As a 12-year-old kid growing up on the family dairy farm on Notch Hill, west of Salmon Arm, Shuswap MP Mel Arnold watched his parents and older brothers milk the dozen or so head of cattle by hand.
Arnold’s job was to carry a heavy stainless steel milker to each cow stanchion, plug it into the system, milk the milk and carry the milker back to a cooler. He would then stand up on a stool pouring the milk through a filter and over a cooling radiator to get it cooled before going into the milk cans.
“We originally milked about a dozen head, that grew to about 16 and then dad increased that to 32 milkers plus calves, heifers and so on,” said Arnold.
Things have changed, as Arnold and about 50 invited officials found out at a recent tour of Trinity Dairies, owned and operated by Ralph Van Dalfsen and his family, east of Enderby.
The tour was organized by the Kamloops Okanagan Dairyman’s Association (KODA), the organization that oversees 80 dairy farms in the Okanagan, Shuswap and Kamloops regions, from Walhachin to Edgewood, with the majority of farms being in the Salmon Arm, Enderby and Armstrong areas.
At Trinity Dairies, Van Dalfsen’s clan milk 180 head on the property they’ve invested nearly a couple of million dollars into, though they keep the old wooden barns that came with the property when they bought it, barns that housed hay, cattle, horses, hogs and chickens. There was also a small garden and an orchard where the family looked after their own needs.
As time went by, said Van Dalfsen (acting as tour guide), to make extra money families shipped cream, increasd hogs or poultry or had some beef cattle.
“That’s kind of what you see today; everybody has specialized either in poultry, dairy or hogs, though hogs used to be a big deal in the area they’re pretty much non-existant today,” said Van Dalfsen.
Sara Van Dalfsen joined the family operation as a full-time milker and explained to the invited guests that no milking at Trinity Dairies is done by hand.
“The cows come into the parlour and are sprayed with disinfectant, then we clean them off by hand and strip off any bacteria that may be in the teats,” said Sara. “A machine is put on them and it automatically milks them out using a combination of suction and pulsation.
“The machine automatically comes off when the cow is down. We then come along with another disinfectant and dip them with that. That disinfectant protects the teat while it’s closing because it takes a bit of time for the teat to close after being milked.”
It’s all done in a parlour built by the family eight years ago. The old parlour, as Sara explained, was literally called the Parlour Pit because workers would walk down into the pit located in one big concrete room with no air circulating.
Now, in the modern parlour, workers can open a big garage door and put on a fan to circulate air, and they can turn on built-in heaters for warmth in winter.
The cows are milked twice a day at Trinity Dairies, at 5 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., each time taking three to three-and-a-half hours to complete.
The Van Dalfsens gave a complete tour of every aspect of their family operation in the morning – complete with an ultrasound on an expectant cow – then they invited officials to head over to the Riverside Community Hall in Ashton Creek for lunch and further industry discussions in the afternoon.
The 80 dairy farms in the North Okanagan-Shuswap ship about 105 million litres of milk per year and milk sales are approximately $83 million annually locally.
The economic impact of the industry to the North Okanagan-Shuswap is $432 million and there are 800 full and part-time jobs. That was one of the main reasons for KODA to host the tour: to show the impact their industry has on the region, and to show the investment farms make. Officials learned a number of farms carry about a $2 million debt load, which, as Arnold says, is a significant investment into the industry.
“We felt it was time for our organization to renew our relationship with local government,” said KODA president Henry Bremer of Enderby, a second-generation farmer who works with his two sons at his family’s Cliffview Dairy Ltd. north of Enderby, a 150-head operation that’s been at its present location since 1974.
“We are pleased with the interest shown by our regional politicians in our local dairy farm community. The deeper understanding we have cultivated will benefit our local community for years to come.”
Armstrong councillor Gary Froats agreed.
“The tour was extremely well organized and well run, I thoroughly enjoyed the day,” said Froats. “The Van Dalfsen family does an outstanding job. It was great to see the old farm and the stories with it, and what their new farm looks like.”