Heeringas inherit a love of farming

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New Imagerev3heeringassmallDon and John Heeringa grew up on Larmer Line operating a dairy farm begun by their parents Karl and Ina – hence the name Karlina Farm.  Karl and Ina arrived in Canada from Holland after WWII looking to start a new life on a farm of their own.  Karl came from a farm family with 10 children living on a 40 acre farm in Holland.  You do the math- someone had to go! 

            Like many new arrivals, Karl took many jobs to get established- originally working as a farm hand, then on the construction crew that paved Highway 115, another one that built the GM plant in Oshawa, and finally working at the GM plant for several years.  Eventually he found the 200 acre farm where they established the farm in 1954.  The price was reasonable because the land was considered to be very poor for farming, but that was not a deterrent for this family. They have many rock piles along the sides of their fields to prove it.  Luckily for sons Don and John, Karl and Ina had 5 children and two of the sons, Don and John, operated the farm for many years as a business partnership until Don bought out his brother John’s interest in 2001.   The farm is currently operated by Don and son Richard, daughter Janet and several part time employees, so the farm’s succession plan is firmly established.  Both children chose this career and are well prepared to make it work.  Both Richard and  Janet equipped themselves with an agriculture program, Richard studying at Guelph and Janet choosing to follow her father’s choice by studying at Kemptville. 

            Since 1963 the Ontario dairy industry has been managed by a self-governing body known as the Milk Marketing Board.  This organization was established by dairy producers to stimulate and improve milk production in Ontario and to control all aspects of milk production and distribution.  They regulate all stakeholders in dairy production, including producers, transporters and processors, and purchase all milk produced in Ontario and resell it to approved processors.   This means farmers like the Heeringas are subjected to frequent inspections to examine water quality, milk storage and animal husbandry practices.  For this service they pay production fees based on their volume in addition to the up-front quota cost which current costs $25,000 per kilo of butterfat production per day.  This organization has stabilized the industry by limiting production volumes and stabilizing prices as it acts as a monopoly seller of milk in Ontario.  

            Today the Heeringas work 660 acres to produce the feed for their Holstein herd which totals 240 animals.  Of these, 80 are active milking cows and the remaining are in a rest period, are too young or are preparing to breed.  Don explains that a dairy cow has a lactation period which runs roughly 305 days, after which they get a 60-90 day rest period.  On average a good producer will have 5 lactation periods after which their best days are behind them.  These animals are monitored daily and their feed and activity is adjusted based on their individual needs which may involve calcium supplements for individual animals.  Janet says their health is examined closely and they take great care in maintaining optimal health of their animals.  This only makes sense- the herd is one of the most valuable assets on the farm! 

            Karlina Farm produces 250 acres of corn, 80 acres of barley and alfalfa, and 250 acres of hay to feed their herd.  They also produce 80 acres of wheat which they use for straw, selling the wheat as a cash crop.  This farm is self-sufficient- it is a rare circumstance which forces them to buy feed to supplement their own production.   This is despite the fact that dairy cattle are huge consumers!  According to the Milk Marketing Board, a dairy cow requires on average 11 kilos of hay, 16 kilos of silage and grain, 2 kilos of protein supplements and 80 to 180 litres of water PER DAY.  Fortunately water supply is not an issue for the Heeringas who are well served by artesian wells.  As for their food consumption, while we might believe cattle as “grazers”, thinking that means they eat slowly all day long, in fact according to the Milk Marketing Board website, “cows can eat a whole day’s meal in just minutes, and store it in their rumen or first stomach…. Throughout the day, a cow will burp up a partially digested piece of food, chew it and swallow it again, as many as 60 times.”  Even when they “bolt” their food, it takes up to 8 hours for the food to works its way through the cow’s remaining stomachs as the nutrition is absorbed into the bloodstream. 

            As you can understand, with that volume of food going into the animal, there is a substantial volume coming out the other end.  Having 240 animals produces massive quantities of manure at Karlina Farm.  This is a blessing and a curse at times.  The Heeringas use it all, spreading it on their fields to improve the texture and nutrition of their soil and reducing the need for fertilizers.  This makes the landowners from whom they rent land very happy.  Today many landowners are concerned that their farm tenants are stripping nutrients from the soil as they are not incentivized to make long term investments in the soil to maintain soil quality.  The opposite is true for land rented by the Heeringas who religiously fertilize with the constant flow of manure produced at their home farm.  This is an expensive endeavor in terms of time and fuel, but as long term tenants the Heerginas believe it serves everyone well, including their animals. 

            The average age of Ontario farmers is climbing, and it is difficult for this industry to attract young replacement farmers because of the extremely high capital costs, long hours and uncertain financial rewards inherent in agriculture.  Many farmers and industry experts wonder who will replace these farmers as they retire.  Succession planning is not an issue for Karlina Farms, as they have two eager, educated and dedicated young adults already taking the reins.   It is no wonder they are among the few in the community who have earned recognition from their agricultural neighbours when in 2008 they were named Farm Family of the year for the Peterborough region.

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