LANSDOWNE - Not quite four years old, Cohen Smith is oblivious to the mantle of possibility that lies on his little shoulders as he tumbles like a puppy on the farmhouse lawn. Cohen is the sixth generation of the Smith family of dairy farmers and, if he decides to stay, heíll be following in the footsteps not only of his father, Jason, but will be treading a path begun by his great-great-grandfather, William Ross Smith, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1860s.
Family legend has it that William and his Irish-born wife, Marguret, first settled on a rocky and unproductive site along what is now Highway 2, not far from the village of Lansdowne, and that their luck turned when they traded it for a choice piece of land in a little green valley north of the village. The man they traded with wanted to be closer to the main route for transporting his milk.
"It was a hell of a good deal for us," says Jason.
More likely is the explanation offered by his uncle William, who maintains that his namesake bought the 150-acre property on County Road 3 in the 1880s. Since then the family has collected "sideways and down", so that Goldendale Farm, now covers about 500 acres, with another 300 acres owned and 250 more rented.
Together, the Smiths Ė first cousins Brian and William, Brianís son Jason and Williamís sons Luke and Jeff Ė have a dairy herd of almost 230 Holsteins and milk around 90 head. They cash crop about 300 tonnes of corn and almost as many of soybeans, and grow most of their own feed.
"Weíre self-sufficient," says Jason proudly. "We donít buy crops other than our concentrates, and mineral supplements."
The farm has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings as means of subsistence for Williamís and Marguretís growing family. The couple immigrated to Canada with their young sons, John and Thomas, the latter born in 1863. Daughter Margaret, born in 1865, was their first daughter and their first child born in Canada. According to the 1881 Census of Canada, she was followed by Sarah, Mary, Jane, Ann, Ross and John, the youngest born in 1880.
That the farm has supported six generations of the same family is as much as testament to the familyís strong ties to the land and to each other, as to its ability to grow and to change. Each generation has introduced some innovation to the farm that the next generation has built on.
Or, as Jeff says, "Every generation has built something worth continuing."
"If you stay still, you donít create new cash flow," adds Jason. "You end up stalling out."
Of William and Marguretís nine children, it was Ross who carried on farming and who, in 1911, registered the prefix "Goldendale" for its Holsteins. "They wanted the prefix ĎTwin Elmsí,†since we had two elm trees at the end of our driveway, on each side, but it was already taken," says Jason. "Storytellers from the past said that Goldendale originated from Rossís wife, who had golden brown hair, but no one knows if itís true."
Ross and Harriet "Luella" Summers raised nine children on the farm, including twins Omar and Ralph, who would become the next owners of Goldendale. Omar and Ralph farmed together all their lives and later in partnership with their respective sons, Brian and William, born only a couple of months apart. It was in 1947 when Omar and Ralph officially took over from their father, who had died in 1944, and when Omar built the little white farmhouse where his grandson, Jason, now lives with his wife, Katrina, their son, Cohen and an unlikely farm dog, Marty, an aged Boston terrier who showed up at the farm one day and still gets the cows up every morning. The couple is expecting a daughter in October.
On the other side of the farm yard is the house that came with the property, built in the 1880s, where Ralph once lived. William lives across the road and Brian is just down the road a bit. Itís a close arrangement, but it works.
Everyone has a role. Jason and his dad take care of the cows, while Jeff takes care of the ration and is "one hell of a mechanic," according to Jason. "Breakdowns for a farm can make or break you," says Jason. "You can go from planting 300 acres of corn to standing still waiting for a part to be delivered. Jeff can fix anything."
Luke raises the calves and "does all the hard work", and William milks every morning at 6 a.m. "If he wasnít there at 6 a.m. I would think the world had gone off its axis," laughs Jason.
"One of the reasons that weíve stuck together is that we do get time off," says William. "There are five of us, so we take turns on the weekend. We get every other Sunday off and every fourth weekend.
"And weíve never really had to have hired help, except for the one winter when my dad had tuberculosis and had to go to the sanatorium."
It was Omar and Ralph who started to modernize and expand Goldendale, partly out of necessity as the farm was by then supporting two families. In 1950 they built a new hip roof barn and added a 40-foot extension in 1957. In 1969 they erected the first of three silos and in 1975 built another wing onto the barn so that they could milk 85 cows. In 1980, their sons Brian and William became official partners in Goldendale.
Eventually they made the decision to keep the herd indoors, adding a new ventilation system that changes the air in the barn every 45 seconds, comfort stalls and floor mats. The decision was part of an overall vision to improve the quality of the herd and the level of production. The ventilated housing system provides a consistent environment year-round, as well as assuring a consistent intake for the herd and consistent milk production.
"We used to let the cows in and out," remarks Jeff, "but they wouldnít eat their ration when they came in and they would get hot outside in the summer and wouldnít drink all day."
"Now our cow longevity and efficiency is a lot higher," attests Jason.
Six years ago, the partnership of Brian, William, Jason, Luke and Jeff bought another 237-acre farm west of their property, from a neighbour who was retiring. They fixed up the old free-stall barn and built a silo and a new coverall building, and tile drained 190 acres. "Thatís when we really started to get into cash cropping," says William. "We needed a place to keep our heifers in the winter. Until we bought the farm, we had boarded the heifers out, some as far away as Brockville."
Now with five families to support, the farm continues to improve. All reproduction is done by artificial insemination on the farm, and last year the Smiths sold their first embryos to Japan. They are constantly working on improving the herd, and flush four or five of their best cows each year.
Jason says that Goldendale Outside Peg, the cow featured on the big Goldendale sign at the end of the laneway, was the catalyst for the improved milking herd, whose classification includes four Excellent, 50 Very Good, 35 Good Plus and five Good.
Sired by Comestar Outside in 1999, Peg (EX-90) produced 61,061 kgs in five lactations, earning one Super 3 award and Superior lactation awards three years in a row.
In 1991 Goldendale earned its first Master Breeder Shield, the most prestigious form of recognition from Holstein Canada, and is currently approaching the top ten for its second Master Breeder Shield.
The average for the twice-daily milked herd last year was 10,617 kg of milk, four per cent fat, 3.3 per cent protein, for Breed Class Averages of 230-234-235.
Itís another indication of how far Goldendale and the dairy industry in general have come in six generations.
It doesnít seem that long ago that Omar and Ralph still used horses on the farm. "We had two work horses our dads insisted on keeping because in the winter they could take the sleigh to spread manure," recalls William. "When you think about it, I guess it was a tiddlywinks operation, but it was big at the time."
What hasnít changed in six generations is a strong work ethic, a deep family bond and a shared commitment to the farm where before- and after-school chores were a part of life.
"Iíve never worked anywhere else," says Jeff.
Luke, who attended the agriculture program at Kemptville College with his cousin, Jason, admits that he hated school and has always liked working on the farm.
Brian and William canít help but be proud that their sons are continuing the family tradition when all around them family farms are dying out as young people turn their backs on farming. "Itís pretty remarkable," agrees William.
"Iíve always wanted to farm," notes Jason, adding that he would be happy if Cohen chose to follow in his footstep. But it will be his sonís choice.
"Thatís the way my father raised me; he said, "Itís available, you have to work for it", but he didnít force me. I was always told, "Never worry. There will always be a job on the farm"."
Itís too early to tell if Cohen will follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, but the signs are there. Brian is an official Holstein Canada judge and Jason has reached the level of aspiring judge. Young Cohen can name the two best young genetics on the farm. "Thatís Beauty," he says, reaching his fingers up to the touch the soft muzzle of the yearling Goldendale Bolton Beauty. "And thatís Black Magic," pointing to Goldendale Alex Black Magic.
And although he is too young for chores, his little feet know their way around the farm.
"Cohen loves coming out," says his dad. "He sees me in the barn every night."