By Connor Lynch
PERTH — It’s as though Tom Ennis has his own new entry program. He helped two families become dairy farmers.
The first farmer he brought into the business was Tim Hodgins. Hodgins grew up in Ottawa, the son of an RCMP officer. The family moved out to Perth when he was young and his father was looking to retire. He worked on a few farms growing up and ended up working for CanWest Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI). He met and married Ennis’ daughter, Dawn, and made the leap from DHI to farming full-time in 2000, joining Ennis and his wife Linda on their free-stall dairy operation.
“Tom did a lot to help us, and I’d like to do the same,” said Hodgins.
Tom Ennis’ wife died in 2014 and the 73-year-old started thinking about retirement. However, he knew that it would be tough for Tim and Dawn to run the farm and milk the 55-head on their own. They’d need some new partners.
The four of them had been buying feed for years from Bryan Brydges, a feed advisor with Kinburn Farm Supply. He seemed like the kind of guy they’d like to work with. So last year at the Ottawa Valley Farm Show, Tom approached Brydges, who had dreamed about getting into dairy farming for years and asked if Brydges and his family wanted in.
“You feel pretty honoured to have someone say that to you,” said Brydges.
However, this is no one-man show, nor has it been without its challenges. The Hodgins want to transfer some quota to the Brydges in the future, but because they aren’t blood relatives, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario treat it as the sale of an ongoing operation. That means 10 per cent of the quota being transferred has to be sold back into the general pool. “(We’d) rather not shrink when you’re bringing people in,” said Hodgins.
The Hodgins also knew there was some risk involved in taking the young family on as partners. “There’s a lot of faith and trust that went into this, on both sides. We’re taking on people we aren’t related to, and they’re giving up their cushy jobs.”
So what convinced the Hodgins’ to take the plunge? “I was filling out a form for some grant money, and one of the questions on it was, ‘If you were to win the lottery, what would you do?’ I figured I’m doing what I want to do, so I’d keep farming. Then I thought of Bryan, and I figured that if he won, he’d buy a dairy farm.”
It occurred to them that Bryan Brydges would be a good fit on their farm.
Brydges’ wife, Jennie, grew up on a Perth dairy farm and he grew up on a hobby beef farm in nearby Almonte. This was the chance they had been waiting for.
Toprock Farms incorporated in January. They chose a name that did not include any last names to make it easier for either family’s children to take over.
The story gets even better. Ennis didn’t just bring the Brydges into the business. They moved into his house — the house that Ennis had lived in for 50 years.
Bryan, his wife Jennie, and their three young children moved in last month.
But that didn’t leave Ennis out in the cold. He bought neighbours Ron and Carol James’ 100-acre farm, moved into their duplex, and kept on the Jameses as tenants.