In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, Dairy Farmers of Canada has produced a book, Dairy Farmers—Deeply Rooted for a Strong Future that honours Canada’s dairy tradition and the contributions dairy farmers have made to Canada’s emergence as a nation.
The Ell family arrived in Canada in 1899 and found themselves settling in Kronau, Saskatchewan, where there was land to spare. Shortly after arriving they began milking a few cows. The Ells became dairy pioneers in Western Canada and their family-run operation shows no signs of slowing down. Today, fifth generation farmers, Gord and Tiffany Ell milk 200 cows on 3,000 acres of land.
The Ells began shipping cream in the 1940s, transporting cans by horse and buggy to the train station to be shipped to Regina, Saskatchewan’s capital. Soon after, they began shipping milk.
Many farmers in the region, including four Ell sons, went off to fight in World War Two. The younger children, including Gord’s father Joe and his uncle Adam, stayed home to help their father look after the farm. When the older boys returned home from war, they realized the farm was running well without them and most moved to the city to raise their families. When Joe was 20, his father died and he and his brother Adam took over the farm. At the time, the Ells were doing a bit of grain farming but the boys decided to focus their attention on dairy.
They built a milking parlour in the mid-1950s—the first in Western Canada. By 1970, the family was the first farm in Saskatchewan to milk 100 cows. The Ell ancestors were ahead of their time, something upheld by Gord, his brother and two cousins, which continued when Gord and Tiffany purchased the farm in 2007.
Gord marvels at how much things have changed, not only in the barn, but also in the fields. Over the years, Gord’s father shared stories about the past when making a simple bale of hay could take an entire day. “As you can imagine, it was a lot of hard work,” says Gord. Today, technology has turned a full-day job into a two hour task, and has drastically changed the quality of life on the farm. “It’s still a tough life,” says Gord, but “we love what we do.”
Cows’ lives have also improved due to innovations in farming. The Ells have increased the size of their stalls, added new mats, and re-grooved the floor in the barn this year so cows wouldn’t slip. “Basically, everything you can think of to make our cows comfortable, we do,” says Gord.
The Ells are well-loved in the community, a bond that was created when Joe and Adam first took over the farm. They became community pillars— helping others through tough times. When people struggled, they gave them milk free of charge or traded something for the milk. “I’m not sure how much money they lost in that deal, but it was just something you did for the community,” says Gord. “Big families needed help and they knew they could get milk from us.”
Everybody milks cows at Ells’ Dairy Farm—it’s a true family operation. Gord says the only time in probably 100 years that someone from the immediate family didn’t milk their cows was when Gord married Tiffany 26 years ago. Even then, it was their cousins who milked the cows, maintaining the family tradition.
The Ells are proud to be part of a Canadian dairy family.
Download the book here.
Source and photos by Dairy Farmers of Canada