Jammed packed doesn’t begin to describe it.
On Nov. 20 in Edmonton, Patrick and Cherylynn Bos were named co-winners of Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers award. Then it was back to Rock Ridge Dairy near Ponoka to fire up the most technologically advanced goat milking parlour on the continent and train 700 skeptical does to use the parlour. And then the couple hosted a meeting of dairy goat producers from across Alberta and B.C. — part of their ongoing effort to grow the Western Canadian dairy goat industry.
Sharing the Outstanding Young Farmers national award (with Ontario hog producers Amy and Mike Cronin) was “humbling,” said Cherylynn.
“We were with some amazing people and I don’t think you can say one couple was more deserving than any other,” she said. “You could have put all the names in a hat, swished them around, and pulled two out and we all would have been fine with that because everyone was really outstanding.”
The couple began farming 18 years ago, purchased their first milking goats in 1999, and began milking for a Ponoka-based processing company while also working off the farm. In 2004 the plant closed, and it was touch-and-go whether they could pay the bills and continue farming.
“We were there for a long time in our first years,” said Patrick. “But we always tried to look at the situation without blinders on and say, ‘These are the good things and these are the bad things. What can we do to build on the good things and overcome the bad ones.’”
The couple eventually decided to build a goat milk- and cheese-processing facility on the farm, and their milk and cheese are now sold through major grocery chains across Western Canada under various labels as well under the Rock Ridge brand.
The new milking parlour was also a result of regularly assessing what’s working and what isn’t.
The couple, who have four children, want to expand production but milking 700 goats twice a day in their old parlour was already an exhausting nine-hour process. The original plan was to buy a system from Europe.
“This was something we’d be using for 25 years and when I looked at the systems out there, none of them had everything I wanted,” said Patrick.
They ended up working with a Ponoka company to modify a Dutch system using new software developed by an Israeli firm. The system was ready to go in early November, but commissioning was delayed for the five days of the Outstanding Young Farmers event.
The parlour, which can milk 900 goats an hour, was “running flawlessly,” Cherylynn said after the first week of operation.
“Now we just have to convince the goats to co-operate just a little bit more,” she said, adding every single goat had to be led into the parlour on Day 1 but were catching on by week’s end.
“Goats can be very sweet and co-operative just like dogs, but they can also have a lot of attitude.”
The farmers they met in both the regional and national Outstanding Young Farmers events also have an attitude, one that Patrick described as, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t do something. Let’s find a way to do it.’
“It makes you look at your whole business with different eyes, and makes you think more about your future, where you’re heading, and why you’re heading that way,” said Cherylynn. “Even though their farms are different, they approach things with great enthusiasm and innovative ideas that you can apply to your own business.”