As part of this week’s Farmers Overseas segment, Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, speaks to Farmer Tim.
With just shy of 90,000 Facebook followers across the globe, there is a high possibility that you have stumbled across Farmer Tim during your time of surfing the web.
Tim May, a fourth-generation dairy farmer from Ontario, Canada, is the face behind the popular account.
The proprietor of Mayhaven Farms runs his 45-cow dairy herd on 250-acres, while he also leases an additional 50-acres on a neighbouring farm.
Running the enterprise is a family affair, with his wife, Kirsten, a veterinarian, and children: Andy and Abby involved in its operation. Tim’s parents manage their second farm next door where they house replacement cattle.
“I have always loved farming, but there was a time in my life that I wanted to pursue teaching or veterinary medicine. I settled on a degree in animal science from the University of Guelph (OAC ’94).” he told That’s Farming.
After graduating with his degree, he was given the ultimatum to take the family farm’s reins, or it would be sold as his father required knee replacements.
Tim decided to become a full-time dairy farmer, and although he did not train to become a vet, he married one and can still “nurture and care for animals as a career”.
As an agvocate, blogger and public speaker with a prominent presence on social media, he teaches people globally about farming life through the eyes of a lens.
He shares content from the farm, which comprises purebred Canadian Holsteins, two Jersey heifers, and a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle.
The entire dairy herd can be traced back to Tim’s great-grandfather’s herd, with a focus on genetic gain to reach new heights.
“We use proven bulls through AI breeding and make use of mating suggestions that are custom designed to improve the future generations of our herd.”
“The conformation of our herd is jumping by leaps and bounds with the hopes of possibly attaining a Master Breeder shield at some point in the future.”
Canadian producers are on a supply management system designed to meet consumer demand. As a result of this, Farmer Tim spreads calvings throughout the year to meet the farm’s monthly quota allotment.
“The system has worked well. Through Covid-19, there were a few rough patches meeting supply and demand, but the kinks in the supply chain eventually levelled.”
They use sexed semen only on heifers and keep most of their replacement animals as part of a 22-month-old calving system.
“Our veterinarian conducts herd health checks every two weeks, and pregnancy checks via ultrasound. We also help train veterinary students from the Ontario Veterinary College that is close to our farm.”
At 45 cows, their herd is about half the average Canadian size, but the cows “make up for it in production”.
“Our cows are in the top 1% of herds in Canada for milk production and milk value, and we are in the top percentage for herd management as well.”
“We focus on well-balanced cows, and we pride ourselves in producing high-quality milk from well cared for cows. Current production is 45.6kg per cow at 4.4% fat while maintaining an SCC of around 100,000.”
They feed cows a balanced TMR (total mixed ration) of alfalfa balage, corn silage, barley, and a custom supplement. This is provided outside in a covered bunk from about March until November and inside during the cold winter months.
Furthermore, cows also have free access to pasture from May until late October. The family clip and maintain pasture, but its primary purpose is mainly for exercise.
Young and close-up heifers are also allowed free access to pasture and are supplemented with hay, grain, and concentrates.
The family plant and harvest all their own feed, primarily alfalfa hay, pasture, grain corn, corn silage and barley. They grow soybeans and wheat as a cash crop and use their own straw as bedding.
The family share a lot of equipment with a neighbouring farmer to save on cost and labour. “It’s hard to justify owning all your own equipment if you only use it a few days a year. Also, expensive custom operators cannot always come when you want them.”
Known as Farmer Tim on social media for several years, he has followers in “almost every country in the world”. Many are located in Canada and the US, but he also has followers around the Emerald Isle.
To date, Tim has over 82,000 Facebook followers alone, but is also active on other platforms including Instagram and Twitter. “I gravitate towards Facebook because I feel that it is where I can reach the most non-farmers – my target audience.”
“My focus is on teaching consumers about animal welfare and the human side of agriculture, which includes mental health awareness.”
“People follow me for the education, the honesty, the compassion, my photos, and the terrible puns that keep them coming back for more. We even have a famous cow, Vanilla, who has almost 4,000 followers of her own.”
Always planning his next step, Tim says that the farm is close to some major urban centres, therefore, urban encroachment has “put some pressure on us, but it also gives us some unique opportunities”.
“We could process our own milk and sell directly to consumers in the future or diversify with agritourism. The option of robots is tempting to ease up the physical workload.”
Farmer Tim highlighted that there has been a “huge” movement in Canada to support local and to preserve national food supply. He said Canadian consumers’ trust in farmers and dairy consumption has strengthened in recent months.
“Even with some market loss due to trade issues, our government still stands behind our supply management system. This enables farmers to make a decent living while offering consumers a high-quality product at a fair price.”
“We also are working hard at building consumer trust through our Pro-Action program. This encompasses six key areas: milk quality, food safety, animal care, traceability, biosecurity and the environment.”
“I have no regrets being a dairy farmer. I have been able to do what I love with my family by my side, and I am proud to be one of the few who feeds the many. With my social media presence, I feel that I can use my skills as an educator and entertainer to help gain consumer trust and made a difference in the world.”
“If a farmer teaches one person about farming, it might not change the world, but it might change the world for that one person.” Farmer Tim concluded.