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Rock Ridge Dairy turned to God and goats to find its way

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 February 2016
Patrick and Cherylynn Boss

Patrick Bos’ family has owned the farm he operates in Ponoka, Alberta, for 47 years. It was a dairy farm until Patrick was 5 years old and the cows were sold. They were replaced by beef cattle and grain crops.

Succession to Patrick and his wife, Cherylynn, wasn’t easy as the young couple had to come up with a feasible plan to make a living. They ended up with Patrick’s parents, Bill and Nellie, maintaining ownership while the young couple made changes and found their way.

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They tried beef when they first started in 1997. They built the herd to 65 cows but found it wasn’t possible to make a go with beef on the existing land base. There was nowhere for the farm to expand. Still, they kept the cows as they explored other options. 

They considered a number of possibilities before they saw a 1999 article about a plant opening to process goat milk. Patrick laughed it off, but to Cherylynn the idea made a lot of sense.

They already had the old milking parlour, which Patrick was able to renovate, and they had a number of chain-link pens from an earlier venture into ostriches. Patrick was not as excited, but Cherylynn persisted. “I still thought it was a good idea and wouldn’t let it go,” she says. The barn was converted, and they began collecting goats where they could find them.

Their workday at the time ran from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m., as both worked at outside jobs. For a while, things looked promising, but about six months into the venture, the plant stopped paying for milk on a regular basis. Those were difficult times. Friends advised them to get rid of the goats. Numerous meetings to discuss the problem were held. A search for another processor yielded no results.

As Christians, the family took their problems to God in prayer after feeling particularly hopeless one evening. Logic would say it was time to get out of dairy goats. That night, a heat lamp was knocked over in the barn.

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The old 1933 barn did catch fire, but the fire stopped a couple feet up on the dry barn wood walls, which was amazing. This was taken as an answer to prayer, an encouragement to stay in. Had the main barn burned, it would have been all over.

There were still difficulties, of course; doubts continued to persist, and Patrick and Cherylynn say they still felt really unsettled over the trials they were experiencing. While again seeking direction, they found their answer in scripture, in Proverbs 27:26, 27, which says:

“ … The lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. You will have plenty of goat’s milk to feed you and your family and nourish your servant girls …”

Cherylynn states, “At that point, [we] had incredible peace. Somehow, it was going to be OK.”

Shortly after, a call came from the plant that it was done. They had a full tank of milk and money owing. Still, this was, “The best and worst thing that ever happened to us,” Cherylynn claims. Although there were losses, the plant closing set them free to look further afield.

They called around looking for another processor and finally found one in Bluffton, about 45 minutes away. This place made cheese from the milk and would pay when the cheese was sold. The market was good, the cheese sold quickly, and they were paid in good time. All seemed well.

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The next challenge soon arrived, though, as the processor advised them that he would be retiring in about a year. He suggested they build their own plant. Cherylynn spent time with him and started learning about the process, but before the year was up, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the aging plant, leaving them once again with no market for their milk.

They shipped to Camrose briefly, then to Sylvan Star Cheese in British Columbia. They learned the art of cheesemaking from a master cheesemaker there, a Gouda maker from Holland.

Guthrie farm

By 2005, their plant was complete and ready to process bottled milk and cheese. Over the years, their plant has grown and now accepts milk from seven other Alberta goat dairy farms – and later they added organic cow milk from a nearby farm to diversify their product base.

Collaborating with a British Columbia-based company, the Boses process fluid milk, feta and chevre cheeses, which are marketed across western Canada through major grocery chains.

The farm, too, has changed over the years. They have renovated their old goat barn, added more space and are now milking 700 does. The original 15-stall goat milking parlour was increased to a 30-stall, then to a double-30. In November, they installed a 90-stall semi-automated rotary parlour, complete with RFID software, milk meters, graduated feeding and an automatic sort system, which can handle 900 goats per hour.

“It’s wonderful,” Cherylynn says enthusiastically. “It will effectively allow us to manage a large herd on an individual level.” This system is one of the foremost in North America for technological advances and took the combined expertise of groups from Holland, Israel and Canada to complete.

The couple has four children ranging in age from 12 to 5: Amelia, Connor, Jocelyn and Adelle. Patrick’s parents are still nearby: Nellie helps out with the children, and Bill does a lot of the fieldwork and odd jobs around the farm. They are involved in their church. Cherylynn is on the board of the Organic Crop Improvement Association and Patrick is on the board of the Alberta Goat Association.

They host tours of the farm and milk plant for industry, schools, vet students or interested groups. Their hard work and dedication have brought them to a place of success and recognition. Last year, they were nominated for a spot in the prestigious Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers award.

This is an annual competition, now in its 35th year, to recognize exceptional young farmers across Canada and showcase the contribution of agriculture. There are seven regional divisions across Canada. The couple won their regional division and went on to become one of the two national winners chosen.

Cherylynn comments on the win, “Being recognized on a national level was a really rewarding experience for us. If I look back at where we started and how far we have come, it is really amazing.

It wasn’t as if we had a master plan, and we certainly had our share of trials. Hard work and perseverance does help, but really, if God is with you … who can be against you? We have been so very blessed.”  PD

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTO 1: Patrick and Cherylynn Bos recently installed a 90-stall semi-automated rotary parlour, which can handle 900 goats per hour.

PHOTO 2: In nearly 50 years, the Bos family farm has changed from housing dairy cattle to beef and cash crops to today’s dairy goats. Photos provided by Rock Ridge Dairy.

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