Skip to content

Learning about NL agriculture results from local women's trip

Learning about agriculture across Canada on local Unity women's travels

UNITY - Three Unity women discovered agriculture practices on recent trip to the Maritimes.

In late summer Faye McLean, Jean Scarlett Cooper and I, Louise Robson, travelled east to visit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. When you think of Newfoundland you don’t generally think of agriculture, but we discovered a burgeoning industry and were fortunate to visit it up close.

Back in the 1970s, David and Catherine MacLean served a few months in the United Church in Unity. As often happens in Saskatchewan, some tight bonds of friendship were formed, and these many years later, David and Catherine still love to host visitors from Unity in their Glace Bay, N.S. home. They took us to visit their son, who farms in Newfoundland.

Though all you see from the highway on The Rock is rocks and trees, behind those trees, there are farms, and they very modern and have up-to-the-minute technology. 

Phillip MacLean and his partner Pauline run a dairy operation with 100 Holsteins. These cows stay in the barn year round and are milked three times a day — by robots. Each cow wears a transponder collar which communicates to the robot milking machine the cow’s age, how many days pregnant she is, how many times she has been milked, even how much milk each quarter of her bag yields, how much feed she should receive and what mix of feed.

We learned that some cows are genetically predisposed to give milk that is lower in lactose, a highly desirable quality in this age of sensitivities and allergies.  The milk is called A2, and Phillip and Pauline’s cows are bred (artificially inseminated) specifically to carry this gene, and to produce female offspring. 

The cows want to be milked, so they line up at the gate of a small chute where they will receive a snack of grains. The gate opens when the milking machine is ready; the cow enters, the gate closes behind her and the feed drops down in front of the cow. The machine has rotating brushes with cleaning solution which go first to the bag and clean it thoroughly. Then the milk spouts move in under the cow and a laser beam shows them where to go. They latch on, and milk flows through hoses to the stainless steel tank. When she is milked out, the gate in front of her opens, the cow moves on and another is allowed in in its turn. Two robotic machines each milk 50 cows, three times a day. 

It doesn’t take a lot of human labour to maintain, once the system is set up — but it obviously required a huge input of technical expertise, planning and financial investment before any milk flowed through those hoses. The barn is kept clean with a highly efficient manure handling system and there were very few flies to be seen. Every cow is regarded as special and precious (much has been invested in them) and they appear healthy and content. Each has a two-month rest between calving and being impregnated. Their calves are tended with the utmost care and given the best nutrition available.   

Phillip told us that, in their case, they do not receive a higher price for their A2 milk, but it seems like they should, considering the cost of producing it.  Currently their production is shipped with normal milk despite their care and ingenuity. It was a huge privilege to meet this couple and to be shown around their operation.