shared among the three generations of the Haeni family who have been milking, breeding and showing Jerseys since they came to their Didsbury, Alta, farm 20 years ago.
Adrian and Vreni Haeni arrived in Canada in 1993 with her parents, Kurt and Mary Louise Hanni, seeking new opportunities after both families had farmed for generations in Switzerland.
Adrian’s family lived on 68 acres and milked 14 red and white Holsteins. Expansion was almost impossible.
Vreni lived in a valley with a climate similar to that of British Co-lumbia’s Okanagan region, where they raised beef cattle, boarded horses and grew cherries and apricots.
“It was like B.C. We could grow anything,” Vreni said. “That is what I miss the most, is the fruit.”
She and Adrian had met at agriculture college and while she wanted to take over the farm, she did not think Adrian would be happy raising beef and fruit.
“I liked milking cows too much,” he said.
Vreni’s sister lived in central Alberta, but an earlier visit while still a student didn’t convince Vreni she wanted to live on the Prairies. Nevertheless, they decided to scout out possible farms.
They looked at 30 farms in Alberta and eventually made an offer on a Jersey operation named Lone Pine.
Adrian’s family eventually sold the farm in Switzerland to an organic farmer who grows herbs used to make Ricola cough drops. Another of Vreni’s sisters took over the home place after the family decided to immigrate.
Jerseys were a new experience, but they soon came to love the doe-eyed breed and got involved in the breed association and exhibiting cattle. The couple spoke Swiss-German but were determined to fit in so quickly learned English.
“Everyone was so welcoming,” said Vreni.
Adrian was told at a 1994 Jersey annual meeting to get more involved.
“I was told you owe it to the breed to go and show,” he said.
“The shows are Vreni’s and the boys’ department. They tell me which ones they are going to take but I still have the final say on the cows,” he said.
Showing cattle was a good way for the new Canadians to meet people. As well, each of their four boys joined junior dairy programs and 4-H as they grew old enough.
Adrian is a past-president of Jersey Canada and represents dairy on the Calgary Stampede board.
Their milking parlour handles 100 cows and the farm sells 45 head a year. Their herd is artificially inseminated, and bulls are often sold to Hutterite colonies.
They are also working with Pfizer to genetically test their cows, although Adrian argues genomics information is one of many tools in cow selection.
They are producing seed stock, but the goal is to produce quality milk.
They modernized when they took over the farm,changing a double three milking parlour to a double seven parlour in which cows are milked twice a day.
Cow and calf comfort is critical.
The cattle are kept outdoors as much as possible because the Haeni family feels it keeps the cows healthier. The cattle grow heavy coats to withstand Canadian winters.
The calves are raised indoors in small groups in an open stall system so that they are better socialized and healthier.
They are fed with a robotic feeder that measures their milk and the number of times they visit the feeding station. One calf visited 75 times in one day.
“Jersey calves are a little bit more curious. They just love to go to the robots,” Adrian said.
The family uses chopped up canola straw for bedding, which provides soft areas for cows to rest.
“It has been really working great for us. Bacteria can’t grow,” he said.
“It used to be something we just chopped in the field and now we use it this way and it has worked great for us.”
They spread the liquid manure on their land.
Adjusting to Canada’s supply management system was easy because Switzerland also has a quota system that is attached to the land.
Michael, 19, Samuel, 17, Jonas, 15 and Nils, 13, started a Boer goat business in 2003. They started with Seamen dairy goats but soon learned there was a good local market for meat.
They advertise through a website and word of mouth.
The boys love farming as much as their parents, who both hold agriculture diplomas. The European certification program is run like an apprenticeship and includes classroom time and practical work on farms licensed to take students.
“You have to be certified or you don’t get any subsidies and without subsidies you can’t survive in Switzerland,” Vreni said.
They worked on a variety of farms and both appreciated the opportunity to travel.
“You have to go away and learn,” she said.
Added Adrian: “Sometimes you go away and come back and see it’s not so bad how we do it at home.… For trades, I can’t think of a better system,” he said.