Eric Patenaude talking shop with visitors from DFC.   Van Dusen photo

by Tom Van Dusen
AgriNews Staff Writer
EMBRUN – Two busloads of blue-clad Dairy Farmers of Canada members descended on two prominent Eastern Ontario milk-producing operations Nov. 7, an extension of a symposium on sustainability they were attending in Ottawa.

The 70 participants started out at legendary Ferme Gillette near Embrun, about 30 minutes away from Ottawa’s prestigious Chateau Laurier Hotel where a total of 200 participants attended the conference and social components of the symposium.

The tourists included producers in dairy and other commodities, processors, retailers and government officials. They split into French and English groups for guided strolls through the main Gillette dairy barn and other parts of the operation.

Not all of them had in-depth agricultural experience. In fact, when blue-suited Therese Beaulieu, Assistant Director of DFC Policy and Communications, asked if there was anyone in the group who’d never been on a farm before, one hand was raised.

Beaulieu said the full plastic coveralls and more common booties are a relatively new layer offered by DFC during tours as a courtesy to owners in helping protect their livestock from outside contamination.

“It’s better than showering in and showering out,” she offered, adding that she’d never been asked to go to that extreme on a farm visit.

Unencumbered by plastic gear, Ferme Gillette co-owner Eric Patenaude hosted the visitors, showing them around the family Holstein operation founded by his late grandfather Dr. Gilles Patenaude who started out as a dentist.

Today, Gilles’ four sons manage the farm assisted by the fifth generation, including Eric; the Patenaudes milk 600 head at three facilities, one tie stall and two free stalls. They’ve rejected robotic milkers on grounds they separate farmers from their animals, making them less aware of herd health.

Internationally known, Ferme Gillette has produced several star sires and dames; its genetics are constantly in demand and, while the DFC delegation toured the operation, some Japanese visitors were shopping for embryos and young animals.

With its decades of experience and reliance on family members, Ferme Gillette is a study in agricultural sustainability, the theme of the symposium, Beaulieu commented. It’s a prime example of how the Canadian dairy industry has positioned itself as a world leader, particularly in terms of genetic improvement.

Following lunch at Casselview Golf and Country Club outside Casselman, the buses were off to a sixth generation dairy farm, Wilkbridge at Fournier, owned by Ken and Peggy Wilkes. The family milks 75 head in a new, $2.3-million, 75-ft. x 290-ft. free-stall barn featuring GEA Monobox automated milking, first of its kind in Eastern Ontario.

The Wilkes decided to go with GEA Monobox because they felt it required the least amount of manpower. Two milking machines operate from one centralized location, with cows handled on either side; the system lures cows with food, and controls how often each is milked.

The Wilkes’ equipment and practices such as Herdbook registration and milk recording have helped them maintain an exemplary dairy as witnessed a 110 000 somatic cell count. The family also crops 850 acres of owned and rented land.