By Tom Collins
JASPER — Every morning after chores, four brothers and their parents get together for morning coffee. On March 9, they’ll need to put on a few extra pots as they’ll be expecting a few hundred visitors.
Brian and Barb Maitland run Maitland Meadows Farms Ltd. at Jasper —10 minutes southeast of Smiths Falls — with their sons Jeff, Ronnie, Mike and Robert. They’re one of seven dairy farm families that will be opening their barn doors on March 9 for the Leeds-Grenville dairy producers district tour.
That morning coffee ritual is important for the health of the farm, as it can be tricky having many family members involved in the decision-making process, Ronnie told Farmers Forum.
“We always make sure we have open communication and when it comes to big decisions, we sit down and talk about the pros and the cons, weigh our options and make sure it fits in our long-term vision,” he said, adding the family keeps emotions out of decision making. “Basically you pencil it all out and let the banks decide. The key is communication. If you’re not talking, nothing is going to go right.”
Putting together a succession plan is tough as it is not always front of mind, but Maitland said all the brothers, ranging from 24 to 33 years old, want to continue to milk cows on the home farm. That’s one of the reasons the family decided to expand their barn, adding 100 stalls on top of the 170 they already housed in a freestall barn that they built in 2009.
“Dad built it as one-family farm. In one generation, we’re trying to make it a five-family farm,” said Maitland. The family currently has about 230 kilos of quota but is still looking to grow. “The last two or three years, every time we went to a milk meeting, they kept talking about four per cent growth per year. We were full two years ago, so if we wanted to continue to grow, we had to expand.”
The family milks 170 cows twice a day with a double-16 BouMatic parlour. Besides having every other weekend off, there is no set schedule. Every morning, the family goes out to the barn for chores, and they all go off to do what needs to be done. If someone prefers field work, he will do that while those who prefer milking stay with the cows.
“We all know how to do everything so if somebody’s not there, we can fill in the hole,” said Maitland.
They learned a few lessons from building the 2009 six-row barn. The Maitlands found that six rows didn’t allow enough room for all the cows to eat, as each side of the barn has three rows and one feed alley. The addition is a four-row expansion, with two rows and a feed alley on each side of the barn.
“We didn’t like coming out to the barn after milking all our cows and seeing 70 per cent of the cows eating and the other 30 per cent lying down because there was no room for them at the feed bunk,” said Maitland. “Having a four-row barn, they can all come out and eat when they’re hungry.”
The family also took the opportunity to change neck rails throughout the entire barn, going from a standard metal neck rail to a wavy one, which curves up where the cows stand for feeding. This has prevented wear marks on the cows’ necks and kept injuries low.
The farmers use water beds instead of the more popular sand, compost or rubber mats. They first installed 12 water beds in their old tie-stall barn in 2004 and noticed both older and fresh cows seemed to do better on water beds than on pasture mats. When they built the 2009 barn, they made sure every stall had a water bed. They’ve debated switching to sand and have asked classifiers for their opinions, but “they’ve always said that our hocks look great and they don’t see any reason why we would change,” said Maitland.