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Dairy farmers focus on making the most of what they have

James and Amanda Kinsman might have more land or more dairy quota on their Christmas wish list, but since no one appears to be making any more of either in Nova Scotia they’re just doing their best to be as efficient and profitable with what is available.

The Berwick, Nova Scotia dairy farmers would really like to expand their dairy herd, but with the industry so stable in the Atlantic province, dairy quota is very hard to come by. To grow the farm, another option is to produce more cash crops, but in the heart of the vegetable growing Annapolis Valley, it is also a challenge to find more land for economic corn, soybeans and wheat production.

The Kinsmans, along with their two young children, operate a 190 head dairy and produce forages and cash crops on about 1,800 acres as Windcrest Farms. The couple were named Atlantic Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmer regional nominees earlier this year.

Limited opportunities for expansion have forced the Kinsmans to focus on optimizing yields and production with what they currently have. “We’re driving production on the dairy side and driving yields on the cropping side,” says James.

“I am a very go-forward type of person — very growth minded, so it is a bit frustrating to be limited. There is very little quota available to expand the dairy and we’re buying and renting land as it becomes available, but it is a very competitive market here. It would be nice to think one day we can use all the production off the land we have to put through the dairy herd, but I am not sure if that will happen in my lifetime or not. But it is what it is.”

James was born and raised on the family dairy farm. He attended Nova Scotia Agricultural College and worked off farm before coming back to full-time farming in 2003. Amanda is a school teacher, and along with helping with the farm when possible, also focuses on raising the couple’s three-year-old twin daughters, Alexis and Brooke.

New facilities

One of the biggest improvements to the farm in recent years was building a new dairy barn and milking parlor in 2008. “Our old facilities were full and cramped and we had average production,” says Kinsman. “So building the new facility was a big step forward.”

The Kinsman’s have doubled the size of their dairy herd since 2008. They have a Coverall shelter for the loose-housing area for the dairy herd, which is attached to a double 10, rapid exit, herringbone milking parlor. The herd is milked three times a day.

“We have room to expand the herd to some extent with the facilities we have, but everything was also built so the barn could be extended on one end and the parlor could be extended on the other,” says Kinsman. “We hope someday we will be able to grow the dairy herd, and expand the barn as needed.”

The farm has about 1,800 acres of deeded and rented land. About 1,000 acres is in cash crop production, while the balance produces forage and silage for the dairy herd.

Focus on production

With the combination of improved facilities and management fine-tuning, milk production has increased significantly over the past five years. Herd average production today is about 42 litres of milk per cow per day compared to about 28 litres in the old barn. Switching to milking three times a day two years ago also contributed to improved production. Kinsman says milking three times a day increases production by about six to seven litres per cow.

“It takes a bit more feed, they eat a bit more, but it also produced one efficiency I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “Our power bill actually dropped by about $100 per month. We milk at 4 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. which are off peak hours, so our power rates are lower during those times.”

Kinsman isn’t sure how much more improvement he can expect in milk production either through feed management and herd genetics although that’s always on his radar. He is focusing on improved calf and heifer management in a bid to build the better dairy cow.

“We’re paying close attention to our calf management,” he says. “We work to improve the growth of those pre-weaned calves so they are leaner and taller at two months of age. If the heifer calves have good growth, then that produces a larger heifer, and hopefully she becomes a more productive dairy cow.

“We’re pushing the growth of the calves a bit more and then the growth of the heifers a bit more. We’re targeting heifers to calve at 22 months of age rather than 24 months and if she has the growth hopefully she’ll produce more milk in that first lactation.”

Kinsman hasn’t give up on expansion plans, but says he has to be realistic.

“I wish I could say the plan is to double the dairy operation over the next five years, or crop another 1,000 acres but it is not a reasonable goal,” says James. “In reality the opportunity just isn’t there right now to significantly increase the dairy herd or our cash crop operation. So while we need to be watching for opportunities, our focus is on increasing production and profitability of what we have.” †

THE OTHER NOMINEES, 2013

British Columbia: Troy and Sara Harker
Alberta: Michael Kalisvaart and Karen Jansen
Saskatchewan: Chad and Darlene Krikau
Manitoba: Tyler and Dorelle Fulton
Ontario: Dana and Adam Thatcher
Quebec: Luc Gervais and Kim Brunelle

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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