By Tom Collins
RUSSELL — Two years ago, Tom Schoeni, 53, and his brother Martin, 61, weren’t sure if their children wanted to take over the family farm, so they looked outside the family for a potential successor and partner. They didn’t have to look far.
“If it was the two of us, we probably would have eventually scaled back, and sooner or later, we would have sold out,” said Tom, co-owner of Shadylane Ayrshires, adding they wanted to come up with a solution where their kids could also take over if they choose to do so down the road.
The brothers found their partner visiting their barn, at Russell, about 30 minutes south of downtown Ottawa. Erich Beugger, 43, was a sales manager at MacEwen Agricentre, and was the Schoenis’ salesman for several years. Martin approached Beugger during a late-night sales follow-up meeting to see if he was interested in becoming a partner. Beugger had tried to get into dairy farming in the past but wasn’t successful. He even bought quota about 20 years ago but couldn’t keep up with the rising quota price and didn’t have enough to make a go of it. After a few weeks to think about the partnership offer, he was all in. The three men were all born in Switzerland.
That was in 2016. It took about a year of planning and the farm was turned into a corporation. Beugger became a full-fledged partner last year. He didn’t have to pay into the farm as the deal is structured so that he gets a one-third share in any increase in the farm’s value. The farm’s value, prior to the new agreement, is split between the Schoeni brothers.
The farm corporation bought a house about 15 minutes away so Beugger could be closer to the farm.
“He was a welcome addition,” said Tom. “It was a new voice, new ideas. He puts in as much time as I do. Probably more sometimes.”
Around the time Beugger became a partner, the brothers were fed up with their 75-year-old tie-stall barn. The 300-foot-long barn had run out of space, the cows had health issues, production was stagnating and couldn’t keep up with extra quota that was being handed out. The brothers figured they had two options: Sell part of the quota and slowly get out of the dairy industry, or build a new barn.
It took longer for Beugger to become partner than it did for the barn to be designed and constructed. The decision to build was made in late 2016 and the cows moved in the first week of September, 2017, just nine months later.
While the cows took to the new freestall barn within a few weeks, it took longer to get acclimated to the new double-10 parallel parlour, installed by Lawrence’s Dairy Supply. Production dropped 30 per cent in the first week.
“All the cows we moved dropped in production,” said Tom.
Production has slowly come back, thanks to some pre-planning by the three partners. Milking 112 cows in the tie-stall twice a day, the farmers purchased extra heifers last summer that were due to calve in September and October. Those new heifers took quickly to the parlour.
The farmers believe the production will increase substantially over the next year as cows move on to their second lactation in the new 402-ft.-by-100-ft. barn. The farmers have already increased the milking herd to 160 cows and have room for 264.
“For the first time in a long time, I can see progress,” said Tom. “We were never able to milk cows to their full potentialin the old barn. There were just too many obstacles. The old barn was just standing still. You had all those headaches, there was a lot of work, and nothing happened. Right now, I have more work, but at least the bulk tank every day goes up a little bit. You can see results.”
It used to take two people 2.5 hours to milk 112 cows in the old tie-stall barn, using a track system with 10 units. Now it takes two people 2.5 hours to milk 160 cows in the parlour, which includes washing down the parlour after milking.
“I think the cows adapted faster than the people,” said Tom. “(In the tie-stall), you can keep your eyes on 10 units at the same time. You still had some time in between to check your phone or grab a coffee. You don’t have that kind of luxury anymore. If you want to keep it moving, you have to move too. Otherwise, it just takes too long.”
According to Ayrshire Canada, there are about 50 Ayrshire herds in Ontario and about 550 in Canada. Much of the cattle is bred in Quebec, where Ayrshires are easily the second-most popular breed. Shadylane has one of the largest Ayrshire herds in Canada.
Tom and Martin’s parents emigrated to Canada in 1981, and at the time bought the Ayrshire farm. Tom said there have never been plans to bring in another breed.
According to CanWest DHI’s 2016 progress report, Ayrshires have the highest fat content of any breed when it comes to breed class average (BCA), and are second in protein behind Milking Shorthorn.
Here are some features of the barn:
The farmers went with two walls of curtains that automatically go up or down with a push of a button. The first one in the barn in the morning decides if it’s too hot and, if so, up go the curtains. The areas for the cows are broken into four sections, separated from a large alley down the middle of the barn. There are 10 Big Ass fans, five on each side of the barn and located directly over the cows.
Cows pasture on rubber mats with a straw and soybean straw mix on top. The cement curbs to the stall are low so cows don’t trip while walking. The crossovers areas to other sections are wide to allow for ease of cattle movement.
“If cows have extra room, there’s a lot less bullying going on,” said Tom. “You don’t have the cows fighting all the time. They can get out of each other’s way. If you saw the cows (in the old barn), they were packed in like sardines.”
Cow health has also improved. Somatic cell count has dropped from 150,000-200,000 down to 100,000.
The cows frequently had twisted stomachs in the tie-stall, but the freestall barn has eliminated that. Tom credited that to exercise now that the cows are free to move around.