Geoff and Jennifer Bishop might be putting cutting edge dairy science to use in Nova Scotia s Annapolis Valley today, but it all started when Geoff s grandparents bought the family s first cow back in 1970, less than a year after they arrived from England and settled in the Round Hill community.
The operation grew steadily, and the second generation of Bishops was milking about 75 Holsteins when Geoff (the third generation) returned from farm study in England and New Zealand. He had also attended Nova Scotia Agriculture College where he met a kindred spirit in his wife Jennifer, who grew up just across Confederation Bridge in the red agricultural dirt of PEI.
While many family farms across Canada were sinking under the weight of old ways and slow progress, this operation got stronger legs thanks to the older Bishops welcoming the ambition and farm management plans of the younger ones. Their work in developing a successful family dairy earned Geoff and Jennifer recognition earlier this year as Atlantic Canada s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2011.
In the highly regulated Nova Scotia milk industry, the Bishops needed a mathematically sound business plan. One of the first changes Geoff tackled was to develop a herd of higher value, higher performing registered cows. They also bought more quota and expanded the milking herd, which today stands at 165 head.
Geoff s father had always wanted to expand the herd and the quota, so this was a chance for the whole family to realize some dreams for the farm, says Jennifer. They had a great start with 75 cows, but everyone worked together and now we have a new barn and milking parlor with capacity for 200 head.
There are two key sides to any dairy operation, the mechanical aspect and the animal aspect. The extra quota gave them the certainty to move ahead with the new infrastructure, but Jennifer says that only dealt with how the milk was handled once it left the cow. The family also wanted to address cow needs as well.
I think the single most important part of our farm s success is animal husbandry nutrition, cow comfort, looking after the longevity of our cows, says Jennifer.
Proper nutrition for the herd has led to not only invest in better rations and feeding systems, it has become a sideline to their overall business. They are home base to the only soybean extruder in the Annapolis region, a machine that presses extraneous and unhelpful oil from soybeans to produce the soy meal the cows thrive on. The process allows them to get the best part of the soybean to the cattle. However it also provides them with a saleable supply of soymeal pellets, and they capture the oil for sale as well.
We are looking at ways of diversifying, and this is something that not only saved us money on feed ration costs, but opened up new income streams for us, says Jennifer.
They also invested in a self-propelled forage harvester and an excavator for their own needs around the farm, but during down times those machines become available for rent to others in the area, again providing a revenue source back to the farm.
Modern farming is not the old picture of the old guy in overalls with a pitchfork in his hand and a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth, says Jennifer. My husband is out in the field with a laptop. All of our cows wear pedometers to track their movement, which is a big indicator of health. It is big business, not just driving a tractor.
Where the farm will be in five years is all rooted in these recent investments. Many of their upgrades are brand new, so they are at the beginning of their plan s arch. They have to see things through with what they have recently begun.
I think a downfall of a lot of farms is getting too big, too fast and not applying the money in the right areas, says Jennifer. We want to grow, but we have to get there by taking steps that work, so we know we can depend on it.
There is a fourth generation of Bishops now involved in the family farm. Geoff and Jennifer have Luke, Emma, Matthew and Ryan watching everything they do. Jennifer is a teacher by trade, with a specialty in agriculture education, and she has taken one of the children on a mission to Ethiopia where food and water is precious.
She and Geoff are also active in advocating for their industry. They step forward for dairy and agriculture associations, advertising campaigns and websites all aimed at boosting the Maritime s milk business but also the many other products that are grown in the Atlantic Canada region that goes so well with their products.