By Connor Lynch
VANKLEEK HILL — It was Aug. 26 and the temperature outside the barn at Vankleek Hill was creeping towards 30 C. Inside, however, it was cool, and the cows seemed comfortable as they picked through their feed.
“I’m not sure it’s fully set in yet,” said Jason Feasby, a black-bearded 24-year-old, standing over 6-ft. with a solid build. His handshake was slightly gentler than you’d expect, and he led with a smile and was quick to follow it with a laugh. He was fetching cows and waiting for his tractor and discs to make the trip up from the farm at Uxbridge, in Durham region. It’s about a five-and-a-half hour drive. But with heavy equipment it will be more like 12 hours, Feasby said.
The farmer was midway through an ambitious move. He’d packed up his equipment and his best cows and hauled them halfway across the province, to settle in Eastern Ontario. He put the 300-acre home farm at Uxbridge up for sale. Then his parents moved in with him.
It was a necessity if the farm was to fit his ambitions. Back home, Feasby’s parents were stepping away from the daily chores, and he was stepping up. He’d started farming full-time out of high school.
But the home farm was too labour intensive for him by himself, and finding reliable help was increasingly difficult. The milking parlour kept him plenty busy milking 150 cows. They had two barns on the home farm, which meant he was constantly fetching cows and moving them between barns. Building a new barn isn’t cheap, but maybe he could’ve managed it. But a bigger barn with more cows needs a bigger land base and land prices in his neck of the woods crossed off that idea.
So, he got to looking around. He found a promising dairy farm at Kingston, but it sold as he was mulling it over. This spring, he came across the Scott and Mitzi Dandy’s 426-acre farm at Vankleek Hill. It had two robots, which he’d been looking for, since hiring help back home had been such a difficulty.
It was the first time Feasby’s real estate agent had ever heard of a farmer so young selling the farm, buying another, then moving the cows and quota.
The transition so far has been pretty smooth, Feasby said. The Dandys sold their quota on the exchange and moved into the town of Vankleek Hill. Their 24-year-old is now working for Feasby and living in the area. Feasby and his parents moved into the farm house on July 1 and kept the best of both herds. He sold the rest at a sale barn. He has already torn out the heifer section of the barn and put in a third Lely robot for his milking cows.
But up and moving an entire operation is no small feat. Even by Aug. 26, there was plenty of equipment yet to come up. His father was helping out at the new location but also making the commute back to Uxbridge to help out the hired man. Feasby has hardly left the new farm since he took it over apart from a few 30-minute trips to the vet or to the Country Depot. His parents moved in with him and his mother has become his lifeline and all-in-one support team, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and the bookkeeping.
Getting everything rearranged was also a task. “We basically had three startups in a month,” he said. The first was the first batch of his dairy cows, getting them up and settled. Then, he put in the third robot. Then the rest of his cows arrived. There are still 200 youngstock at the Uxbridge farm and Feasby has yet to build them a home.
It’s been a learning curve. “Everything’s different,” between a parlour and a robot setup, he said. Here, the cows set the pace. They took to the robots fairly well but they had to have someone in the barn around the clock for the first two weeks to keep everyone moving, he said.
Feasby was hoping that the move would be over and done with by Christmas, with him and his cows settled into the daily routine. He’s planning on replacing the old mats with the new ones he put in the renovated section of the barn, since they seemed to bring somatic cell counts down.
Even in the midst of his move, he had an eye on the next big project. Next year, he wants to build an expansion to the barn to hold his heifers and dry cows.
EASTERN ONTARIO: He buys new farm and then cows, quota, mom and dad move in with him
By Connor Lynch