In this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Carter Cann, from Canada, about his unplanned venture into agriculture, following his father’s accident and the family’s journey from an apple and beef enterprise to dairy farming.
Carter Cann has swapped a career in tourism for life on his family-run 560-acre farm in Meaford, Ontario, Canada.
The 26-year-old’s unplanned return to the enterprise arose after an accident left his father, Todd, unable to walk for a period.
The options were simple: lease or sell the farm or return home and take the reins of the operation, so he opted for the latter.
He is the third-generation to live and work full-time on the dairy enterprise, which was once home to beef cattle and an apple orchard before a conversion period in 1988.
“After selling the orchard, my grandfather started into the beef business. At that time, my father purchased a farm which neighboured my grandfather.”
“Having the second farm gave them the space to start a dairy operation. The choice to shift was simple for them because they wanted livestock. Dairy was a more profitable option with a consistent, year-round income.” explained Carter, who farms with his father, Todd, sister, Elicia, a schoolteacher, and grandfather, Elgin.
Dairy farming in Canada
Cann Farms Ltd consists of 40 Holstein Friesians, farmed under the HurriCann prefix, with 110-acres of pastures for heifers and dry cows, along with 450-acres of workable land.
In April 2017, Grand River Robotics installed a Lely Astronaut A5 on the farm, and over 76,000 milkings have been recorded to date.
They utilised the original bank barn that was built on their farm over 100 years ago and the family retrofitted the old bunker silo into free-stalls when they began milking in this facility.
In terms of performance, the herd is currently averaging 35 litres per cow, having increased from 28 litres/cow before their move to robotics. Last year, the Cann family produced close to 400,000 litres of award-winning ‘A grade’ milk with 4.0% butterfat, 3.2% protein and 5.92 los.
The robot’s installation led to an increase in production, which, in turn, reduced the number of cows the family require to milk to meet their quota. As a result, they have been purchasing quota each month with a plan to expand to fifty cows to “maximise the robot the best we can without overcrowding or challenging our barn”.
“We target a production average of 40kg. As a result of the changeover to robotic milking, our herd is half first lactation heifers, and the second half is in their second lactation or above.”
“Through increasing the longevity of our herd, I believe we can hit that 40kg average as our current third lactation and above-average over 45kg.”
“We love having the robot. It creates time for jobs that would have taken a back seat when we were in the parlour. With it primarily being my farther and I, in crop season, we can get more done as we do not have to stop to milk at a set time.”
Breeding programme and progeny
All breeding is completed in-house by means of AI (artificial insemination) with no stock bull on the farm. The family’s goal is to dry-off cows as close to 305 days in milk as possible.
By 60 days in milk, if cows do not display signs of cycling, the family execute an Ov-Sync protocol to cycle for AI.
Year-round-calving takes place with an aim to keep average days in milk approximately 150, which, according to Carter, helps to keep herd production averages high.
“I select all our bulls for our AI programme. I look primarily to make a cow that has the build for longevity. Personally, I love a cow that scores well with the classifier. I take pride in our animals and always enjoy classification day to gauge how I am influencing the genetics of our herd through our breeding programme.”
They retain all replacement heifers and aim to calve these from 24-25-months. Besides, they sell all bull calves before they reach two months of age due to space constraints.
“I enjoy that you need to wear many hats to farm well because there are so many aspects involved. I find it incredibly rewarding to have a high producing herd. It is a testament to the quality of feed we produce and herd health management .” Carter concluded.
The dairy herd is only one aspect of the farm as the family grow and harvest all their feed from their own land. In the average year in their area, they harvest a maximum of three cuts of hay, with haylage being a 60% alfalfa, 40% grass mix.
They harvest their first-cut by the first week of June and use this to fill their 65ftx18ft tower silo, while they harvest the remaining into round bales, the majority of which they wrap.
Furthermore, they harvest corn to fill a 65ft x 20ft foot tower silo, and the surplus is later combined. They sell Grain corn alongside barley and soybeans to the local grain elevator.
They currently, we do not have a TMR mixer; our feeding set up does not allow for it. “We want to focus most on improving our feeding set up so it can be accurate and consistent.”
“Our current shaker system does not allow us to know any of the weights of our feed consistently, and we must rely on guesstimating.”
Financial viability – dairy farming in Canada
When asked if a 40-cow herd could provide a viable/sustainable income for a family in Canada, Carter said: “We can finance all aspects of the operation from the income of our milk and the sale of crops. At this size of operation, two people can manage the daily tasks on an average day.”
“When times get busy, like seeding or harvest, other family members step in to help where they can. This keeps from the expense of a hired hand. My mother does work off-farm, but her income does not go toward the farm’s operating expenses.”
Carter said small dairy operations are becoming rarer as the average herd size across the country continues to rise. ”Canadian dairy is a supply-managed sector. I believe that it is an integral part of the dairy operation in Canada. It keeps our supply and demand balanced.”
“The pandemic has helped prove how well supply management works. As a result, I believe the dairy industry has a strong future ahead.”
“That being said, 98% of farms in Canada are still family-owned and operated. Farmers are always improving their operations to increase efficiency from new equipment to cattle genetics; innovation keeps improving the carbon footprints of dairy farms.” Carter concluded.