Three hundred and fifty heads turn, three times a day, from their constant feeding routine.
The cows saunter to the milking parlour. There’s no rush, no one is prodding them to hurry up. If one stops for another bit of grain, the others just go around her.
Once they reach the holding area, each cow chooses her stanchion and proceeds to be milked. If she wants to remain in the parlour, she can; if she wants to remain anywhere between the holding area all the way back to the feeding barn, that’s OK with the staff and certainly just fine with owners Martina and Thomas Wynker, who believe a contented, calm cow is the best kind of milk cow to have.
Both Martina and Thomas grew up on dairy farms.
“I never thought I’d marry a dairy farmer. I knew exactly what my life would be like if I did,” she said with a laugh.
“Always milking, always feeding, always calving and cleaning. The animals are 100 per cent dependent on you.”
For Thomas, the farm in Strathnaver was to be an extension of his family’s Chilliwack dairy operation, but as it turned out, the family sold the operation in the Lower Mainland and Martina, Thomas and their three children Amy, five, Alex, four, and Michael, two, have been very busy building the dairy farm in the North Cariboo.
“I grew up on a dairy farm, it’s what I know,” Thomas said.
“Every type of farming has its challenges, but dairy farming can be very diversified.”
Their farm, Artique Farms (named for a castle in France), has 2,500 acres under cultivation in corn, barley and alfalfa for feeding their animals, of which they have a total of 650 – 350 milking cows and the balance in dry cows, heifers and calves.
However, Thomas explained that farming, and specifically dairy farming, is no longer just a labour-intensive occupation. They have a crop consultant who helps maximize the nutritional content in their grain.
Every dairy farm is governed by their quota, which states how much milk they are allowed to sell to the B.C. Milk Marketing Board: not a litre less or a litre more than their quota stipulates.
The quota is also going to soon be requiring nutritional management plans and animal welfare standards.
In order to meet quota targets, dairy cows are intensively managed, from birth, to milking to breeding and any other treatment they may require. The dairy farmer tracks each and every animal, every day of its life. Each cow is even tracked as to how many steps it takes; too little is an indication of a possible problem, as is too many.
And on a dairy farm, there is no such thing as calving season. Cows are artificially inseminated and each and every day calves are born. Currently Artique Farms is constructing a new, much larger calf barn.
Each animal eats 50kg of a scientifically mixed ration. Every day, the cows produce 10,000 litres of milk. Thomas said they are extremely careful what goes into each and every cow, and they test the water every year. Artique Farms employs 15 people, both part-time and full-time, and all staff members learn the first lesson: never hurry the cows. The second lesson? Always be calm around the cows.
Things sometimes go wrong, and Thomas said they know the next day because everything is reflected in the milk production. The current smoky conditions are certainly stressing his cows, but Thomas is keeping a close watch to see if it will affect production or other aspects of the cows’ performance.
Last year, they noticed the heat was affecting production. Thomas installed fans and sprinklers and the problem was eliminated.
“The cows can handle the cold no problem, but they can’t handle the extreme heat,” he said.
There are big plans for Artique Farms, and Martina and Thomas are taking it all in stride, as they do with everything on the farm.
“The basic dairy workload is the same regardless of the size, but with major innovations and systems, you can make it more profitable and more successful,” he said.
If everything falls into place in September and the Fall Fair isn’t another casualty of the wildfires, Thomas plans to bring his massive hammer mill to Alex Fraser Park to demonstrate its amazing capacity to crush grain.
On the farm, this piece of equipment is use to crush barley as the cows can’t digest whole barley.
The Fall Fair is slated for Sept. 16-17 at Alex Fraser Park.