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Farming practices Canada’s top herds can’t go without

Published on 16 March 2021

On Feb. 9, using Herd Management Score (HMS), Lactanet named the top 25 dairy herds in Canada. To get some insight into what leads to the success of these operations, Progressive Dairy contacted the top 10 farms named on the list and asked them to name one farm management practice they never want to give up and why.

Here are the answers we received.



Ferme Estermann Inc.
Martin and Regula Estermann
Sainte-Agnès-de-Dundee, Quebec

We continuously question all our management practices, but the one we are most certain about and strive for is high milk production. We believe through this we can have cost-effective continuous improvement that will make our cows more efficient on a hectolitre basis.

Ferme Drahoka Inc.
Sylvain Drapeau
Kamouraska, Quebec

The farm management practice I never want to give up is preventive medicine. It has been the biggest factor in improving our herd’s performance on the reproductive side, as well as with milk quality and overall performance. Our herd veterinarian is very proactive and challenges us to step outside of our comfort zone.

Rosenhill Farm Inc.
Judith and André Hildbrand
St Albert, Ontario


There are so many things that have to be done right every day which we do not want to give up. The more pieces of the puzzle we put in the right place, the more complete the picture will get. We must have oversight of all the different management tools in our toolbox to continuously achieve an excellent result.

We must make sure the nutrition and well-being of the animals is always top priority in order for them to perform at their best. We have to choose the right genetics and breed at the right time. It also means making sure the feed is top quality with as few toxins as possible. We try to surround ourselves with dedicated advisers and employees. Ultimately, it comes down to observation, dedication, perseverance and a love for cows.

Free Ridge Farms Ltd.
Brett and Blair Freeman
Chatsworth, Ontario

There are a lot of farming practices you couldn’t pay me to give up, but my favourite is likely using sand bedding. It provides great cow comfort and udder health, resulting in less lameness and greater cow longevity. This helps achieve high levels of production, especially in a robotic barn.

Heidi Farms Inc.
Benjamin Oeggerli
Bainsville, Ontario

For 20 years, we calved our cows in maternity pens in our calf barn right next to the parlour. It seemed to make sense; the calves are already in the calf barn right after they’re born and, being right next to the parlour, there was always someone close by to check on the cow while she was calving. As our herd grew, we needed to move our close-up dry cows out of our milking barn to make room for more milking cows, and it was no longer practical to calve them in the same location beside the parlour. To accommodate this, we set up some maternity pens in our dry cow and heifer barn. Since then, calving has been a breeze.


I’m sure part of the reason is that it is less disruptive for the cows to stay close to their herdmates while they calve, and it’s also a quieter spot than next to the parlour. However, I think the biggest difference is: Because it is less convenient for us to constantly check on a cow while she’s calving, we’ve gotten a lot better about just letting them do it all on their own. We now assist way less during calving and get better results to boot. We have seen fewer stillbirths, fewer retained placentas and, overall, a better transition. So for us intervening less during calving has been a great change, it takes less labour, and we get better results. It was more about changing our own practices than anything else.

Stewardson Dairy
Thedford, Ontario

We would not want to give up sand bedding because of its positive impact on animal welfare and animal care. It is such a forgiving bed surface, and it is so much better for knees and hocks. Sand is much better in terms of cow comfort, and it promotes longer rest times. We see reduced incidence of mastitis, and the cows stay cooler. We also see less slippage when they are walking on the concrete floor. Sand bedding is important for longevity of the cows and their health. As we see greater emphasis on proAction and scoring of knees and hocks in Ontario, sand bedding has definitely promoted healthier cows. We will probably always use it.

Summitholm Holsteins
Ben, Dave and Carl Loewith
Lynden, Ontario

One thing we would never want to give up is our dry cow barn, which holds six groups of cattle. When the cows or springing heifers are within 30 days of calving, we move them into the dry cow barn, and we let them calve out. The barn is a bedded-pack barn, so the cows are on a straw pack which is bedded down every few days. When the cows are moved into that barn, we don’t move them anymore until after they’ve calved. The cows calve in the dry cow barn, and we try to do each pen all-in and all-out, meaning once we move 12 or 15 head into that pen, we try not to add any more cows until the cows in the initial group have all calved.

Before we built the new barn, we were moving the cows just before calving from a freestall group into a calving pen. This caused a lot of stress on the staff and meant we were not always successful in moving the cows on time. The new barn has eliminated this problem.

Our aim is to provide the cows with a lot of comfort and to minimize any social disruptions which may occur by introducing new cattle into the group. We have found that the barn has been a huge help to us in terms of unassisted calving. We have experienced fewer difficulties at calving as well as fewer stillborn calves. The cows in the dry cow barn are able to get off to a much better start as far as health is concerned. We have seen lower instances of metabolic issues once they calve out. We have also observed increases in the cows’ peak milk production by 3 kilograms, on average. Overall, it’s been a big game-changer for us.

Ferme Claude Larocque Inc.
Claude, Joanie and Alexandre Larocque, and Andrée Chicoine
Upton, Quebec

The farm management practice we never want to change is our mixed ration. We are able to correct it based on our herd’s needs by changing a single targeted ingredient and after analyzing silage or hay, and when the dry matter has changed. Before mixed ration, we would buy a 3-tonne batch of feed, and we would have to wait for the cows to eat all of it before we could modify the recipe.

Ferme Barjo Inc.
Dominique Bard
Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec

For us, it is all our records and any programs like Lactanet that keep milk recordings and other data, as well as any genetic evaluations we have. In reality, we would not want to give up any of the data we record on the farm. These are our tools to help us make continuous improvements.

Ferme Martin et Renaud Boutin Inc.
Maxime Boutin
Saint-Georges, Quebec

This is more of a way of thinking than a practice, but we search for value in milk by looking at its composition. My father taught me to make genetic selections for high butterfat content as well as for high protein content, and this is something I continue to strive for. I look for animals that produce milk high in these components and that are functional with high fertility.  end mark

PHOTO: Photo by Mark Dixon.