By Tom Collins and Connor Lynch
CARLSBAD SPRINGS — A dairy farmer who started from scratch 30 years ago said winning his first Master Breeder shield this year is a dream come true.
Tim Groniger — who runs Weeberlac Holsteins at Carlsbad Springs in rural southeast Ottawa with his wife Diane, daughter Olivia and son Scott and Scott’s wife Kristin — knew he was close to a shield. Last year, he received a letter that stated the farm was in the top 10, but the letter didn’t say how close he was.
On the day of the Master Breeder announcement in early January, he was doing chores in the barn when the phone rang.
“I saw 519 (area code), and thought ‘Oh sh–, I don’t believe this.’ Every time I talk about it, I get emotional,” he said, with a hitch in his voice. “There’s no feeling that could explain (getting your first shield). You’re speechless. It’s something that you strive for, but then to finally get it, it’s a dream come true. There’s no goal that cannot be reached without hard work, sweat, and putting everything into it.”
Holstein Canada determines Master breeder shields based on points for high production, outstanding conformation and high proficiency in reproduction, health and longevity.
Groniger started the farm from scratch 30 years ago. Groniger’s brother had taken over the home farm at Iroquois, so Groniger worked as a herdsman for dairy farmer Dan Beamish. Groniger wanted his own farm, and in the late 1980s, Beamish offered Groniger a chance to take over the lease of 200 acres on National Capital Commission land at Carlsbad Springs, just southeast of urban Ottawa. Although Groniger’s father refused to back his son financially, Groniger went ahead with taking over the lease. He cleaned up the barn, bought a second-hand milk pipeline for $3,000 and was able to get some quota for free through a program to encourage farmers to milk cows. He bought some other quota in his brother’s name as he didn’t have enough cows to produce that much milk. He started off with 12 cows, six of them purebreds.
If anyone was going to make it as a dairy farmer with almost no money down and no quota, it was Groniger, said former Kemptville college professor and Farmers Forum founder Terry Meagher. “There was something about him. He never got any breaks and yet he was very optimistic. He was a real hustler. Never gave up. He was always happy. If things went bad, it was just another obstacle to overcome.”
Interest rates nearly killed the farm in the first few months but after the first year, Groniger said he knew he was going to make it. He soldiered on for years. He and his wife, a nurse at an Ottawa hospital, had four children — two sets of twins. Since his son Scott, now 30, came home 10 years ago after graduating from Kemptville College in 2009, the farm has doubled its quota to 54 kilos. On Scott’s recommendation, they made the switch to three-times-a-day milking of their 32-cow herd three years ago in their tie-stall. Tim does the evening milking.
“We don’t have a lot of room for expansion since we’re on NCC property,” he said. “So we’re making the most efficient milk we can. Our motto is being small but efficient.” The farm was tops in Carleton County last year for BCA (milk, fat and protein), according to CanWest DHI’s annual rankings.
Tim credited his son for the final push to the shield.
“I started the base, he finished her,” said Tim. “I just work here now.”