Dairy farming a family affair

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Lawrencetown’s Allen and Jacqueline Bent featured in province-wide promotion

March 19, 2009 / FOR THE SPECTATOR: For Allen and Jacqueline Bent, farming runs in the family, and they’re hoping the next generation will keep up the tradition. The Bents run a dairy farm in Lawrencetown, and have been shareholders of Farmers Dairy for 14 years.

Dairy farming a family affair

They say 25 years ago there were about 20 dairy farms along their road, but there are only six now because many of the younger generations are leaving the region.“As more young people move away from the region, our area is beginning to feel more like a retirement community,” says Jacqueline Bent. “That’s why it’s more important than ever to connect kids with work opportunities in Annapolis County.”

Allen and Jacqueline first met in 4H and knew each other throughout their school years. The two were married in 1987 while Allen was still working for his father. They bought their portion of the farm and moved onto the land in 1994.

The Bents have four children, all of whom work on the farm and complete regular daily chores to keep the home and business running. She says the farming lifestyle is perfect for a family because they get to work together, and their kids can learn first hand how they make a living. Jacqueline says that although she doesn’t pressure them, all of her kids are interested in agriculture at this stage in their lives. “We hope our kids will get involved. Our eldest daughter, who’s in Grade 11, wants to go to Agricultural College and work with us here on the farm. Our 12-year-old son says he wants to own a Jersey farm in northern Nova Scotia and our other daughter wants to be a vet or a dairy farmer. Even our nine-year-old son loves the fact you can farm in the summer and play hockey in the winter. So it’s looking good.”

Their children appear to be following family tradition. Allen and Jacqueline both come from dairy farming families. Allen’s father and grandfather were dairy farmers before Allen bought a share of his father’s business. Jacqueline’s father was also a dairy farmer, and she remembers going with him to take cans of milk in to Farmers Dairies.

Allen and Jacqueline agree that things have changed since their parents’ day. Being a Farmers shareholder means they’re providing milk for new products and their milk is being processed and packaged to meet consumer demand. “In those days, dairies produced basic products like milk, butter, and cheese. Through our involvement with Farmers Dairy, we’re producing milk that is used for specialized dairy products like high calcium milk, East Coast Creamery ice creams, and creamier tasting milks,” says Allen. “Being a shareholder means more than just shipping milk, it’s a true partnership and we’re involved in building and developing our industry and delivering consistently high quality products to consumers.”

Allen emphasizes that this generation of dairy farmers has it much better when it comes to efficiency than their parents and grandparents. “In the old days we had to handle somewhere around 40 square bales of hay twice a day to feed the cows. Now we’re mechanically advanced enough that we don’t have to do that hard labour.”

Allen says that although their farm is fairly current, it still has some of the old dairy farm features. “Our milking parlour is 40 years old. It’s the original parlour that my father built. We also have upright silos, which enable us to weigh all our feed out and we recently started using a GPS system for cropping that measures each pass of the tractor to ensure we’re spreading the fertilizer and seed out evenly.”

The Bent’s veterinarian has provided them with computer software to monitor the cows’ health. The Bents provide milk samples from each of their 100 milking cows regularly to the vet, who analyses them, taking into account the cow’s weight, and provides the results digitally. These tests help the vet assess the overall health of each cow. The Bents can download the results from a website and electronically track each cow’s health.

But technology has its place, and humans still do most of the work. The Bents have a full-time herdsman who milks the cows six times a week. He has worked with the Bent family since 1973. Allen and Jacqueline handle the other eight milkings during the week. “A lot of farmers hire people to do the milking for them, but we’re committed to staying involved in the process. It’s the best way to stay in touch with quality and ensure everything runs smoothly,” adds Allen.

Although the dairy farming lifestyle is idyllic, it’s still a lot of hard work, especially with active kids who are involved with hockey in winter and soccer in summer. “All of our kids’ activities revolve around the traditional nine to five work schedule, but we have to juggle around our unusual hours,” says Jacqueline. “Every day is not always easy, but at the same time, our kids are learning a solid work ethic.”

Allen and Jacqueline Bent are featured in Farmers Dairy’s new province-wide marketing campaign that spotlights shareholder farmers. With a tagline “We are your farmers,” the campaign showcases Nova Scotia dairy farmers and the high quality products they deliver. As part of the campaign, Farmers has developed new packaging that will appear in the market in April, and will run print and outdoor advertising during March and April. Jacqueline Bent will appear on the new carton for fat free chocolate milk. More information about Farmers products is available at http://www.farmersdairy.ca.

Organizations: Agricultural College

Geographic location: Annapolis County, Jersey, Northern Nova Scotia Nova Scotia

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