Relying on the knowledge and advice of an expert team, strong family support, a well-planned goal, and a lot of hard work has helped a young southern Quebec couple build one of the most progressive and productive dairy farms in the province.
Dominic Drapeau and Celia Neault say it is a combination of these and other factors that have helped them achieve the success of their 625 head Holstein milking herd dairy at Sainte-Francoise, about 45 minutes from Drummondville. And it was a team effort that helped them earn recognition as the 2016 Quebec regional winners of Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers national competition.
Drapeau and Neault, and their young family, are part of the four-generation, family-named Drapeau & Belanger Farm. It is a dairy and cash cropping operation, where all generations are actively involved. Dominic was born and raised on the farm started by his grandfather Marcel Drapeau, who now at 86 still helps out where needed. And of course Dominic’s parents Michel and Sylvie Drapeau are still very much involved in the day-to-day operation, which includes management of a 625 head milking herd and production on about 3,850 acres of mostly corn and soybean cash crops.
Neault, herself, wasn’t a farm girl, growing up in the nearby city of Trois-Rivieres. She was pursuing a career in marketing, until she and Dominic met and married and she quickly transitioned to a new farming career.
Neault and Drapeau have drawn on a wide range of expert advice and newest technology to help them, particularly over the past dozen years, to develop the farm they have today.
They themselves built a new 120′ x 600′ freestall barn in 2003 as part of a longer-term plan to expand the dairy operation. The development also included installation of a 36-head rotary milking parlour, where for the past 15 years cows have been milked three times a day. By 2006 they were milking 430 head, then by 2011 they were milking 530 head. With 625 head today, that have reached facility capacity. On the production side over the past 10 years milk production has increased from 8,295 litres per cow per day to 11,724 litres.
“One of the most important decisions we made was to develop a good team to work with us as we expanded the dairy operation,” says Neault. “Along with family members our team also includes a close relationship with a herd veterinarian, and livestock nutritionist. And we also hired a good herd manager, who plays a key role in the proper care and management of dairy cattle.
“As we started this expansion we sat down and decided on our objectives, did our research, looked at other dairy farms, sought advice and then brought together the team to help us achieve those objectives.”
Technology put to use
Technology helps in many ways. In the barn they use genomic testing on young animals, motion detectors for reproduction, a smart scale on the mixer-feeder and temperature probes close to calving.
On the cropping side they produce corn for both grain and silage, soybeans, and some oats as well. The farm uses a satellite navigation system for levelling land, tile drainage, seeding, fertilizing and spraying. With these innovations over the last four years, they have enabled the farm to increase overall yields by five to 10 per cent each year.
And Drapeau and Neault aren’t done yet. They are looking ahead to the next 20-year plan, which includes nearly tripling the milking herd to about 1,600 head.
“We will take it in steps as we go,” says Neault. “We are pretty well at capacity now for the herd we are milking. Our future plans include building another barn and installing another 72-head rotary milking parlour. A lot will depend on quota, but we are always interested in buying more quota as it becomes available. And we are also interested in increasing our land base to produce more crops, but as land prices increase we have to consider the economics as well.”
They’re passion for agriculture is balanced with family time, as they raise their four children — Kelly and Mavrick, 10-year-old twins, Alicia, nine and Liam, seven. They are all involved in a wide range of activities which includes dancing, soccer, hockey and family gatherings.