Every farmer enjoys working with family on a successful farm. Hopefully that success allows for the development of a long-term plan for keeping the farm in the family for the next generation. Careful planning has allowed Paul and Ellen MacLeod to work alongside their sons Jared and Kyle – towards a progressive future for Darcroft Farms.
A third-generation farmer, Paul’s family was originally from the Niagara Falls area in Ontario. Paul and his brother Ron farmed there as partners beginning in 1972. In 1983 Paul and Ellen moved to Woodstock where they continued to milk cows with Ron and his wife Sheri. In 2003 the partnership was split, with Ron and Sheri relocating to Renfrew County. Paul and Ellen’s sons Jared and Kyle were added to the
Darcroft long term plan. Swinging 30 cows in a 60-cow tie-stall barn put transition and expansion plans into motion and in 2009 the MacLeods purchased 387 acres at Embro. “We knew we wanted to keep growing so we needed to find a land base that would support that growth,” said Paul. Touring barns in both Canada and the United States, Jared and Kyle decided a free-stall barn would be their best option.
“I think it is important to figure out how you want to manage cows and build your barn around it. We knew we wanted to keep growing so robots were too expensive of an option for us,” said Kyle. In November of 2016, after a couple of delays with selling the farm at Woodstock, the Darcroft herd was moved to a brand new facility with cows and heifers under one roof in a free-stall environment at their current location.
Today the MacLeods milk 110 cows in a double 12 parallel parlour. Cows enjoy the comfort of sand bedded free-stalls, with alley scrapers and a pack area set up for a calving pen at one end of the barn.
Across from the calving area is a box stall area as well as a hoof trimming chute and treatment area. Large fans along with large overhead doors and temperature driven curtains allow for good airflow. Fibreglass also give extra lighting. The transition from tie stall to free stall was a relatively smooth one. The MacLeods agree the free-stall
environment was a great choice. “It really was a no-brainer! We wanted to get the cows out and moving around again. With no outside hired help, it was important to reduce the amount of labour,” said Paul.
Kyle says, “I think our cows are in better shape now and we certainly have seen improvement in mobility by allowing the cows to walk everyday. Increased activity has allowed us to breed off more natural heats.” It is an advantage to be able to group cows. They are producing more milk with the same herd size. At present, with 56% of the herd in first lactation, the herd’s BCA is 225-248- 225 with 34kg per day average production.
While cow comfort was at the forefront, care of heifers and calves was not overlooked. Heifers are currently housed on one side of the free-stall barn, starting in smaller groups at 6-7 months of age and advancing through into a larger group as bred heifers. Baby calves are housed in 39 single pens in an old tie stall hip roof barn with a gutter cleaner for easy cleaning. Tunnel ventilation and fans were added for
comfort with the ability to also remove windows in the summer. Upon weaning, panels are pulled to allow for socialization during the weaning process. Calves are then moved into group pens in the same barn. Calves are clipped during fall and spring to prevent sweating. In charge of cow management, Kyle also looks after the classification and registration end of things. Holstein Canada and production testing programs are both collecting data on the herd. The implementation of the Pro-Action plan has made cattle identification even more important. Kyle and Paul feel it is a logical time for the dairy equipment companies and DHI to come together to eliminate data replication. Kyle admits, “the way we look at it, you do things for one of two reasons, to either make money or because you love it.”
Jared is responsible for all feed management and all machinery maintenance. He works to ensure they optimize their crops to make the best possible feed. Some outside income is generated from their soybean crop. “We are constantly trying different things. We may not be as aggressive as some but we certainly are not scared to try new things. One concept we have tried with success is growing our own protein instead of having to buy it. We have been growing straight alfalfa hay for over 10 years and have switched to a low legume Round Up Ready alfalfa over the last 3 years to use in our TMR which has allowed us to spend less money on protein supplements,” said Jared.
Jared’s wife Caitey and Ellen take turns feeding calves morning and night. Ellen also looks after all accounting and secretarial type duties, along with working 4 days a week for McIntosh Embryo Transfer for the last 25 years. The MacLeods prefer to have two people working in the parlour. Both Kyle and Paul milk with Caitey and Ellen filling in as required. Paul also oversees all areas of the farm giving advice
as required. Kyle manages the cows, herd health and does all hoof trimming. Paul’s experience as past Holstein Canada President has certainly given him a good perspective on the workings of family farms. He and Ellen both admit, “I think an important part of transitioning a farm is allowing your kids to run it. Sometimes that means making mistakes in the process but without letting the control go and without
giving them any responsibility, we do not believe they would want to do it.” Their eldest daughter Jessica, though not involved in the farm, is still active in the dairy industry, working previously for Holstein Canada and Semex, and currently doing graphic design for the Canadian Dairy Xpo. With two Master Breeder Shields (1988 & 2000) under their belt, the breeding decisions were turned over to Kyle
upon his return to the farm from Ridgetown College in 2005. Today the herd classification is 18 EX, 68VG and 67 GP. Moving forward with a strong foundation, Kyle continues to follow his dad’s breeding philosophy of wanting to milk balanced cows with good type. “Life is too short to milk ugly cows,” said Kyle. Focusing on the balanced breeding approach with at least 1000 for Milk, 13 points on type and
good health traits, including low somatic cell count (SCC), calving ease and daughter fertility, Kyle utilizes 50% Genomic Young Sires and 50% Proven bulls. “Health traits are important to us,” says Kyle. “It doesn’t matter how good a cow is, if she can’t get in calf, or is prone to mastitis, she leaves the herd.”
Both Paul and Kyle feel genomics has had a positive impact on the industry, sorting out some outlier families and proving the worth of established ones. “I don’t think you can ever go wrong in using the very best bulls. Long term benefits far out weigh the difference in price. It is always money well spent,” said Paul. Bulls like Baxter have given them long lasting cows with type and production. Service sires like Unix, Mogul, Impression, Lautrust, Army, Callen, Denver and Chief are being used to continue that trend. The ‘breeding from top bulls’ philosophy also follows through on the cow side. Some of the top families at Darcroft include: Darcroft Astre Sadie VG-86 13*, Sutom Raider Spirit EX 3E 12* and Stelbro Lheros Joan EX-93 4E 6*.
Sadie is backed by 5 generations of VG and EX dams and has 3 Excellent (EX) and 19 Very Good (VG) daughters. Her most prominent daughter, Darcroft Leader Vixen EX 5* has 4 VG daughters by Dundee, Toystory, Gibson and Ace. Her daughter, Toystory Hillary VG-87 2*, is the dam of Darcroft Goldwyn Jewel EX-94 3E, one of the family members Darcroft is currently working with heavily, while Darcroft Jed Xena VG-88 3* is the dam of Darcroft Lou Geneva EX-92 4E 2*. Geneva also has 1 EX and 4 VG daughters to her credit by Windbrook, Aftershock, Fever and Lauthority. Another third generation from the Sadie’s that continues to play a role is Darcroft Aftershock Mystique VG-88 the daughter of Darcroft Goldwyn Fantasy EX-90 5E 2*. Recently Mystique was 3rd Senior 3 Year Old at the Oxford County show.
Sutom Raider Spirit EX 3E 12*completed 6 lactations with 75,352 life-time at 4.9% F and 3.6%P, and had 2 EX and 11 VG daughters. Her Kanso daughter, Darcroft Kanso Ursa EX-90 4E 3* and her daughter Darcroft Leduc Zenith VG-87 10* continue to breed high production, good type cows. Zenith’s daughter, Darcroft Shottle Joy EX-92 4E is one of the key players today at Darcroft currently in her 6th lactation
with a 6yr record of 14096M 706 5.0%F 440 3.1%P.
The Stelbro cow, Joan, is backed by 3 EX then 2 VG dams and has 2 Superior Lactations making 73,715kgs of milk with 4.8% fat and 3.5% protein lifetime. Her 4 EX daughters by Sanchez, Lauthority and Re Design plus 5 VG daughters continue to breed VG cows generation after generation. The few animals that the MacLeods have purchased, while a short list has been impressive one. The purchase of Mapel Wood Shottle Lili EX-91 1* in partnership with the Hazeleger family has yielded great
results. A daughter of Comestar Goldwyn Lilac VG-87 36*, Lili had 3 Superior lactations and left 6 VG daughters with 2 Deductives, a Mascalese and Doorman in partnership with Hazelegers. Kyle has also partnered on some heifers from the Apple family (Ty-D Archrival Azuli) and Georgette Family (Kingsway Sid Geo) with J-Star & Calaway Holsteins. Another daughter of Lilac owned with Hazbro, Mapel Wood Snowman Loretta VG-86 GLPI+2625 has several Doorman and Beemer calves on the ground. A recent contract for sexed Solomon embryos to New Zealand will provide them with some outside embryo sales. The demand for 20-30 fresh heifers along with the sale of a couple of 4-H calves rounds out their genetic
Even though the last year has been filled with the excitement of moving into a new barn, relocating three families and building two new houses, it also has come with its challenges. In January of 2017, Kyle’s fiancé Stephanie May was lost in a tragic car accident. “This has been a tough time for all of us but we have pulled together as a family to get through it. No doubt the barn and the cows was the place that helped us all do that together. We all realize the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west and we know it is important to continue on and focus on all the good things in our lives,” said Paul.
Focusing on the future, Paul and Ellen both admit it has been rewarding to see their kids grow up on a farm and develop a love for farming. Seeing the growth, whether it is cows, kids or crops has been and continues to be incredible. Kyle admits, “I think we all realize that family is extremely important. Even on the crappy days, it still is rewarding to get up and see a great group of cows full of milk.”
As Paul and Ellen focus more on their six grandchildren Tessa, James, Logan (Jared & Caitey), Brooklyn, Tyson and Trent (Jessica & Doug), both Jared and Kyle are focused on their future in farming. Goals include continued growth to 200 cows, with the addition of a heifer barn allowing the current free-stall to be used solely for milk cows and dry cows. Keeping a progressive mindset and continually looking for ways to improve will all be part of the company as the shares transition over time.
Paul states, “It is important to take advantage of the opportunities given to us on the farm and in life. We believe a progressive mindset will keep things moving forward when it comes to growth and business expansion at Darcroft Farms.”
– 370 acres (350 workable) plus 90 rented
– Grow alfalfa, wheat, corn, winter barley and sell all soybeans
– Partnership of Paul, Ellen, Kyle & Jared MacLeod.
– Calves receive fresh milk (not waste) for 10 weeks along with 22% grain and hay
– Heifers – High Forage TMR
– Cows get TMR with 60% haylage with higher protein alfalfa included in the mix
– Mating sires – Unix, Mogul, Impression, Lautrust, Army, Callen, Denver and Chief