SPENCERVILLE — Samuel Cleary was fresh out of Queen’s university with business and accounting degrees — and a new position behind the glass doors at one of Canada’s largest accounting firms in Toronto’s financial district, just off bustling Bay Street. In the heart of a metropolis with a population of over six million, he quickly determined the work and the city was not for him. And neither was wearing a suit every day.
“Honestly, it was two months in,” recalled Cleary, now a 29-year-old dairy farmer in T-shirt and jeans and a recent graduate of the Ridgetown College herdsperson program. “I was an auditor, and I didn’t see much point in the stuff we were doing,” he says, describing that desk job as scrutinizing “three samples in a million transactions,” a process that struck him as being “not as complete as it should be.”
He stuck it out for another 20 months, while living in a condo only a few blocks from the CN Tower and a 10-minute walk to work. “It wasn’t any one thing,” he said. “All the stores and shops didn’t appeal to me. There’s more freedom in the country.”
He went home to the Cleary family dairy farm in Spencerville in 2017, stayed for a year, then jetted off to Australia. He found a job online herding cattle on a motorbike.
His 8-month role in the Australian outback was akin to being a cowboy, he says, except he rode a motocross motorbike to round up the cattle — many of them full-grown bulls. “It was kind of fun, and I learned a lot. That experience was boot camp for going back to the farm.”
They “gave you a map and a two-way radio and a motorbike when you arrived at the cattle station,” recalled Cleary, the only foreigner on a crew of about a dozen people. They moved big Brahman beef animals from one gigantic paddock to another a few times a week.
At the West Queensland ranch, he burnished his welding skills and improved his cattle-handling. He looked after calves, assisted with brandings and hunted wild boar. He helped with castrations, too, although most of the male bovines were left intact because there was market demand for bulls. He regularly rode among bulls on a motorbike and even rode atop a bull in a show ring, lasting 6 seconds before the animal threw him off its back. He returned to Canada via Asia and travelled the last stretch of adventure by motorcycle from B.C. to Ontario.
Cleary then turned to Guelph’s herdsperson apprenticeship program in September 2020. The program involved over 4,000 hours of on-farm work and 16 weeks of classroom instruction at Guelph’s Ridgetown campus, in one-week increments each month over two academic years. Only three weeks of in-classroom training was replaced by online sessions because of COVID, saving Cleary the 7-hour drive.
He says the program taught him a lot about calf and colostrum management, mastitis treatment, ketosis, general cow anatomy, “and it expanded into crops and nutrition as well.”
“It covered most areas of farming, whether it went in-depth or not,” added Cleary, who also picked up courses on artificial insemination and hoof trimming. He says he would recommend the program.
This summer, he looks forward to upgrading the robotic milking system at Clearydale Farms, run by his father Douglas. Four 9500-model GEA units will replace three older robot stalls from the same manufacturer.
Cleary, who also got married within the last year, was among 8 students to graduate from the dairy herdsperson apprenticeship program at Ridgetown. The June 3 convocation was the first in-person graduation ceremony in two years. The graduates include 51 students with a diploma in the two-year agriculture program, 25 in veterinary technology, 17 in equine care, 8 in horticulture and 8 in environmental management. Veterinary office administration certificates were earned by 17 students.