Featured in our Fall issue, Kathleen O’Keefe & Julie Ashton made their way out to the picturesque area to get the full experience at Lookout Farm. Written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
The road got rougher and steeper, and the trees got thicker alongside as we made our way up the slope. Julie looked over at me and said, “Can you believe there’s a dairy farm here?” I smiled and shook my head, just as we emerged into a cleared area and spotted the farm driveway. Our GPS had taken us up the ‘back way’, but delivered us to not only a dairy farm, but one of the prettiest farms set in one of the most picturesque locations you can imagine.
Lookout Farm, located in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec, perches on a mountain above the village of North Hatley. The views of the town and of Lake Massawippi are breathtaking, and it’s instantly understandable why the area is a popular vacation destination due to its natural beauty.
It’s also the English-speaking neighborhood where Callum McKinven grew up – only a kilometer away from the present-day location of the farm. His father, Alex, came to Canada from Scotland to manage the Jersey herd at Clematis Farm in North Hatley, and developed one of the finest Jersey herds in the country.
In the 1960s and 70s, The Lookout, up the hill from both Clematis Farm and the McKinven farm, was famous for the view and was a popular spot for family outings. The farmer who owned it used to let Callum collect bottles from the property to turn in for cash. Callum remembers being enamored with the place even as a boy. “I told my dad I was saving the money so I could buy The Lookout one day,” he recalls.
That dream took a backseat as Callum built his career in the dairy cattle business. He worked for other people, including a job as herdsman at Crackholm Holsteins in Richmond, QC. Eventually, he married Kathy Beerwort, whom he had met when they were both in 4-H. Kathy grew up in a large family that had great success in the Holstein breed. They began farming together in 1988, and shared a passion for breeding and developing high-end show cattle.
Like many young couples starting out, Callum and Kathy didn’t have much in the bank, but knew that hard work and expertise would be keys to their success. Over the years Callum had given people advice about buying cattle, and eventually, several of those people entered into partnerships with the couple.
One partner that would be instrumental in the couple’s future was Gerald Halbach, a dentist from Arizona with a dairy background, had bought several show animals with Callum’s input. Eventually, they owned cattle together, and had some show ring success with Garstlyn Encore Rip EX-95.
By this time, Callum and Kathy and their three daughters, Tara, Brooke, and Alanna, were farming in the Richmond/Melbourne area. Gerald was touring Quebec in 2003 and thought he might like to own a place in the region. Callum told him that The Lookout was for sale. Gerald didn’t know what the place was, but thought they should go take a look. Although the property had deteriorated and was mainly trees with no view of the lake, they agreed to buy it and signed the papers the next morning.
“Kathy & I built house and bought the quota; Gerald bought the land; and we worked together building the barn. As long as we want to do this, Gerald has agreed to co-own it with us. He loves it. He comes up a couple times a year and stays in the apartment built next to the barn and he enjoys that. Otherwise, as a young couple, we could never have got started here – building everything from scratch just the way we wanted,” Callum says appreciatively. “He gave me a lot of latitude from day one. I picked out the location of the barn in the woods that day. The house is where the old Lookout was.”
It took some foresight to envision what could become of the property. “Jeff and Matt Mitchell were here the day we were going to sign the papers and I told them about the purchase. They said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re going to buy up on that mountain?’,” Callum laughs. “Because you could see it from town and it was nothing but trees. I told them we had a vision of something!”
They bought a total of 126 acres and began developing it into the property they had dreamed of. According to Callum, it wasn’t all roses and rainbows. “There were a few times when we were clearing the land and building that we wondered what we had gotten into. We look back and wonder how we did it – we put our other place up for sale and that took a year to sell; we were milking cows at a rented farm 45 minutes from here; we were building here, but still living in Richmond, so were driving the girls to school here in town; coming here to help with the construction – and that went on for four years!”
But it all got built in time and the 30-cow tiestall barn is a showplace for the show cattle that fill the stalls. Kathy and Alana, who has returned to the farm after getting her degree from McGill University, handle much of the day-to-day work with the cattle. Callum still travels the road quite a bit looking at cattle, and is often called away from the farm due to official judging responsibilities. Popular with exhibitors, he has judged hundreds of shows in over 30 countries around the world, and has judged every breed but Guernseys at World Dairy Expo.
From the beginning of Lookout Farm, numerous All-American and All-Canadians of all breeds have graced the stalls. The McKinven family have had plenty of favorites, and a sampling includes:
– MB Lucky Lady Feliz Navidad EX-93%, All-American & All-Canadian Jersey who was born at the farm as a calf and eventually they owned her with breeder Diane Borba, before she was sold to Rivendale Farms of Pennsylvania. The dam of Feliz, Marlau Comerica Fabienne EX-94, is currently pregnant and enjoying her time on the pastures at Lookout. A homebred Jersey sweetheart, Lookout Sweet Baby J, a VG-89 2-year-old, was Reserve Intermediate Champion at World Dairy Expo in 2010, and twice Reserve All-Canadian. Her EX-94 dam, Drentex Blackstar Baby J, was a long-time show ring veteran, and Reserve All-Canadian 4-Year-Old in 2008 before starting an impressive broodcow career.
– Elmbridge FM Loveable Red EX-94 4E – twice Grand Champion at the RAWF Red & White Show and Reserve Grand Champion at the International Red & White Show in Madison – was owned with breeders Peter Tuytel & Nicole Parkinson. Her daughter, Lady In Red EX-93-3E, herself a Grand Champion at the Royal, was another of Callum’s favorites in the barn.
– Early Holstein notables include Selbyvale Spirit Loggan EX-95-2E, several time All-Canadian nominee and ABF September Cheese EX-94, Reserve All-Canadian Junior 3-Year-Old in 2009. A recent crowd favorite, Garay Awesome Beauty VG-88-2YR was the All-Canadian and All-American Junior 2-Year-Old in 2018, sadly was lost this summer after calving, but Mapleley Goldwyn Julia EX-94 will carry the farm banner to the fall shows as a 4-year-old, defending her All-American and All-Canadian Senior 3-Year-Old titles for owners Lookout, Frank & Diane Borba, Gerald Todd, and Elitehaven Genetics of Ireland.
– The beautiful Brown Swiss on the cover is Iroquois Acres Jong Cali VG-89, the All-American and All-Canadian Junior 3-Year-Old in 2018. Owned by Jer-Lene Swiss (the Pacheco family) of Kerman, CA, Cali is boarded at Lookout and is the dam of a fancy summer yearling also at the farm that was Reserve Junior Champion at the 2019 Supreme Dairy Show. Arethusa Whiskey Nordica, All-Canadian Junior Yearling and Reserve All-American Spring Yearling in 2015, and owned with Gerald Halbach and Sherri Hall, is another successful Brown Swiss show campaigner that resided at Lookout.
– There’s also an Ayrshire in the barn! Margot Kanata, the All-Canadian Junior Calf in 2017, owned with Frank & Diane Borba and Jason Hebert, has calved in with an outstanding udder and is being pointed at the junior 2-year-old classes this fall.
Partnering on this caliber of cattle can be a tricky business, but the McKinvens have maintained long and happy relationships with almost all of their partners. Gerald Todd, Sr. from Tennessee has co-owned cattle with Callum since the 1990s, including Fruendly-Acres Linjet Murphy, who went on to score EX-96 for other owners. A relationship that grew beyond business, Callum refers to Gerald Todd as “one of my dearest friends and closest partners – a man who really loves cows.”
Diane Borba was referred to him by her sister, Carol, when she was debating buying some animals on a sale. Callum, who was working the sale, advised against buying that day because the heifer wasn’t good enough for Diane’s expectations. Diane appreciated his honesty and now that burgeoning partnership has claimed plenty of purple ribbons in the show ring in the past few years.
Callum does have some thoughts on why these pairings succeed. “You’ve got to have trust and have faith in the person, and you’ve got to be honest whether it’s good news or bad. If you’re the one taking care of the animals, you’ve got to give it your all. You’ve got to do everything for those animals. I won’t partner with just anybody. I’ll partner with people that I think have a passion for it and that I trust. And we try to partner with people that realize that every animal needs a price if somebody wants to buy her. I can’t afford to be in the collector business.”
Beyond the business, the farm and cattle thrive from the attention of the close-knit family. “We’re very family-oriented and have partners that appreciate that. That’s important to me to make it successful. I couldn’t do what I do without Kathy and the girls,” notes Callum. As mentioned earlier, Alana, 23, is enjoying her full-time status on the farm. She loves taking cattle to the shows and has an impressive resume in showmanship competitions around the world. Tara, 28, is married to Steve Glaude, who works at Ferme Sejour. They live nearby and pitch in at the farm whenever time allows. Brooke, 25, married Matt Baillon at the end of August. Matt is employed at Shadowave Holsteins in Salisbury, New Brunswick, and Brooke is a manager at the large garden market & store, Green Pig County Market, also in Salisbury. Both Tara and Brooke got married at the farm, putting the view and property to excellent use!
The motivation and drive from Callum and Kathy’s early years together continue 31 years later. Though the milking barn is small by today’s standards, there are two coverall buildings that house some cattle, calves to care for, and over 150 head total on the land around the farm. The winters can be rough in Quebec and the family admits that this past year was a hard one with the amount of snow that accumulated. Alana remembers that even the walk from the barn to the house was rigorous. “I was shuffling along on my knees over the snow so I wouldn’t fall through. We had just gotten an Italian intern and she looked at me and said, ‘How do you do this? Farm like this?’, she laughs. “I told her it wasn’t always like this!”
The summer months make up for the long winters. The elevation ensures that there’s always a breeze so the cattle can be outside all summer. The grass in the pastures is lush, and the heifers and dry cows have the run of the pastures neighboring the farm. The show heifers run up and down the hills in the woods. It’s an ideal set up to raise cattle, and if you believe that beauty feeds the human soul, it’s an ideal place for the McKinvens go to work every day!