PLEASANT VALLEY – A 178-year old farm in South Dundas celebrated its latest expansion with the community July 18th.
Gilmer Farms, located on County Road 1 south of South Mountain held an open house and lunch barbecue welcoming people to tour their new $3-million facility.
“We were hosting the Holstein barbecue this year so we figured it was a good time to have an open house and welcome the community,” said Trevor Gilmer, one of partners of Gilmer Farms.
Trevor is one of four partners in the operation, along with Reg Gilmer, James Gilmer, and Jeff Marriner. Richard Gilmer, Reg’s brother, is still involved in the operation but said he was ‘semi-retired’.
The farm traces its roots back six generations to John Gilmer and his family, who arrived in Lower Canada in 1832. They moved to Pleasant Valley in 1840 after receiving 100 acres of wooded land from the British Empire.
Gilmer Farms has moved through generations and upgraded throughout the centuries to the present day.
The farm operated a cheese factory from 1875 to 1939. During World War Two, the farm expanded their focus on dairy, After the war, they kept expanding with Dwight (Reg and Richard’s father) joining the farm. By this time there were 45 cows on the farm. Richard joined the farm in the 1960’s, Reg in the early 1980’s. By the 1990’s the dairy herd numbered 150 cows.
Jeff and James (Richard’s son) joined Gilmer Farms in 2009, Trevor (James’ brother) in 2013. The farm expanded in size by this point to 1,000 acres of crops to support the dairy operation, with excess grains sold for export.
All this brought the farm to their expansion which began in 2016.
Trevor explained the robotic milking system they use is more natural and better for the dairy herd.
“The cows milk on their own schedule,” Trevor said. “When they want to milk, they go into the milking parlour.”
The average cow will milk three times per day, each time for between six-and-a-half and eight minutes.
“That part is very hands-off now,” said Trevor.
Integrating more technology into agriculture is all about increasing the efficiency of their farms dairy production.
“There is a lot of technology involved,” Richard said. “Every cow has a tag that is processed and we can bring up that cow’s output. How many times they have milked? Duration? Their health?”
The tracking system can identify any health issues with cows as well. The systems used by Gilmer Farms was developed by Lely Canada.
However it is not just the milking that is robotic. The center aisle of the barn has a robot that pushes feed closer to the feedstocks for the cows. According to Lely, the automated feed pusher helps increase feed consumption, which increases milk production and quality.
To deal with hygiene, there is an automated system which mucks the barn, dealing with any waste.
Trevor explained that a lot of the work involved with their expansion deals with waste management. This includes dealing with waste from the barn, and any milk that cannot be sent out.
“The environmental requirements are strict, but not unreasonable.,” he said.
The farm uses much of its own waste to fertilize cash crop production. That cash crop has been part of a diversification plan for the farm. The barn and robotic milking parlour expansion has increased the dairy herd to 211 cows.
“We’re one of the bigger dairy producers now in Eastern Ontario,” said James. who said the milk produced at Gilmer Farms is shipped to Parmalat in Winchester.
Six generations and 178 years in Matilda Township, now South Dundas, creates a sense of history and pride for Richard.
“It’s important for us to keep moving forward, to move the farm forward,” he said. “We’ve been here a long time, and hope to keep here longer.”