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VanderKoois finish up renovations prior to farm tour

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 17 December 2018
A new manure system

Ashley and Richard VanderKooi both grew up in the Fraser Valley area of British Columbia on dairy farms. Ashley’s family raised Holsteins and Brown Swiss; Richard’s family had Holsteins only.

The couple moved with their young family from British Columbia to Saskatchewan in 2006; there was good incentive to do this as they worked to establish a farm on their own. Land was less expensive, and there was more of it available. Quota was also cheaper, and they grew their herd to 260 cows milking at that location.

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During their time in Saskatchewan, they added Jerseys to their herd. This came about when a neighbour, Dave McMorrow, wanted to buy a couple of their Holsteins. They ended up trading the Holsteins for some Jerseys. “It’s all his fault,” Ashley laughs. Once they had the Jerseys, they found they liked them and kept them. About one-third of the present herd is Jerseys, there are a dozen Brown Swiss, and the remainder are Holsteins. All are registered, type-classified and on DHI test.

Ashley finds though the Jerseys are smaller than the Holsteins or Brown Swiss, they are more efficient for feed conversion and as good as Holsteins for kilograms of combined components. She adds the Brown Swiss are bigger and produce less volume but have higher components than Holsteins.

By 2014, after eight-and-a-half years, they were ready to move back to British Columbia. Richard had family in both British Columbia and Saskatchewan, but Ashley’s family was all in British Columbia. They decided it would be good to be closer to both sets of parents as well as siblings. They settled near Chilliwack in the eastern Fraser Valley. They downsized the herd to 80 cows, as they were initially only able to get 70 kilograms of quota (half what the seller had). Within four years, they more than doubled their quota and were back up to 140 cows. Their growth has leveled off now, and they have no immediate expansion plans, other than to grow within their own herd.

The farm they bought was in need of renovation. They started with the parlour, changing a double-nine herringbone to a double-nine parabone, with space to expand to a double-12 if needed. Robots were not an option for them, as they had tried them in Saskatchewan but failed to have good dealer support. “We are not interested in trying that again any time soon,” Ashley states.

Cows eating in the old freestall barn

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The new parlour will be equipped in the near future with an adjustable headgate, as the large Holsteins and Brown Swiss cows need much more space than the smaller Jerseys.

Renovations are in progress. Old buildings have been removed, and a new barn is taking shape. When finished, there will be freestalls along with box stalls for calving and a flush system for alley cleaning. There will be three sections, sized for Jerseys, 2-year-olds and mature Holstein and Brown Swiss cows. Stall sizes will be according to breed in each section.

A new barn offers a large bedded pack space

The barn will feature rubber on the floors and feed alleys, and will be bedded with sand. There will be a sand recovery system and a manure separator which removes fibre, giving a cleaner flush at the end. Sort gates, a footbath and hoof care area are included in the plans. Office space is included. There are manual side curtains and an automatic feed pusher. “It will be nice when we see it done,” Ashley says.

Their new operation is one of the stops on the BC Farm Tours at the end of January. Their contractors assure them it will be completed in time for the tour. They feel they will have lots of people attending, as the manure flushing system with separator is the first in the valley. “People will be curious,” Ashley states, as past experience has shown “any place with new or different things gets lots of visitors.”

Richard, Alyssa, Chole and Ashley VanderKooi

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Ashley and Richard have two teenaged daughters, Alyssa, 15; and Chloe, 13. The girls help out as needed, feeding calves and doing weekend chores. Both are involved in 4-H. This is a family operation, with no outside employees, although they hire relief milking as needed.

Ashley serves as secretary to the Upper Fraser Valley Holstein Club, and helps out at parents’ events at school and for 4-H, but most free time is spent with family. They enjoy bowling and movies, local fairs and 4-H events.  end mark

PHOTO 1: A new manure system recovers sand and separates fibres for a clearer flush water for cleaning the barns.

PHOTO 2: Cows eating in the old freestall barn.

PHOTO 3: A new barn offers a large bedded pack space.

PHOTO 4: Richard, Alyssa, Chloe and Ashley VanderKooi moved from their start-up farm in Saskatchewan back to the Fraser Valley in British Columbia to farm closer to family. Courtesy photos.

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

What you should know if you go

What: B.C. Dairy Expo self-guided farm tours. Producers are welcome to stop by during the times listed.

Where: Chilliwack, British Columbia

When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information on each of the tour stops Read the article - BC Dairy Expo continues its tradition of farm tours, seminar.

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