Visitors all eyes and ears on dairy farm tour

IRON SPRINGS, Alta. — Jane and Gerrit van Asch pulled off a feat of perfect timing Aug. 6 at their dairy farm, Van Iron Farms.

During on open house that drew 430 people, one of their 319 dairy cows gave birth, much to the astonishment of several visitors.

Jane van Asch acknowledged that the birth on that day was pure chance but said she was delighted with the event and the response.

“One little boy said, ‘it just dove out,’ ” said Jane about the newborn calf.

“Kids and adults were just amazed.”

The open house, promoted by Alberta Milk, was the second dairy farm open house held in the province this summer. The other one was held at Yff Dairy near Penhold June 18.

Van Asch said she and her family felt it was important to show people the source of their milk.

“Just seeing it first hand was a big eye opener for a lot of people,” she said.

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“There were a lot of kids specifically who were just flabbergasted that this is actually where their milk comes from. This is where it starts.”

Fifty-two volunteers, including members of the Green Acres 4-H club and other dairy producers in the region, helped the van Asches organize the event.

A breakfast, barn tours and various children’s activities were part of the event. Two veterinarians, a hoof trimmer and experts on dairy feed and artificial insemination techniques also provided information.

“We had a lot of people commenting and complimenting on how the animals are taken care of and how they looked and that it was a very well set-up and run farm,” said van Asch.

“If things look nice, people have such a different perception of what’s going on. They really loved the fact of the hoof trimmer and the vet being there.”

Kelsie Gilks, school and agriculture programs co-ordinator for Alberta Milk, said such open houses are a way to engage consumers and build trust in the industry.

“The average urban consumer, we find they’re detached from agriculture, but they’ve still got that desire to know where their food’s coming from, which is why the event is there to showcase the farm to fridge journey, but in a fun, family friendly way,” she said.

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Gilks attended the event with a full-scale model cow that allows people to try their hand at attaching milkers to an udder.

Van Asch said the most common question asked during the event was about the use of additional hormones in dairy cattle.

“People were really, really surprised and very happy to know that there was no hormones in the milk. We do not shoot up the cows with hormones.”

She said visitors also liked being able to roam the entire farm without restriction and that no part of the operation was off limits.

The van Asch family emigrated from Holland to Alberta in 1995 and settled near Iron Springs. Gerrit’s family has been in the dairy business for about 100 years.

Jane and Gerrit have four children — Raoul, Stanley, Wesley and Nadia — who are all teenagers. The farm also has three full-time employees.

Gilks said no more dairy open houses are planned for this year, but farmers have already expressed interest in holding events next year.

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