By Connor Lynch
WINCHESTER — An Eastern Ontario dairy farmer and former world-class runner has been forced out of the business after over 16 years of farming.
Dairy farmer Murray Link at Winchester suffers from a congenital bone deformity, called femeroacetabular impingement (FAI). Extra bone grows out from the bones in his hip joint. The bones grind against each other, damaging the joint. That makes movement painful for Link, though he’s far from infirm. But the constant, daily standing up, kneeling down, bending and flexing that are part and parcel of running a dairy operation are too much for his hips and back.
When he was first in pain this past spring, he thought it was a hernia and hired a milker. He was diagnosed two months ago. Now, the 40-year-old former world-class track runner who quit running 17 years ago to farm, has said goodbye to the daily milking for good. He sold all 80 Holsteins at a dispersal sale on Sept. 22 at Hugh Fawcett Auctions at Winchester. (See story on page B3)
The farm was an old-fashioned operation, Link says, and would’ve required substantial investment to keep up with a changing industry. They still milked in a tie-stall. They pastured their dairy cows. In a touch of modernity, the eldest son zipped out on a go-kart to round up the cows for milking. Link worked alongside his father Graham, who’s farmed their land for over 50 years, every day.
On Sept. 18, the Monday before the sale, the farm was abuzz with activity. A neighbour, who’d gotten out of the business himself years before, came by to offer help bringing the animals to the sale. Link’s milker came by for the evening milking, as did a hoof trimmer to neaten the animals for the sale.
Before taking up farming full time, Link was an avid and talented runner. He discovered his talent when he was young, still in elementary school. As he got older, he started to notice how much faster he was than just about everybody else.
He got a track and field scholarship to the University of Arkansas, joining one of the best track program in the United States. He studied agri-business on a track and field scholarship. In 2001, he was ranked second in Canada for the 10 km race.
The year before, he participated in the oldest and largest American relay races, the Penn Relays, at the University of Pennsylvania. His team ended up winning the race, beneath the gaze of 65,000 screaming fans. “In Canada, we wouldn’t even dream of people showing up for a track meet,” said Link. After a near miss at making the Olympics, he decided he wanted to be a farmer.
Friends of his had tried to make a go at professional running, but the money simply wasn’t there. “Being Canadian, it’s hard to get sponsorship money.”
He came back to the farm at age 24 with the goal of being a Master Breeder. The herd, which was ranked 287 in Canada, was in the top 10 of herds in Canada.
Three of his cows came from 10 or more generations of Very Goods and Excellents, and since 2005 they’ve bred 39 Excellent cows. He thinks he has a good shot at getting his Master Breeder Shield in January.
The farm, which has been in his family for 104 years, will stay with his family. Link’s four boys will grow up here, and he’s hopeful that his grandchildren will as well. The family will continue to crop 240 acres as they figure out their next move.
There were plenty of hugs and handshakes from a long lineup of sympathetic neighbours and farmers who showed up at the dispersal. Saying goodbye to the cows wasn’t easy. There were tears and sighs. Said Link: “Some people are machinery people. We’re cow people.”