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Airport Dairy Ltd. host site for Alberta ‘Breakfast on a Dairy Farm’

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 16 July 2018
The Van Hierden family

Airport Dairy Ltd., located east of Fort Macleod in southern Alberta, is a family farm run by Harvey and Bernita Van Hierden.

Harvey grew up near here; he and his wife, Bernita, purchased the property and began dairy farming in 1984. Their farm was named Airport Dairy in honour of its former role as the site of RCAF Aerodrome Pearce, a World War II training air station of the British Commonwealth.

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Harvey and Bernita raised their six children while they established and expanded their operation. They began with 50 milking cows, raised their own replacements and grew most of their own feed. In 2016, they hosted an open house for a new dairy barn that was built to accommodate the herd, which now numbers 120 Holstein milking cows, plus dry cows and youngstock.

The new barn is steel-framed with insulated panel (FALK panel from Europe) and features loose housing with a straw pack, a variable-drive ventilation system, feed pusher and alley scrapers.

Sons Doug and Brendan have joined their parents in managing the operation now. Both have agricultural management and production diplomas from Olds College, and both have established homes on the property. In addition, the boys have their own farming businesses and do custom spraying and silage making.

Lucas helps his uncle Brendan with milkingTogether, the men work 2,000 acres, growing grains, silage and hay for the dairy herd and growing canola, duram, spring wheat, peas and barley as cash crops.

Doug and Brendan also do milking chores, along with full-time herdsman Bart Schuiling, who is responsible for much of the milking, feeding and day-to-day management of the herd. Bart has been with the Van Hierdens for six years.

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Milking is done in a double-10 parlour. The water used for washing equipment and cleaning after milking is re-used before ending in the waste pit, first as a plate cooler, then for washing up or for cattle water.

Breeding is artificial, using sexed semen on the top 30 percent of the herd to maximize the number of heifers born. Breeding decisions are a joint responsibility; actual breeding is done by Doug, Brendan or Bart. They use a program called Cow Scout for heat detection.

Harvey and Bernita are passing more responsibility for management decisions to the young men, although Bernita still does bookkeeping and administration.

The Van Hierdens will be hosting “Breakfast on the Dairy Farm” in August, a promotion of Alberta Milk. This event gives members of the public a chance to visit the farm and learn about the dairy business. Farm tours are available with a veterinarian, feed specialist, hoof trimmer, milking equipment technician and A.I. specialist on-site to answer any questions their guests may have.

Children’s activities will include a petting zoo, hay rides, crafts, etc. The Green Acres 4-H Holstein Club will be organizing and running these events, while volunteers attend to cooking the meal for an expected 700 to 1,000 visitors. Flyers or posters advertising the event have been distributed locally in schools and businesses. The event takes place on Aug. 11 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Van Hierdens’ children are grown; all except Brendan are married. They enjoy 11 grandchildren, often caring for some of them at the farm. Doug’s three children live at and enjoy the farm life, regularly being found in the barn “helping” with milking and feeding.

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As their responsibilities lessen with the farm, Harvey and Bernita spend time in volunteer work in their community. They help serve meals to the homeless and participate in short-term missionary trips. Bernita also volunteers at the local Pregnancy Care Centre, while Harvey enjoys time at the local golf course.

Doug plays ball and enjoys curling or golfing while his wife, Amanda, curls, gardens and takes care of their children.  end mark

PHOTO 1: The Van Hierden family plans to welcome several hundred visitors to their farm for breakfast on Aug. 11. Family members include, back row, Brendan; middle row, left to right, Joel, Doug, Amanda, Bernita, Harvey; and front row, Lucas and Sadie.

PHOTO 2: Lucas helps his uncle Brendan with milking in the farm’s new double-10 parlour. Photos courtesy of Airport Dairy Ltd.

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

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