By Connor Lynch
SPENCERVILLE — The Lethbridge brothers knew they wanted to be dairy farmers since they were helping out on their grandparents’ Jersey farm as kids.
The path to dairy farming wasn’t a straight one, but getting into the industry is doable for those with a solid grounding in agriculture, plenty of experience, cash and some luck.
Tom Lethbridge, 31, farms at Spencerville, south of Kemptville, with his 33-year-old brother John. The siblings grew up in the area. Their grandparents on their mother’s side had a farm, but their father had full-time work in the auto industry.
Both Lethbridges also went into the auto industry; Tom as a merchandise manager for a General Motors dealership, and John as a mechanic. But they stayed connected to dairy where they could. A brother-in-law had bought their grandparents’ Jersey farm so they helped out with fieldwork and the cows.
The first move to farming was a few years before they got into dairy. A small cash crop farm, 103 acres, had come up for sale at Bishop’s Mills, just west of Spencerville. The brothers bought it together, and spent a few years farming it, tile-draining it and clearing out bushland.
They still nurtured their dairy dream, and looked into the Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s new entrant program. But it couldn’t offer enough quota for both brothers to farm full time, so they kept their eyes open for a farm for sale.
In the fall of 2016, one caught their eyes — a purebred Holstein operation milking 45 head with 58 litres of quota. They decided to sell their cash crop farm. They’d put a lot of work into it and it paid off when it came time to sell. With what they earned from the sale of the land and all the cash they’d saved, they had enough to get the bank on board. By May of 2017, they’d taken over the dairy farm.
Cash flow and a strong business plan were king when it came time to secure financing, said Lethbridge. “It’s a big step for (the bank) too.”
Barn expansions are notoriously difficult; cows are slow to adapt to the new environment and production tends to fall. Swapping farmers, it turns out, is a lot easier than swapping barns. It helped that the head-to-head tiestall barn was the same kind the brothers’ grandparents had, which they’d been helping out on for decades by then.
It didn’t hurt that the Lethbridges have plenty of dairy farmer neighbours, most of whom they went to school with. “We’re all friends, so we all work together really well.”
Plus, said Lethbridge, the operation they’d taken over was a very clean and well-kept farm. “It was a good operation to buy.”
The brothers are still learning their way around all the different aspects of dairy farming. Familiar with milking and field work, they were less familiar with the other chores: Breeding, treating animals and feeding have all been a lot to learn.
But it’s paying off. Lethbridge Farms had the third highest milk production of Grenville County’s dairy farms last year.