November 30, 2020 at 8:16 p.m.
Martin and Leona Bredenhof, along with their sons, Brayden, 21, and Conner, 19, milk 190 cows on their dairy farm near Calmar, Alberta, about 30 miles south of the capital city of Edmonton. Brother Bradley, 35, helps with milking part time in addition to working at the family’s replacement heifer facility located at a different farmsite.
Brayden and Conner are third-generation dairymen. Brayden manages reproduction and feeding as well as completing daily milking. Conner is the farm’s calf manager. Martin does the majority of the twice-a-day milkings for the Holstein and Jersey herd as well as repair work, field work and hoof trimming. The family also employs some part-time help for milking.
Located east of the Jasper National Park of Canada and the Banff National Park, the farm lies on the edge of the Alberta Rockies, a mountain range at the border of Alberta and British Columbia. Conner Bredenhof said the area is ripe with dairy farms and supports a thriving dairy industry infrastructure.
“We have a company close by that will come if we have a problem with our milking equipment, and they are available 24 hours a day,” he said. “There are also a lot of equipment dealers to help with tractor and machinery issues. It is still important for us the be able to make a lot of the repairs ourselves, but there is good access to help if we cannot make a repair ourselves.”
The Bredenhofs began dairying at their current farmsite in 2007, having relocated from their farm in British Columbia. Clover Prairie Farms is outfitted with a double-12 parallel parlor and a freestall barn. The barn is equipped with mattresses bedded with chopped straw. The barn includes a DeLaval cow brush, automatic alley scrappers and automatic footbaths.
“We are super excited with the opportunity we have to grow and improve the farm in the future,” Bredenhof said.
The current parlor is an expansion from the previous double-8 parallel which they completed in March. The Bredenhofs purchased a new feed mixer for added efficiency and an Urban MilkShuttle and pasteurizer for calf chores.
“We made this purchase in an effort to improve the health of our pre-weaned calves,” Bredenhof said.
The family also constructed a dry cow barn with the hopes to make management more productive.
“Looking to the future, we plan to renovate our heifer facilities and hope to start raising all of our replacements ourselves,” Bredenhof said. “We also plan to improve ventilation and combat heat stress by installing fans in our main barn.”
Infrastructure aside, Bredenhof said what excites him most are the plans he and Brayden have for the genetics of their cowherd.
“We recently started registering our cows as well as using classification,” he said. “This helps us work on the weaknesses that our cows may have as well as picking the right bull for each cow.”
The Bredenhofs breed for high-type cattle with a focus on udders.
“We are trying to breed cows that will do well in a freestall setting and will be long serving members of the herd,” Bredenhof said. “For the Holsteins, we are focusing on high and wide udder attachment, strong fore attachment, udders that are not super deep and have strong median suspensory. We are breeding for cows with functional feet and legs, as well as width in the chest and pins, while keeping stature reasonable.”
He said they choose bulls with positive fat deviations. When considering genetics for the Jersey portion of the herd, he said they are looking to increase stature so the Jersey cows will fit in better in the barn that was designed for Holsteins.
“We also are looking to improve all aspects of udder composition especially shallowing up the udder depth,” Bredenhof said. “We want cows that not only look good but can also pay the bills.”
Clover Prairie Farms supports the livelihood of the family members involved. Bredenhof said they are paid based on the butterfat content of their milk.
“Last month, the price we were paid was 90 cents a liter,” he said. “The price per liter varies depending on how high your butterfat content is. Our butterfat content is above average so we get paid more per liter.”
Bredenhof said the herd averages 70-80 pounds of milk per cow per day at a 4.2%-4.7% butterfat content on a total mixed ration. The lactating ration includes barley or corn silage, hay and a concentrate feed of grain corn, soybean meal, distillers grain, canola meal, limestone, palm fat, sugar and minerals.
The milk is sold to a processor and is made into cheese, ice cream, yogurt, cream and fluid milk.
Crops common to the area include barley, oat, pea, wheat and canola.
“A lot of dairy farmers grow corn in the area for silage,” Bredenhof said. “There is also a lot of land dedicated to hay.”
The climate of the area can be harsh and wide-ranging. Snow with temperatures dipping to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit is commonplace in the winter while summertime highs can be in the 90s. The exaggerated winter season lasts from November to mid-April.
“Where we are located, the winters are long, cold and snowy,” Bredenhof said. “This means we have to make sure the cows are kept warm and things are maintained well so that they do not break down in the cold weather. Since the winters are long, the growing season is shorter which presents some challenges. We have to make sure we can get the seed in the ground as soon as possible, and often times harvest season is short so getting crops off can be a challenge.”
Despite Mother Nature’s hardships at times, Bredenhof is gratified to dairy farm with his family while keeping the farm’s future success in mind.
“I think in dairy farming you really see God at work, and you get to spend time in his creation every day,” he said. “It is really awesome to see a calf being born and raising her all the way until she has her own calf and becomes a productive member of the herd. It is really rewarding to see your hard work pay off and produce a quality product for people to enjoy. One of the best things about dairy farming is working with family. I think it’s a great environment to raise children because growing up on dairy farm you learn how to work hard and you learn so many valuable life lessons. We are extremely blessed by God for the life that we have and are always striving to bring glory to his name in all we do.”