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Atlantic OYF finalists David and Sara Simmons

This Newfoundland couple enlist technology to improve dairy farm efficiency

While there are some logistical issues involved being one of the further-most eastern dairy farms in Canada, David and Sara Simmons hasn’t let that stop them from developing a progressive and productive farming operation, and becoming a producer of high quality breeding stock.

As the owners of Pure Holsteins dairy farm at Little Rapid, Newfoundland Labrador (NL) the Simmons have applied their college educations as well as the experience gained growing up on their respective dairy farming operations to building a modern and progressive dairy on the west coast of the island province near the city of Corner Brook.

Their business management skills and family and community commitments earned them the recognition earlier this year being named Atlantic Canada nominees for the 2015 Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers award.

David was born and raised on the family farm in Newfoundland, while Sara grew up on her family’s Boreview Holsteins at Lower Coverdale, near Moncton, N.B. They met while both were attending Nova Scotia Agricultural College. David is the third generation on the farm, which has a long history as a dairy operation.

“While we both have farming backgrounds, it has been a steep learning experience running our own dairy farm,” says David, noting they bought Pure Holsteins about five years ago. Actually, they both have been involved with the dairy farm since 2008 when they began farming with David’s family. In just two years, they took over full management of the 100-cow milking herd. In 2011, they started Pure Holsteins Ltd. that includes a unique succession and business plan. David and Sara bought all the dairy assets including equipment and animals and lease the barn and quota from David’s father and his two uncles. The young couple manage the cows and production.

The Simmons focus not only on developing a high milk-producing herd, but also in developing high quality breeding stock. As the farm background on the Pure Holstein website explains: “Sara has a strong back ground in showing dairy cows as her family has been showing Boreview Holsteins since her grandfather, Rudy Steeves started their herd,” says David.

“She has brought the love and desire of the true type cow and showing into my life. We have spent the last six years trying to breed for high type, all around beautiful Holstein’s. We have shown our animals in as many shows as we can afford to attend and always look forward to the Holstein Canada Classifier visits as each time we can easily see our hard work and breeding program improving and moving us forward in the Holstein industry.”

Although Pure Holsteins is well connected with the Canadian dairy farming industry, Simmons says being one of 31 dairy farmers in Newfoundland has some challenges. For instance it is a 22-hour trip by land and ferry to get to his nearest farm machinery or fertilizer dealer on the mainland. The farm does source all the hay and forages it needs to feed the herd from nearby family members, but any grain, dairy ration, fertilizer, fuel and machinery all has come by ferry to the island.

Since establishing their own dairy farm, the Simmons have worked to properly manage cash flow, improve animal husbandry, cow comfort and of course production.

Operating with a free-stall system, improvements include installing rubber mats on all walking surfaces used by the cattle, and outfitting the barn with 24-foot diameter ventilation fans to maintain air quality and cow comfort. One major advance was outfitting the barn with two Lely robotic milkers a year ago. That’s had a two-fold benefit of reducing labor and increasing milk production.

“In working with a company such as Lely I believe we were always confident that the system would work well,” says Simmons. “In our area finding steady and reliable skilled labour for a dairy farm is almost impossible, so we looked at the robotic milkers to help with the farm workload.” Newfoundland also offers an excellent grant program which covered about 60 per cent of the total equipment and barn renovation costs.

Over the past year of using the robotic milkers, Simmons estimates the labor cost savings alone is enough cover the payment costs on the milking equipment. Along with that they have seen a 30 per cent increase in milk production. He says their 100-cow herd, which is averaging in the 55 to 60 litre per head per day range, is producing as much milk as 110 cows in a conventional parlour system.

Looking ahead he says they do have plans to replace older facilities with a new calving barn, but for the immediate future they just want to get some “money in the bank.”

“Our first few start up years has involved a lot of spending,” says Simmons. “So over the next couple years we are looking at making, rather than spending money. Once we get a bit ahead then longer term we can look at other new improvements.”

Along with looking after the dairy herd, David and Sara are also involved in family, community and industry activities. Their daughter Felicity, four has already shown a keen interest in the farm, and they are planning to start a 4-H club in their community for her and other interested children. The Simmons’ are proud of their family farm business, and support their community by volunteering on the Deer Lake Agricultural Fall Fair committee. And David is president of the NS/NL Holstein Branch.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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