By Tom Collins
RIDGETOWN — In 2014, Jonathon Buiting was a Grade 11 student with aspirations of taking Kemptville College’s dairy herdsperson apprenticeship program.
He wanted to be a dairy herdsperson, but owning a dairy farm wasn’t an option as his father had sold the herd around 2009, and the only apprenticeship program in Ontario was at Kemptville. That’s when the provincial government announced it was shutting down the campus.
He knew other college or university programs weren’t for him. “I’m more of a hands-on kind of guy,” he said. “I’m able to learn better working hands on rather than in a classroom.”
Two years ago, Ridgetown Campus started offering the program to fill the gap left by the closure of Kemptville. Even though he was already working on a dairy farm, Buiting was one of the first to apply. While one doesn’t need the program to be a herdsman, Buiting said it was a good way to learn different ways to take care of cows. “I loved it,” said Buiting, one of 10 to graduate from the first ever class in May after spending his apprenticeship with show king Herb Henderson at Ashton and Master Breeder Willy Huybregts at Crysler.
Students are required to attend Ridgetown for four days a month for classwork. About 5,520 hours, or the other 90 per cent of the program, is on-farm training. Students can do their apprenticeship on one farm for the full two years, or apprentice at many farms. Students can also do the apprenticeship on their home farm.
The students get hands- on experience on everything from milking and feeding practices to herd health and basic maintenance of farm machinery.
The 21-year-old Buiting, who lives in Berwick, about 40 minutes northwest of Cornwall, said the apprenticeship was a chance to learn what he might not have been able to learn on the farm otherwise. For example, he had helped hoof trimmers before, but the trimmers were too busy to show Buiting why something was wrong. Now, he’s able to better understand a problem with a cow instead of just taking the trimmer’s word for it.
Buiting said he will probably never buy a farm as it’s too expensive to buy cows and quota, and since his home farm has only 25 acres, there’s not enough land for more feed if he was successful in getting quota through the Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s new entrant program. The 25 acres are used for feed for the 12 heifers he already owns that he brings to show rings.