CALGARY — Bill and John Bocock were milking cows and driving tractors by about the age of five on the family dairy farm near St. Albert, Alta.
On Nov. 23, their history and expertise in Alberta’s dairy industry was officially recognized with the Dairy Industry Achievement Award from Alberta Milk.
The Bococks sold their dairy farm in 2007, but not before they donated 777 acres to the University of Alberta.
“The university does a lot of dairy research so getting our parcel of land gives them a whole section, one block, so they can have a dairy out there and not worry about the neighbours,” said John Bocock during the Alberta Milk annual dairy conference.
Alberta Milk’s tribute to the two brothers, printed in its agenda, praised the Bococks’ “wisdom, generosity and demonstration of land and animal stewardship.”
The brothers have travelled widely to learn from other farmers and have visited Zimbabwe, Thailand, India, Brazil and Cuba to share and gather information about dairy operations.
Their own dairy has a long history in the province.
“My grandfather came from Ireland in 1921 and immediately started shipping cream to the northern Alberta dairy pool,” said John.
“He was one of the cream shippers who sacrificed a couple of cream cheques to finance the start of the fluid milk section of the northern Alberta dairy pool. So instead of shipping cream in the old five-gallon cans and feeding the skim milk to the pigs, he switched to shipping fluid milk in the eight gallon cans every day.”
John and Bill’s father, Geoff, bought a farm just before the 1929 stock market crash and after struggling through the Dirty Thirties, he gave up that farm and bought his father-in-law’s operation.
Bill was born in 1932 and John in 1934, and when the Second World War drew farmers and labourers overseas, the two youngsters did much of the milking and farming.
“(My dad) built one of the first two milking parlours built in Western Canada, in 1947, four stall, individual stalls. At that point, we had Surge equipment. They couldn’t sell you a stall but they did very kindly supply Dad with blueprints for a stall, and he just took the blueprints into Edmonton and had the stalls made in a machine shop in Edmonton. So that parlour served us well, until 1980, when we built a12-cow trigon.”
The trigon had three sets of four herringbones in a triangle.
“There are a few of them around, but not many,” said John.
He attended the University of Alberta and got his bachelor of science in agriculture. One of his professors was the late Roy Berg, whose work in cattle cross breeding is considered to have revolutionized the industry.
“We dairy farmers didn’t catch on to cross breeding as quickly as our beef neighbours did, but as soon as frozen semen became available, we started back crossing to Brown Swiss,” said John.
In those days, dairy farmers were encouraged to produce more butterfat, which they did, but fluctuating consumer desires also required changes at the dairy level.
“We had to tell our cows to quit producing such high butterfat, so we stopped cross breeding for awhile and then when the consumers started to straighten out again, and butterfat was no longer bad, we started crossbreeding to Norwegian Red.”
John and Bill are strong advocates of Canada’s supply management system for dairy, which often comes under criticism.
“The people who glibly criticize supply management should give their head a shake and realize that it’s a bit like (Winston) Churchill said about democracy. It’s not perfect but when you compare it with the alternatives…. So that’s what I feel about supply management. Its better than the alternatives today.”
John, who is also a poet, has compiled a book about the St. Albert Research Station, entitled Preserving the Future.”
In it he writes about the importance of cattle welfare, sustain-ability and technology.