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   The old Heatherbank ‘bank barn’ still stands as a reminder of a bygone time of impressive tiestall pedigrees and noble breeding establishments.
Carly grew up with the dairy, and so will Brylie and Bauer. Keith can’t avoid the farming life, even with his off-farm job!
Lucas is proud of this year’s corn crop, given a hearty endorsement by a handful of elk that have taken up refuge among the rows...until harvest time!
 had brought their SCC under 100,000 by the end of the first year.
“We didn’t know any better,” Barb shrugs. To add further insult, besides digging themselves out of a literal and figurative mess, it was 1981 and they were paying 24.5% interest for the privilege. Farming dreams don’t come cheap...
Perseverance Pays Off
“The first six years were full of blood, sweat and tears...literally,” Barb acknowledges without showing the stress today that she must have felt then. “We probably shouldn’t have made it,” she laughs it off. They had no heifers to help with the disastrous herd turnover, as the previous operators had given up raising calves because of dismal results. “We had to buy a lot of cows to clean up the herd.” Barb is thankful for the support of many suppliers who patiently waited for payment during those hard, lean times. “We were slow, but we always got the bills paid off.”
“Gord had a long vision - we wanted to farm – we weren’t going to give up!”
Today, the farm is buzzing with activity. Carly is checking the heifer group with clipboard in hand and kids in tow. Trees are being trimmed around the property, while son Lucas is preparing equipment for baling hay in the afternoon. He is proud of the corn this year – 2450 heat units and it’s doing fantastic, if you don’t think about the handful of elk that are hiding in there somewhere! Seems a herd wandered in through the open gate one day... they managed to get them out... except for those few.
Gord drops by in his pickup truck and shares a few memories of the hard, early days. He would run the excavating business from early in the morning and return tired late in the afternoon and begin the field work – from spring to fall – this was their life...for years. “Back then, it would take weeks for us to work our way through cropping since Gord had to run his business – which helped support the farm,” Barb recognizes. “Now we are done within a week.” When Lucas got older, he actively did field work with his dad, and eventually he has taken over more of that, allowing Gord to continue spending long days among his big machines and projects.
Carly checks her time - Lucas expects her to rake the hay right after lunch so he can bale. They have been short-handed for several months already with one employee off longer than expected due to injury and the ‘to-do’ list is LONG. But no one is agitated – this is normal busy farm life!
The Next Generation - Meant to Farm!
As the BCAI Centre Fieldman, I visited GT Farms many times in the ‘90’s. I have clear memories of Carly, perhaps 4-5 years old, fearlessly wandering the barn with Barb and me. I kept one eye on Carly and one eye on the cows we were looking for. No fear. Quiet cows. Farm kids....
“Carly was with me from the time she was two weeks old, in the stroller or in my backpack,” Barb adds. During the busy years with young kids, Barb started to employ some help – in the barns or in the milking parlour. “We never made the kids work on the farm, but we paid them a little and they always wanted to be part of it.”
“We were always involved with the farm... we wanted to,” Carly reinforces.
Barb took her milker and 16 year old Carly to the mainland for WestGen’s AI course when their local AI tech was retiring. Carly took over the breeding role at home not long after and has been doing it ever since. Carly did regular milking shifts through high school but was also looking forward to some off-farm experiences after graduation. “I really enjoyed my time at Olds and made a lot of friends with other farm kids,” she conveys with raucous laughter which tells me all I need to know... “I had an excellent host family when I went to New Zealand in 2011. I was milking 300 cows through their 50 bale rotary and made some really great friends from Norway and Germany,” she recalls from that youthful adventure.
Lucas bonded with the farm early also; you could say he farmed his way through school and like his father, he enjoys growing the crops, running equipment and loving the land.
“You just have to go for it!”
Younger sister Tara also went to Olds, receiving her Vet Tech diploma. While she works full time for the Mill Bay Vet Clinic, (Barb’s vet support team since day 1), she still logs multiple calf-shifts every week, in addition to handling all the dehorning using anesthesia. She too, likes being part of the farm. Seems you can’t get the ‘farm’ out of these kids!
Although Carly’s preference is to be with the cows, Lucas insists she packs the bunker silo at silage time. Carly’s patience and perfection to spread the incoming loads uniformly and pack thoroughly makes her indispensable where quality feed is the goal.
As we look over the heifers in the open- front calf barn, I am struck by how fabulous they look, and I shudder at recalling the distant stories about the previous owners who had failed Calf Rearing 101 miserably. These beautiful calves are Women-Raised. Barb, Carly and Tara raise the heifers on generous milk for three months, then group a few together once weaned, for a soft-transition before heading to the larger heifer pens.
Having a full-time off-farm job does not mean you get a pass from farm work when you are married to a farm woman. Since marrying Carly in 2015, Keith has learned that you may be called upon to
do anything from chasing elk and running equipment, to setting up the travel trailer for the new ag exchange student. Carly is hoping to have a nanny once the Covid restrictions are eased so she can commit some additional predictable shifts at the barn. Following in her mother’s bootsteps...
“It got easier when the kids started to take over. Except that one time, Gord and I took our annual anniversary trip to Tofino and there was a big snowfall, followed by a heavy rain and flood. That was character-building for the kids,” Barb shares with a smile. Today, they are milking 115 cows, including a few Jerseys which all descended from one cow 20 years ago. “We want to breed for more butterfat, bring the size down and have more trouble-free cows,” Carly describes her goals for the herd. Additionally they are considering the use of polled bulls.
farmer, it’s been Gord’s vision all along to plan out the farm, very steadily acquiring the parcels of land around the original plot to add forage land, water, and a buffer. Seems even here, rural neighbours have taken to making the farm’s business, their business.
At 70, Barb is still actively working with the herd, and Gord still enjoys operating his excavating business. I marvel at the success of this unlikely dairy family – 39 years since they unwittingly bought a farm in need of resuscitation and with shear tenacity, have turned it into a thriving dairy farm. “It’s not been easy, but it’s what we wanted to do. The kids are happy to be here, so we’re happy. If you want to dairy, you need an amazing passion for it! And money! If you have the desire, and have faith in yourself, you will overcome the obstacles. You just have to go for it!”
A Little Wisdom from 39 Years Dairying
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