By Tom Collins
RIDGETOWN — Liam Anderson worked on a dairy farm through a high school co-op program and, after graduating, was accepted into Ridgetown College’s two-year agricultural program. But then he heard about the new dairy herdsperson apprenticeship program.
He made the switch to the apprenticeship program because he liked to be more hands-on.
“I don’t always like being in school all day long, every day,” said the 21-year-old. “The program worked nice because I was able to work and get experience on the farm and in school. It worked for my attitude and my personality.”
Two years ago, Ridgetown Campus started offering the program to fill the gap left by the closure of the program at Kemptville. Anderson was among the 10 first graduates of the program at Ridgetown this past spring.
Students are required to attend Ridgetown for four days a month for classwork. About 5,520 hours, or the other 90 per cent of the program, is on-farm training. Students can do their apprenticeship on one farm for the full two years, or apprentice at many farms. Students can also do the apprenticeship on their home farm.
The students get hands-on experience on everything from milking and feeding practices to herd health and basic maintenance of farm machinery.
Anderson did his two years apprentice shop at New Obelink Farms — run by Bart and Evert Rosegaar — just outside of Arthur, the same farm where he did his high school co-op. Anderson didn’t grow up on a farm. “It really helps to get that hands-on experience,” he said.
He’s now working at Clovermead Farms, run by Korb Whale at Arthur. While Anderson thinks he could do the same job without the apprenticeship program, “it would be a lot harder.”
Anderson would ultimately like to own his dairy herd, but he knows that is almost impossible unless you have family ties to a dairy operation. He would like to eventually like to own a farm of some kind even though he recognizes that land prices are also an obstacle to entry.
Jesse Kuenzle, 20, of Salford in Oxford County, was also among the first graduates. He did his apprenticeship with Jan Kappers and his sons, Rutger and Chris, of Olspank Dairy (the longest-running robot dairy farm in North America). Chris had taken the apprenticeship program at Kemptville years before and had spoken highly of it.
“I learn by doing things,” Kuenzle said of the appeal of the program. “It was a little more hands-on, so I liked it.”
He said one of the benefits of the program is that it is geared toward the dairy industry specifically instead of agriculture in general.
Kuenzle plans to continue to work on the Kappers’ farm before eventually taking over his parent’s dairy farm.
WESTERN ONTARIO: 10 graduate from Ridgetown’s inaugural dairy herdsperson apprenticeship program
By Tom Collins