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Tour of duty at Aldor Acres Dairy Centre

Alice Guthrie Published on 10 October 2012
Brian and Erin Anderson

“I always knew I would be farming in some way, shape or form ... preferably dairy,” Erin Anderson states.

Anderson grew up on a dairy farm and went on to earn a degree in agricultural sciences from the University of British Columbia.

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When she married her husband, Brian, the young couple were at first involved with his family’s pumpkin-growing operation.

  In addition, both worked outside of the farm as milk testers for Dairy Herd Improvement.

In the late ’90s, Brian and Erin made the decision to reach for their dream. Through their jobs as testers, they had seen lots of farms and picked up many ideas for how to lay out their own dairy operation.

They were in total agreement about most of the features they eventually used, and chose to build their dairy around the idea of hosting educational farm tours.

Much of the primary work involved was done on their own – Brian bought a sawmill and worked on his own for some time. They were able to purchase a used milking parlour, which helped with costs.

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By 1998 they realized a need to hire help to complete it, but were then ready to start their business in 1999.

Erin’s parents, ready to retire from their own dairy operation, contributed 13 cows – Brian jokes that Erin came with a cow dowry.

They built the herd to 20 to 24 cows for a few years, as they got established, during which time Brian kept his off-farm job and Erin tended to their growing family.

By 2007, Brian came home full-time and they increased the herd size to their present maximum capacity of 50 cows. They have no desire to get big. “We are a small farm and proud to be a small farm,” Erin states.

Milk from the dairy is shipped to the British Columbia marketing board, which sends it on to processors in the area.

Erin Anderson
The Andersons keep at least one cow of each of the five main dairy breeds – Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, Guernsey and Brown Swiss – available for people to view on their tours, although the majority of the milking herd is Holstein.

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The tours are available for families or schools or other groups.

Family or small group tours start at 4:15 p.m. at the regular milking time.

School or group tours need a minimum of 15 people and start at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. or any scheduled time.

Only one group is booked at any time slot – Erin says she believes this personal attention is part of their success, as visitors appreciate this courtesy.

The first stop on the tour is to take the group into a welcoming area, where a short movie is shown. “The Milky Way,” for younger children to grade three level, features a cartoon cow that shows a bit of what they will see in the tour.

“Feeding Frenzy” is for older children to adults, which goes more into the economics of farming. The purpose of the movie is to settle the children and get them focused and calmed.

The tour then moves into the Dairy Theatre, where Brian welcomes the tour to the farm with assistance from Cheeky, the family’s border collie.

Erin then starts the presentation with a talk about butter making. A jar of cream is passed around so everybody has a chance to help shake the cream.

By the end of the tour, the jar contains a pad of butter, which they finish by draining the buttermilk, adding cold water and pressing to remove the remainder of the buttermilk. Cheeky invariably appears in time to enjoy the buttermilk as a reward for her part in the tour.

The Dairy Theatre has grandstand seating for 120 people. Unseen behind a curtain until they are ready is a half-size, single-six herringbone parlour.

The Andersons try to have at least three of the dairy breeds in the parlour for each tour. While Erin discusses the breeds, washing and sanitation – explaining what Brian is doing – Brian prepares the cows for milking and attaches the milking machines.

The tour participants are encouraged to choose which cow they think will give the most milk and vote for their choice.

Milk from each cow enters a large glass weigh jar, so they can watch the amount. As the milk enters these containers, an important thing occurs.

The visual aid creates, according to Erin, a “big ooh-aah moment” and makes the connection for the people about where their milk comes from.

As the milking is completed, Brian talks about other items made from dairy products – butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.

He uses visual aids for this – for example, a cow that gives 36 litres of milk would fill nine milk jugs. They also decide which cow has won the competition that day, with bragging rights to those who voted for that cow.

Next, a wall rolls up to show the robot milker in a separate enclosure. The Andersons invested in a Volunteer Milking System (VMS) in March of this year in an attempt to keep up with everything.

They found they used to get behind with the farm work every spring when tours were most numerous, and then had to play catch-up for months.

This has freed up time for tours, other farming jobs and for family. “It doesn’t mean you’re not always in the barn ... just more relaxed,” Erin says.

Erin Anderson
Next on the tour is a demonstration of hand milking, with opportunity for each tour participant to try their hand at it.

A highlight of the tour is having a photo taken with the cow.

Visitors also enjoy the chance to go to the barn and see firsthand how the cows are kept.

They get a chance to see a calf fed and are able to feed a bit of hay to the cows.

A question-and-answer session takes place while in the barn and all questions are repeated so all can hear the question as well as the answer. No question is too insignificant to rate an answer.

Finally, the tour moves to a hospitality room where they have the opportunity to enjoy chocolate milk and pick up activity books to take home.

In 2011, the Andersons hosted 194 tours of five to 125 people, with larger tours occurring more often than smaller ones. Most tours last about 90 minutes.

In addition to the dairy cows, heifers and dry cows, the farm is also home to a few beef calves and pigs that are 4-H projects.

The Andersons are a 4-H family, with Brianna, 15, Jared, 14, and Gabriel, 11, all involved with various projects. Reid, 8, is still too young to participate.

Brian is busy outside of the farm as well as on it. He is involved with the Langley Rugby Club, both as a player and in administration, has been a 4-H leader for 10 years and is co-founder and chairman of the Fort Langley Farmland Preservation group.

Erin chooses to be a stay-at-home mom, with some school volunteer work on the side and the inevitable driving for young people to take part in sports, school activities and 4-H.

Erin radiates satisfaction with her life. “Positive moments have been many, from the hand shakes of the elderly, who’ve had memories brought back through the tours, to teachers and parents who tell us it’s the best field trip they’ve been on ... to the producer recognition as other farmers recommend us.”  PD

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTOS
TOP: Brian and Erin Anderson are pictured in front of a mural that appears in the Dairy Theatre, a room used for tours of their farm. During the tour, the old-fashioned mural is moved to reveal a real-life modern way of milking cows. 

MIDDLE: During a tour at her farm, Erin describes a dairy cow’s feed ration.

BOTTOM: A special highlight of the farm tour is the opportunity to milk a cow by hand. Here, Erin Anderson supervises as a youngster takes a turn. Photos courtesy of Aldor Acres Dairy Centre.

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