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Long-time local dairy family wins BMO farm award
July 4, 2014

The Weiss clan will make their hay this week, then make their way to Cowtown next to collect their Farm Family of the Year award from BMO Financial at the Calgary Stampede.

The owners of the last remaining major dairy operation in the area will be among 20 farm families honoured — one for each ag service board in southern Alberta.

“We probably won because we’ve been around so long,” said Matilda Weiss, the matriarch of the family, who recalls hand-milking cows herself and watching husband Herb handcraft the rafters for their first barn in 1957.

That plot is located south of the present day community of Vista Heights but way back then the closest thing in Medicine Hat was the Prairie Schooner highway service station, south of Connaught.

They separated the cream by hand and delivered it to Crystal Dairy before they built another 50-cow barn and began bulk deliveries in 1964.

“We didn’t start with 14 cows but when we got to 14 it was time to grow,” said Matilda.

Today, the mechanized milking carousel handles that many at one time at the new family operation, completed in 2005 near Township Road 114, south of Highway No. 3.

The total land mass has grown to 2,200 acres, and a new barn can hold up to 250 Holsteins, has a maternity ward, vet and breeding facilities, and sterile tanks to collect 6,000 litres of milk every two days.

The move began in the 1980s when Medicine Hat started growing southward and the inclusion of sons Gerald and Keith Weiss increased the need for land.

Now, both have sons with an interest in the business, making for three generations with an active hand, and everybody else lending a hand when needed.

“I think the award just has a lot to do with what the farm has done and the volunteer work of the family,” said Gerald, who points to a long relationship with the Food Grains bank.

Aside from a host dairy marketing duties, the family has an impressive resume of community involvement.

Herb and Matilda met in the St. Peters Lutheran church choir and are still active members. In his younger days Herb helped form co-ops to bring gas and water to rural areas.

Likewise, sons Keith and Gerald have done work with the Seven Persons Grazing Reserve and the Westside Water Coop, respectively, along with service club affiliations and 4H.

Environmental stewardship, as well, is a point of pride.

Washing water is retained then used to hose out pens, and the whole slurry is used to fertilize land that rotates between alfalfa, corn and barley silage, and the odd cash crop of canola or wheat.

A radiator system cuts down on refrigeration costs, and then the warmer clean water is fed back to the cows (“It’s better for them than cold water,” said Keith).

Herb and Matilda are still active administrating the set up that has progressed light years beyond the early years and is complete with computerized tracing and automatic cups that detach themselves from udders when volume drops.

“It’s quite different,” said Herb. “There are robots that do a lot of it now. They push the feed and it actually helps with production.”

Somethings don’t change, though. The original milking barn sits in the new farmyard, now as a calf barn for the sideline Black Angus beef ranch operation.

And, of course, the hours will likely never change.

“People ask me how I can get up at 4 a.m. to milk cows,” said Keith Weiss. “Lots of people work shifts, whether you’re in a tire plant or anywhere. Four in the morning, in the spring and summer, is beautiful.

“I’d rather do this.”

 Source – Medicine Hat News


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