VanMaar Farms is located near the shore of Lake Huron in Goderich, Ontario, Canada.
VanMaar Farms is located near the shore of Lake Huron in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    GODERICH, Ontario, Canada – Sitting on her family’s porch, watching the sun set and cows graze is one of Annie VanMaar’s favorite things. Dairy farming allows for this tranquil moment, and she does not plan to say goodbye to the industry anytime soon.
    Annie and her husband, Jake, and their three children, Wesley, 11, Gloria, 9, and Eliza, 8, milk 110 Holsteins on their dairy farm, VanMaar Farms, near Goderich, Ontario, Canada. They manage 440 acres of owned and rented land on which they produce corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.
    Jake is the third generation of the VanMaar family to be dairying on the farmsite while his parents, Bert and JoAnne, remain active on the farm. Jake’s grandfather, Fred, immigrated from Holland and bought the farm in 1978.
    “It is a beautiful area here, nice hills and Lake Huron is at the end of our road,” Annie said.
    Jake worked as a custom combiner for one year, traveling from Texas to Alberta, Canada before returning to the farm full time in 2001. Jake and Annie married in 2005 and moved to the farm in 2013.
    Annie works off the farm part time as a teachers’ assistant at the Huron Christian School in Clinton, Ontario where their children also attend.
    In addition to family, the farm currently employs three individuals.
    Two years ago, the VanMaars made the transition to three times a day milking. Currently, they milk in a double-8 herringbone parlor.
    “We weren’t meeting our quota,” Annie said of the Canadian quota system for producing milk. “There were quota increases happening, and we just weren’t meeting them so we went to three times a day to produce more milk.”
    Jake said the quota system is based on kilograms of butterfat shipped (one kilogram is approximately 2.2 pounds). A dairy farmer begins by buying kilogram amounts they are allowed to ship per day.
    “That allotment basically keeps our supply and demand right,” Jake said. “What our market calls for, we produce within 1 percent of that. It keeps milk stable and gives us equity.”
    The VanMaars are contracted to ship 140 kilograms, or 308 pounds, of butterfat per day.
    “We love quota systems,” Annie said. “We always are guaranteed that check in a sense. It is fairly stable and even.”
    Jake agreed.
    “Our milk board sets our milk price with a formula that comes from cost of production and milk sales,” Jake said. “Our milk prices have been trending down over the past 4-5 years, and like everyone else, cost of production is slowly increasing. This has made us proactive in farm management.”
    Days at VanMaar Farms begin at 5:30 a.m., with Jake, Bert and Wesley beginning the morning milking.  A quick breakfast follows, then it is time for morning chores.
    “I feed calves and manage the calf barn; his dad, Bert, makes feed; our hired hand does feed clean-up and puts fresh feed out, and Jake does everything else that keeps a farm running,” Annie said. “Or, if someone is away, he’ll do whatever needs to be done.”
    The cows are fed a TMR of corn silage, haylage, high moisture corn, soybean meal, a mineral and protein blend, and palm fat.
    The herd is housed in a naturally-ventilated freestall barn bedded with recycled cardboard material.
    “We’ve been using [the bedding] for a little over a year now,” Jake said. “Our somatic cell count has stayed the same to where it was before; more so it has cleaned up the hocks and the cows a lot. We were previously using sawdust and were getting hock damage.”
    The bedding material is delivered to the farm every four weeks and is managed with the manure.
    After morning chores, a coffee break is taken at 10:30 a.m. Maintenance work and chores follow before lunchtime. The afternoon milking begins at 1 p.m., and an afternoon coffee break occurs at 3 p.m. Calves are fed at 5 p.m., with supper following at 6. A third milking begins at 8:30 p.m.
    Annie said their children are shadows when it comes to work on the farm; they enjoy helping and being around the animals.
    “We try to have Sunday milking covered to make that our family time whether it is going to the beach or go on a ride around the farm,” she said. … “The kids are always around. If Jake is hauling manure all day, they hop in and out of the tractor. You don’t even think of it. That’s life. We are always together.”
    This October, Jake and Annie hope to have more time with their family as they will begin milking their herd in two Lely Astronaut 4 robotic milking units, which are being retrofitted into their existing freestall barn.  
    “It has been a natural progression from 3X to go to robots,” Annie said. “We have a hard time finding long term employees. … It eases some of the stress on us and also it will be nice for the cows to monitor them better. … Although we think it is ironic we are getting robots now because our current employees are dependable and work hard, but now is the right timing.”
    Jake agreed.
    “This has always been a family farm,” he said. “So when we went to 3X, we started having employees and it was a big adjustment relying on other people. This is a way to get back to being more self-reliant.”
    Whether it be showcasing their way of life on their Instagram page, Windy Willows Farm, to spending time in the barn, the VanMaars are looking ahead to their continued career in dairy.