Art and Elaine Pruim, Saskatchewan’s Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for 2009, will be in Ottawa in early December to represent Saskatchewan at the national awards competition.
The Pruims run Matvale Holsteins of Plum Blossom Farms Ltd. at Osler, north of Saskatoon. Originally from British Columbia, they moved to Saskatchewan in 1998, and began building a new dairy with an initial milking herd of 120 head.
The couple have five children ranging from six to 14, three of which help on the farm when not in school. The Pruims like to consider themselves a true family farm operation, but they do also employ five full-time and two part-time staff.
They now milk 400 cows, with 850 head in total.
OFF TO THE RIGHT START
Probably the biggest advantage to the bottom line of their farm business, according to farm bookkeeper Elaine, was being able to build everything “right” from the very start.
“I think we have an advantage just because we were able to set up a brand-new dairy facility, so we were right away looking for the most efficient means of doing everything, from working in the barn, to milking and using the latest equipment,” she says. “And as time progresses, and we change little things, we continually strive to look for the best technology so we can produce more milk, more efficiently, with a greater margin.”
That investment in technology and quality systems also meant Elaine had a pleasant surprise this year when she completed an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). “When we built the dairy, without even realizing the environmental aspects, we tried to set up an efficient facility, and that was a real benefit when I completed the EFP,” she says. “There actually wasn’t much of what we were already doing that needed to be changed to meet EFP recommendations, just because we had the privilege of being able to do it right from the beginning.”
Their efficient dairy operation has also helped them to grow rapidly by giving them the time to put effort into building a quality herd.
“I would have to say that we farm aggressively, with a good business approach,” says Art. “We have grown from milking 120 cows up to 400 cows in less than 11 years. At the same time we have striven to rapidly improve the genetics in the herd.”
Art’s interest in genetics was gained first-hand from working at a bull test station in B. C. “I pulled semen for five years, and it gave me a good perspective of the differences of what really good genetics can bring to a herd, versus average or poor genetics,” he says. “It is all based on your choices and what you do with it.”
Pruim has brought that genetics knowledge and emphasis to his own dairy operation, with a goal to breed an exceptional herd of dairy cows and develop bloodlines that have appeal to other producers. The farm already has one cow contracted to supply embryos for the export market.
Improving the genetics means keeping abreast of new technology and developments. “Knowing your pedigree and trying to remain knowledgeable about what’s new, through active discussions with other people in the genetics industry, is important,” says Pruim. “But, as you are building your own herd you need to ensure you don’t sway from your own goals.”
For the Pruims, those goals include quality management that pays attention to every detail on the production and business sides. “It all has to be top end or it is not going to work,” says Art. “If you have top-end genetics with poor management you are still going to have poor genetics at the end of the day. If you can’t offer the management to work with the genetics you’ll never reap the benefits.”
To believe yourself you are doing a good job is one thing, but to have that fact independently verified is crucial, particularly in an industry where the traceability of good genetics is imperative to the value to the farm’s breeding stock. Thanks to industry partners like Holstein Canada, the Pruims hard work has been recognized.
“Every four months Holstein Canada scores our cattle on the farm,” he says. “Every time you get a new group of young heifers that have calved into the operation, and they get scored, you can see whether you’re actually improving your genetics on the farm. You’ll know right away, if, for instance, you’ve used a bull that’s pulling your heifer performance in the wrong direction. It’s become a system now that is globally recognized as the superior system around the world for scoring cows and recognising elite genetics.”
But to help maintain a cost-effective operation, it’s as important to pay attention to what happens outside the barn as much as it is inside the barn, he adds.
“We have 850 head of cattle, so we are probably doing a better job outside of the barn on the land, because we have to feed all the cattle,” he says. “To be efficient we find it better to grow our own crops rather than buy it — it’s a cheaper alternative.”
All silage and most of the hay requirements for the herd are grown on the farm’s 1,050 acres, with an additional 350 acres leased to farmers from whom they buy grain. They work closely with nutritionists and feed companies to provide a balanced ration to optimize milk production and remain competitive.
“It’s not always easy to expand,” says Art. “But believing that other people’s vision and recommendations can also help you to be a better manager and grow your business will help you accomplish your goals.”
Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, MB