Dairy operation strives to improve, educate

Couple is involved with industry groups to keep up with current issues and also hold farm tours to educate the public

KILLAM, Alta. — A dairy provides the Child family with a good lifestyle, a stable source of income and an efficient production system that matches supply to consumption.

“We’re not producing something people don’t want,” said Louise.

Added Allan: “And not relying on government subsidies.”

The couple, with their daughter, Kristyn, milk 120 Holsteins on their farm in central Alberta. Their sons, Doug and Dave, have their own land and help with the dairy, but they both have full-time careers off the farm.

Louise and Allan manage the dairy, while Allan’s brothers, John and Brent, and their wives, Patti and Vicki, oversee the 3,000 acre grain operation.

The farm was started in 1904 by Allan’s British great-grandfather, William.

The family shipped cream until the 1970s before switching to shipping fluid milk exclusively.

In 1998, they built a new barn, switching from a stanchion style to a parallel parlour with free stalls, and increased the herd.

“We’d look at three (milkings) if we could get enough labour,” said Allan, who employs three part-time milkers for the twice-a-day milkings.

Finding workers for split shifts has been a challenge, they say, citing the new worker that arrived from the Philippines this summer with veterinary expertise.

They found him through a consulting company and housed him in a trailer.

Kristyn, 26, an alumnus of the Camrose 4-H Dairy Club, prepared for her role in milking, breeding and feeding livestock by attending Lakeland College and studying artificial insemination.

“It helped a lot,” she said of the animal science technology program that taught herd health, nutrition and financial management.

The farm has used semen, em-bryo transplants and good bulls to improve the herd.

“A big challenge with dairies is getting them bred,” said Allan, adding that cow size also keeps pushing the need to increase stall size.

He keeps on top of challenges for the industry by serving as a director on Alberta Milk, where he focuses on animal welfare, animal health and environment.

“Being a delegate, you can interact with other dairy operators.”

His involvement with Alberta Milk helps him keep abreast of current issues and trends, but he noted all dairy producers benefit from the organization’s marketing and promotion efforts.

They live with trade talks that often threaten the supply-managed system.

“It’s always been a challenge,” he said.

Louise said education is key, so they allow groups to tour their operation.

The Childs are also actively involved in the local church and rural municipality in the predominantly grain farming region.

Most of the province’s dairies are situated in central Alberta, where the total number has dropped and individual operations have grown.

Automated calf feeding and ventilation systems, a robotic feed pusher and scrapers are labour savers in the operation.

Activity monitors on cows help them detect when cows are in estrus or unwell.

Louise called the pulsating sound of the automated milkers soothing, while Allan said milking requires a calm handler.

“If you’re not getting relaxed while milking, take a break,” said Allan.

They use mats containing recycled rubber tires and spread manure from the storage lagoon onto their fields.

“We have tremendous crops,” said Louise.

They use annual soil testing and nutrient management and work with nutritionists to balance rations.

“It’s not just your employees, it’s quite a wider community you are supporting and relying on,” said Louise.

The milk truck arrives every other day, and culled cattle go to the Viking Auction Mart. Male calves are kept in huts and picked up every three weeks by a producer who feeds them out to 800 pounds.

“We used to feed them until BSE hit and we never got back into it,” said Allan.

Louise called dairy farming the right choice for their farm.

“It’s been positive. If it’s something you care about, it’s like you’re not working,” she said.

Surveying a long line of trees and a tidy yard, Louise said she takes pride in the farm.

“Since I have to be here, I have to look at it every day.”

The couple says dairy farming is a commitment that requires a lot of capital and infrastructure and labour, not unlike farming generally.

“Alberta land prices are still high,” said Allan, citing the cost of renting or buying land in his region.

“There is nothing cheap to getting into agriculture.”

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