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Tom Robinson finds his fit with farming and family

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 March 2019
Robinson family in parlour

Tom Robinson grew up in Nova Scotia. Although his dad had left farming, Tom wanted to get into the business after he finished high school, so in 2003 his dad purchased a farm in Prince Edward Island, as quota could be obtained there at much less expense. This farm had old buildings, which were demolished to make room for a new facility, and a freestall barn with a double-six parallel milking parlour.

Originally the plan was to use a bedding pack, but within two years, they realized that straw was too expensive, and they were experiencing problems with high somatic cell counts. Changing to sand bedding cleared up that problem but caused new ones. The manure pit had not been designed with a ramp for cleaning, and the sand built up in the pit. It also caused excessive wear on alley scrapers and other machinery. They made the change to mats with chopped straw and had trouble with mastitis again. Peat moss was tried and was really good for about five years until it became very difficult to obtain. Finally, about two years ago, they switched to shavings and are happy with this choice.

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In 2016, Tom Robinson and his wife, Leslie, purchased the farm from his parents.

Robinson works 260 acres. He would like more, but land is expensive and any for sale on the island is quickly snatched up by potato growers. He grows alfalfa and corn for silage but needs to purchase all grains for his herd.

Robinson farm sign

The herd consists of 85 milking cows, all registered Holsteins, along with about 70 head of dry cows and youngstock. His heifers are all home bred. When the market was strong for embryos, Robinson flushed several cows each month, with embryos sold to Nova Scotia, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Germany, Argentina and Brazil. Presently, with less demand, he flushes just a few times a year.

Robinson’s herd averages 35 litres per cow with an average butterfat of 4.6 percent.

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One of his cows broke Prince Edward Island’s 20-year-record BCA (412-488-446), becoming the highest on record in the province. Snowbiz Supersire Labelle, now a 4-year-old, produced 21,887 kilograms of milk at 4.7 percent butterfat and 3.6 percent protein in her 365-day, 3-year-old record. She is used in a flushing program and already has four daughters, three of which are milking.

Robinson is making some changes to the operation. He found hiring custom operators for harvesting did not optimize his harvest – the timing could be off, resulting in lower feed quality. This made him think he could have better production by doing the harvesting himself. After doing some research and crunching numbers, he and his dad, as well as his two uncles, took a trip to France, where he purchased a used John Deere self-propelled forage harvester. The venture paid off, as crops were harvested at the optimum time, instead of when a custom operator could fit him in. Even with shipping costs, this was less expensive than buying in North America. “I would definitely buy overseas again,” he states. Now he does a bit of custom work, which is helping to pay for the machine.

Robinson harvestor

Future plans include more bunker silos, and perhaps a heifer facility, although Robinson indicates that if quota becomes more available, he might build a bigger dairy barn and use the present one for heifers.

Robinson is past president of the Prince Edward Island Holstein branch and would like to join the milk board (Dairy Farmers of PEI) in the future.

Robinson has attended several previous National Holstein Conventions, and this year is involved in planning and hosting this major event. The convention will take place April 24-27 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and will include an open barn feature for those who arrive early, a welcome reception for attendees on the evening of April 24. Farm tours are on April 25, with an alternate program available, which includes a tour of the island and key attractions. The Holstein sale is that evening. On April 26, attendees can plan to take in the Holstein show and cut loose for some fun that evening at the Bootlegger’s Ball. The ball has a 1920s Prohibition theme, and participants are invited to dress the part – best dressed wins a $100 tab at the bar. The final day is the annual general meeting and the finale is the Master Breeder Gala.

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Go online for further information on the convention.

Robinson’s role is chairman of the promotions committee; he is responsible for promoting the convention through advertising, social media and magazines. “Social media is a large focus for us,” he states, adding they are hoping to bring many people to the island for the tours. Items and contests have been made for this purpose, and they are busy with providing signage for directions at the hotels where convention goers will stay. “We’re just trying to make it as friendly as possible,” Robinson adds.

Tom and Leslie Robinson have three young daughters, from 5 years to 5 months old. When asked what he did when not actively farming or working on the convention, Tom’s first response is, “Sleep!” Then he says he is busy with his young family. He also enjoys moose hunting in Quebec, travel, golf and hockey. His eldest daughter is learning to skate, with plans to play hockey when old enough, and Tom is interested in coaching as his youngsters get older.  end mark

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTO 1: Tom and Leslie Robinson are raising their three young daughters on the farm. They are Miranda (infant), Lanae and Rosalie. Photo by Cherished Memories Photography.

PHOTO 2: Blue Diamond Holsteins found its home on Prince Edward Island after Tom Robinson decided he wanted to farm and found the province had the better deal for obtaining quota. Photo by Leslie Robinson.

PHOTO 3: After deciding to harvest his own crops, Tom Robinson (right) traveled to France with (left to right) his uncle, Allan Robinson, father, Brian Robinson, and uncle, Gerald Robinson, to purchase a used self-propelled harvester. Courtesy photo.

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