By Tom Collins
At a meeting earlier this year to announce the recipient of Holstein Ontario’s Outstanding Dairy Women Service Award, Lanark farmer Deb Knapton sat listening to all the reasons given why the winner was chosen. At the time, she was eyeing the room and thinking to herself “it could be this person” or “it could be that person.”
She never once thought the description was about her and she was flabbergasted when she was announced as this year’s winner. While she has been involved with 4-H, Lanark County Dairy Producers Committee, Ag Women’s Network and is a Gay Lea delegate, she didn’t grow up on a farm but worked on a neighbour’s dairy farm when she was a teenager. She and her husband, Merlin, got into the dairy business 14 years ago.
They bought a farm at Almonte in Lanark County in 1989, and were cash cropping and raising heifers. In 2005, they bought a small amount of quota at an average of $26,000 per kilo and started milking 12 cows in a small barn. That first year they milked in buckets — a vaccuum system that puts the milk into a five gallon pail that has to be emptied by hand into the milk tank — before installing a pipeline system.
They now milk about 22 cows and have made improvements to the barn over the years. The biggest change was adding a TMR mixer last year. For the first 13 years in the barn, all the feed was carried in on a wheelbarrow while hay was carried in on a pitchfork. Now the TMR mixes the feed and a conveyor belt brings it to the cows.
Knapton would like to expand, but the barn is at capacity and it’s tough to buy quota. Building a new barn would depend on the next generation. Knapton’s daughter, Ashley, would “love to come home and take it over, but it has to be financially viable,” said Knapton, who is also a member services representative for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “The size is always a challenge because it’s too small to be self-sustaining. It means we both work off farm all the time, and it’s very hard to manage everything.”
The Knaptons milk in the barn at 6 a.m., work during the day, do chores and another milking at night and are done by 7:30 p.m. The weekends are used to catch up on missed chores from the week.
“We both really love cows,” said Knapton. “We really enjoy breeding cows and milking cows. There’s probably nothing that either of us would rather do.”