Articles

For the love of Dairy
By Katie Hunter, on pg 76 of Cowsmo's Spring 2014 issue

Family is truly at the heart of this operation

A family run operation (l-r)Amanda, Emily, Marianne, Bonnie, John & Andrew den Haan-photo by Lindsay Nemeth

A family run operation (l-r)Amanda, Emily, Marianne, Bonnie, John & Andrew den Haan-photo by Lindsay Nemeth

This story can be found on pg 76 of Cowsmo’s Spring 2014 issue

Family is truly at the heart of this operation. A passion for the Dairy Industry certainly comes through when talking to John and Bonnie den Haan of Loretto, Ontario. Both graduates of Agriculture at the University of Guelph they will proudly tell you that all four of their children went on to post-secondary studies, three of them also Guelph Agriculture graduates and the other is a Nipissing University graduate. All four of their children are still actively involved in the Dairy industry and their pride shines through when they talk of their children and passion for what they all love to do.

Bonnie spends the majority of her time at the dairy processing facility while John spends much of his time on the farm. Their daughter Emily has just moved home and is taking on a management role of the farm and dairy herd while their daughter Marianne is taking on a management role at the dairy in marketing, sales and day-to-day operations. Their sons are involved in dairy farms as well, Andrew works as an Area Marketing Represetative for EastGen and he and his wife Amanda farm with her family in Fergus, Ontario under the prefixes Glenirvine and Glen Islay. Their son Scott and his wife Steacy farm in Markdale, Ontario under the prefix Primeridge Holsteins and also run a cheese processing facility under the name Primeridge Pure.

“We always made a point of celebrating the good things about farming. If we finished haying we would try to take a day off and celebrate with the kids by taking a day trip, to help instill in them the great things we accomplish on the farm. We also kept investing in the farm and making updates and that helped to keep them all interested.” said Bonnie.

SheldonCreek_image 4cwebSheldon Creek Dairy

Sheldon Creek Dairy opened their doors in June 2012 and the processing facility is tightly intertwined with the dairy farm, where they milk 50 homebred cows in a tie-stall facility under the prefix Haanview Holsteins. The close proximity to the barn allows customers to see first-hand where the dairy products they are purchasing come from and how the milk is produced. Plans for the on-farm processing facility began in 2010 and the first day of production was June 8, 2012.

Sheldon Creek is a unique facility and the goal of their product was “to make what’s old, new again”. Den Haan’s conducted a gap analysis by conducting surveys to determine what their consumers were looking for on the market. They wanted to create a unique product to introduce to the market and decided to focus on production of whole, non-homogenized milk. The product line has grown to include dark chocolate milk, yogurt and sour cream.

“We wanted our product to taste as much like raw milk as we could. It’s still natural, nothing has been taken out of it, and it is pasteurized in a licensed dairy plant.” said Bonnie.

Bonnie attended a milk committee meeting in 2010 and at the meeting they discussed a letter the board received about making chocolate dairy beverage. At that point she knew that she wanted to create a product that would be more available to consumers that was real chocolate milk. At the annual meeting when they asked for volunteers den Haan’s made the decision to sign on as a pilot project with Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO).

John & Bonne with some of their freshly bottled milk

John & Bonnie with some of their freshly bottled milk

“We already knew that people were interested, we have had a sweet corn stand for many years and people always wanted to buy milk from us then, at that time we knew that it would be an interesting project but originally thought that we would start small and sell to local people.” said Bonnie.

When den Haan’s looked further and realized they had to abide by the same rules and regulations as large plants even though the building was going to be a much smaller facility the project grew. Bonnie explains that on a manufacturing scale the facility is extremely small. The dairy includes a 30 feet x 70 feet processing facility, 20 feet x 40 feet dock and 30 feet x30 feet office space. We also have an on farm store that is 20 feet x 20 feet. “Many people have never seen a holding tube on a pasteurizer so small. The holding tube is required to keep the temperature at 73 degrees Celsius. Working very closely with many parties including electricians, plumbers, building inspectors, the Department of Health, the Department of Environment, their township, county and DFO the floor plan was perfected. Set on using Canadian made equipment for the dairy allowed them to capitalize on the technical support provided by the companies.

Communication during the design and building process had to be strong and the plant was built to max out with 50 cows utilizing their 63 kilograms of quota to its utmost potential. The many windows throughout the processing plant allows people to see in every room except for the cooler without actually being in the room.

It took two years to plan, build, pass inspections and get their license. They hosted their grand opening on June 23, 2012, two weeks after their first day of production. In June 2013, they celebrated their first anniversary with a day on the farm for their customers to visit the facility and partake in a variety of activities to see where the product is made. The day included pancake breakfast, a local food market, cooking demonstrations, free samples of Sheldon Creek products, tours of the farm and displays from local agricultural companies. With over 2500 people in attendance, den Haans saw many customers coming from Toronto and surrounding areas that have tried their products and wanted to check out the facility.

“We have customers throughout central Ontario. The Toronto market has really taken off for us recently. We find a lot of our customers are people who love food, like great quality and want to know the story behind the product. There are many new Canadians and Europeans that rave about our products. Everyone loves the taste once they try it, but it’s been a massive job to educate about non-homogenized milk.” said Marianne.

Marketing the products has been a huge job, not just to spread awareness of the product but also to educate about what makes their product different. “We realized we would have to inform people about non-homogenized milk. Initially some people thought that it went bad after they bought it because they weren’t accustomed to seeing the cream rise to the top. We find ourselves talking about milk and we have been sampling in grocery stores and teaching people what is different about it.” said Marianne.

“Many people who have not drank milk are enjoying our products.” Den Haan’s have been marketing their products through in store demos, donations to events, social media and their website. “We started out distributing our product in general stores, and have progressed from there, to coffee shops, restaurants, fine food markets and now there is a school using it for their school milk program.” said Marianne.

Sisters Marianne &  Emily are taking management roles in the dairy processing facility & with the dairy herd. Photo by Celeste Morrow-Baike

Sisters Marianne & Emily are taking management roles in the dairy processing facility & with the dairy herd. Photo by Celeste Morrow-Baike

They have found through their marketing and interaction with their customers they have taken on the role of myth busting about Agriculture. Providing customers with information and answering questions about the dairy industry they encourage customers to buy local and to find out more about where their food comes from.

The process has been an exciting one, but certainly hasn’t been without its share of challenges. “Building the building was the biggest challenge. Getting at ease with inspections took a while. It has been a lot of effort, but it has been very satisfying. We have found it is important to have the right people in the right positions. Throughout year one, we had many very long days, but it has been worth it. We believe in our product and wanted our product to be part of the community. Part of the experience of the product is the process between the cow and your fridge.” said Bonnie.

Haanview Holsteins

The passion for the dairy industry began here at the roots of their operation. The pride in their herd of completely homebred Holsteins shines through when talking to John and Bonnie about their cows. John’s philosophy on the cows in the herd is that to use bulls that are strong in type and to feed for production. They like to use proven bulls on all the cows and use test bulls on 20% of the herd.

John is a firm believer in using tools like classification and milk recording to their advantage. “It is great to have a new set of eyes in to look at your herd in a different way. Classifying regularly helps to keep us interested in our herd and helps us to set goals. We strive to maintain a majority of our herd classification at VG or better, we like to calve out all heifers then make the decision who remains in the herd.” said John.

“Getting up each morning to go out to milk good cows is a really nice feeling. We like milking good functional cows. It is exciting to watch different cow families develop and it is nice to have the opportunity to evolve into a management role.” said Emily.

A few of the cows that stand out when you ask John about his favourites in the herd over the years include Haanview Charles Delta VG-88, who was nominated All-Canadian and All-Ontario. She was shown as a calf and a cow and won her class at Simcoe County show every year until she was a 5-year old. Haanview Lheros Martina EX-92 4E, was shown as a 4-year old at Autumn Opportunity in 2009 and was 2nd in her class, pulled for top 5 and won top production. Another favourite, Haanview Progress Merle EX-91 7E made over 130,000 kilos of milk and stands out to them as well.

Pride in the management of their herd, now being taken over by their daughter Emily is evident when you walk through the barn.

When asked if they would recommend taking on a venture like an on-farm dairy to other producers, Bonnie remarks, “As long as you have your family, finances and health in order then yes. But it is a very taxing endeavour. Starting a business is stressful, but it has been worth it. It has taken lots and lots of time and effort to make it work. A positive attitude has been critical and it is important to have good people to ask questions to and to share and reflect with.”

Haanview Holsteins Farm Statistics
• Farm owned by John and Bonnie den Haan, also operated with daughter Emily den Haan
• Milk 52 Holstein cows in a tie-stall facility, 135 head
• Average production BCA 234-242-238
• Classification breakdown – 14 EX, 35 VG, 16 GP
• Farm 450 acres of land they own and rent 50 acres
• Crops grown include corn, soybeans, alfalfa and some barley
• Current sires using: Fever, Stanley Cup, Sid and Windbrook
• Cows are fed haylage, corn silage, dry hay, high moisture corn and supplement.
• Barn was built in 1983, with modifications since then including: robotic hay and grain feeders in 1998, new milker units and track in 2009 new lighting and stabling in 2013

The Sheldon Creek refrigerated delivery vehicle is used to transport the products to the various businesses they supply

The Sheldon Creek refrigerated delivery vehicle is used to transport the products to the various businesses they supply

Sheldon Creek Dairy
• Grand opening was June 23, 2012
• Products in their lineup include: whole, non-homogenized white milk, dark chocolate milk, 4 flavours of yogurt and sour cream
• Seasonal products include: Strawberry milk (in the summer) and Egg Nog (in November and December)
• The dairy employs 12 people, 3 fulltime, 4 part-time and 5 students.

 

 


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