Family farm reaches 200 year milestone

An aerial view of Maple Dale Farm in 2014. Inset: An old photograph from the original farm. Note the steel-wheeled tractor in the background and the wooden silo, a portion of which remains standing. Empeys still own a portion of land from the original land grant.

IROQUOIS – This year is a big year for this country as Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation, but 2017 is an even bigger year for Empeys’ Maple Dale Farms.
2017 marks 200 years since Gordon Empey’s forefathers bought this farmland, located north east of Iroquois on Zeron Road.

In 1797 a 200 acre parcel of land was granted to Captain George Thompson from King George III.

Gordon suspects that would have been payment for his service in the army.

Twenty years later on March 29, 1817, he sold the land to David Zeron and that’s where Empey’s family tree connection with this property began. Just a day later David Zeron sold the property to Peter Zeron and it is from Peter Zeron that the Empeys who own the farm today are directly descended.

Peter passed the land down to his son Jeremiah Zeron in 1858 who in turn passed in on to his twin boys James and Peter Zeron in 1886. James Zeron became sole owner in 1893 and passed it on to Mahlon Zeron in 1950.

Three generations of Empeys during a recent visit to Maple Dale Farm: Gordon (left) and his son Peter (right) with Peter’s son Gavin. (The Leader/Comfort photo)

Mahlon was Gordon Empey’s grandfather. He owned the farm until 1990 when he passed it on to Gordon’s parents Carl and Marie Empey.

In 2000 it became the property of Gordon and Helen Empey and in 2013 it was turned over to their two sons Paul and Peter Empey.

Gordon credits his grandfather Mahlon for growing the farm in size the most over its long history. “He was an auctioneer who made money easily. The only thing he had invested was his voice,” said Gord, explaining that Mahlon was an auctioneer during the Seaway when a great number of farms had to sell, so he was able to earn the money to purchase extra land.

Maple Dale Farms now has 1,100 acres, most of which were acquired by Mahlon.

While Gordon credits his grandfather with growing the farm most in size, Gordon and his sons made a huge investment in the barn and the dairy herd that has immensely improved production.

In 2013 they built a new barn to move the 45 cow milking operation from their 1953 built tie-stall barn to a brand new, state-of-the-art, DeLaval Volunteer Milking System equipped free-stall barn.

This is a long way from 200 years ago when all farming was mixed farming.

In those days all farmers would have pigs, chickens and cows and crops to sustain their own families, and of course work horses. In good times, they would likely have enough goods to sell or trade to buy other things, like sugar, that they would want.

Today, Empeys’ farm is only a dairy and crop farm.

Mahlon Zeron auctioneering at a neighbour’s farm.

The 45 cows are milked and fed, and even cleaned up after through a system of automated robotics.

“I don’t ever remember my parents milking by hand, but I do remember plugging the milker in and carrying the milk pails,” said Gordon. When he went away to university in 1965 his parents put in a milk pipeline. “That was a pretty big improvement back then.”

After university Gordon taught school for four years, before making the decision to come back to the farm and take it on full time.

“In my family, it was always important that education come first, and I was never forced to come back to work on the farm. I made that decision, and I did the same thing with my boys Paul and Peter,” said Gord.

“I always enjoyed farming. I always helped my parents, just like my boys always helped me.”

Like Gord, the boys chose to come home to the farm and commit to it as a full time career.

“It was an easy choice for me,” said Gord. “Now I’m here still helping them. I was fortunate that the boys wanted to come back to the farm.”

Paul and Peter both went away to school and both, like Gord, decided to come back.

“I just didn’t like living in the city,” said Paul. “It was nice to do other things and have the experience of going away from it but ultimately I decided to come back and be more serious about farming.”

“I didn’t know if they would come back, but I’m glad they did,” said Gord.

The robotic operation has been great not only for taking away the stress and immediacy of a regular milking schedule, but also for the cows.

They now have very good milk production. Prior to the new system production would be about a 27 kilo average. Today’s averages are now 43.5 kilos. (That’s 95.7 pounds per cow).

They even received a superior production rating. “That means we’re among the top two per cent in the county. We’ve had 12 of them in the last two years.”

With great genetics behind them, improved nutrition and a great environment for the cattle, Gordon says that the production has improved.

This 200 year old farm is now the fourth highest milk producing dairy farm in Dundas County.

Gord is proud of how far they have come and hopes that his family will continue the farming tradition for many more generations.

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