Calf store, hay brokerage keeps B.C. couple busy

Reducing workload goal of young dairy farmers 


CHILLIWACK, B.C. — Gary Baars spends a lot of time on the phone, and this day is no exception as he nods a greeting before finishing his business with the caller.

The 30-year-old and his wife, Marie, 24, operate TNT Hay and Cattle, buying and selling hay and up to 3,000 dairy calves a year. They run a 40 head dairy on 40 acres of rented land in the Fraser Valley and manage another 160 head dairy for Marie’s grandmother’s Hodgins-Smith Farm.

“It allowed us to have cash flow to buy quota,” Gary said about their varied business interests.

Neither one grew up on a farm, but both had ties to rural British Columbia.

Gary worked at a neighbouring dairy when his family moved to an acreage, and he later made his living unloading hay bales before getting into business himself.

“I said, ‘they’re paying me to unload it and they’re still making good money,’ ” said Gary, who now brokers hay for dairies and horse owners.

Business is so good that the Baars are thinking about leasing space for a hay store in Aldergrove.

“For horse people that would like to buy one or two bales at a time,” said Marie.

Added Gary: “We’re leery about buying in case it doesn’t fly.”

Expansion plans could also include lower priced farmland in Saskatchewan because urban sprawl in the fertile Fraser Valley is driving up the price of land.

Farming here means living in close proximity to neighbours and customers, with 350 farms within 100 kilometres of each other. It also means good service from local businesses and dealerships.

Gary enjoys close contact with his 100 dairy customers.

“Every one I have a relationship with and I learn a lot about farming from,” he said.

Involvements with the Young Mainland Milk Producers and B.C. Young Farmers also allow him to take breaks from the farm and connect with others.

“I like it … meeting others in other sectors. It broadens your horizons. On a dairy farm, we are literally married to this place.”

Calf buyers come to the farm and take their pick.

“We’re like a calf store,” said Marie.

Added Gary: “I like nice cows. Be-cause we buy and sell calves to sell, we buy nice ones 30 to 60 days old.”

Their close proximity to the U.S. border makes it easy to travel south on calf buying trips to 1,200 dairies.

“There’s lots of paperwork, costs in testing to import them,” said Gary, who would prefer to buy more in Canada.

Marie said her husband’s strong work ethic and tight rein on the business help make the operation successful, but she conceded that taking such risks is not easy.

“It does not come naturally to me.”

Marie said their plan is to break even on their farm within seven years.

They get help from seven workers for the twice daily milkings at their farm and three daily milkings at the second farm, but the emails and phone calls come at all hours.

The couple would like to adopt a child in the future so they would like to get their work life down to a more family friendly six 10 hour day schedule.

“I’ll balance farm family life by hiring more people soon to help,” said Gary.

Marie fills in and helps wherever needed.

“If I had a job (off farm), we would live two separate lives,” said Marie.

They both agree their strong Christian faith has played a role in their farm success and believe in helping the less fortunate by supporting groups such as the Canadian Food-grains Bank.

Marie is involved in their church’s women’s ministry, young adult group and Bible study groups.

“It’s foolish of me to think it’s just hard work that got us where we are,” said Gary.

“We’re blessed to live in Canada and blessed to live in B.C. We have good friends and we’re fortunate to farm. It’s not easy, but it’s good.”

Added Marie: “It’s not a nine to five job, more like five to nine.”