Glendalk Farms: Improving on a 125-year tradition
“They say we spent over $2 million just so I could get out of milking the cows,” Dougal MacLeod jokes.
He is referring to the investment he and his sons, Campbell and Hugh, made in 2010 to set up a rotary milking parlour at their Glendalk Farms near Dalkeith.
Dougal MacLeod, 74, has deserved a break after a lifetime of farming.
But efficiency was in fact the reason behind the installation of the 24-stall turning platform. “One man can milk 90 cows an hour,” says Mr. MacLeod, while another person can move cattle around.
Ushered through a series of gates, cows step onto the slowly moving circular deck where they are milked. Sensors on ID leg bands can alert the operator if the cows are sick. If a cow is “in heat,” it is automatically diverted into a separate pen.
Loft in the barn
The barn has unplanned features. During construction, an interior wall was built higher than intended. No problem. An observation area was built along with a loft apartment to accommodate an employee.
“We’ve come through a lot of changes,” points out Mr. MacLeod, whose sons are the fifth generation of MacLeods to operate the farm located in the former Lochiel Township.
He has seen the farmstead grow from a literally hands-on small-scale operation to a large, highly mechanized production, equipped with GPS devices, computers and sophisticated detectors.
Technology blends with tradition on the farm where they milk 120 cows, tend to a total of 300 animals, work 1,200 acres, grow the usual assortment of crops for their herd and as cash crops, and cut 50 cords of wood to feed a wood furnace.
The outdoor burning unit heats water for a radiant heating system in the floor of the milking parlour.
“We use a lot of water,” observes Dougal MacLeod.
Water that washes milkers is re-used to clean barn floors while water in cooling units is recycled as drinking water for the cattle.
When the new parlour was built in 2010, the family also erected a 176-head, naturally-ventilated free-stall barn with an automated manure track.
Large curtains control air flow through the building. Computer-controlled fans with 24-foot blades kick in when needed to increase air movement.
As a major consumer of electricity, the farm needs emergency back-ups in the event of outages.
An array of batteries ensures that there will be power to operate the ventilation curtains.
A generator can be used to operate the parlour. “If the power is to go off, it is bound to go off at milking time,” remarks Mr. MacLeod.
Advances in artificial insemination have taken much of the guess work out of breeding. “Sexed semen” can guarantee that 95 per cent of calves will be the desired gender.
New machinery has enabled farmers to work in fields around the clock. “With GPS on the tractor, you can spray in the dark,” observes Mr. MacLeod.
The MacLeods have never steered clear of new ideas. For example, a few years back, they were shipping “Omega 3” milk.
Decades ago, Dougal’s father, William Donald, successfully experimented with a new fangled contraption -- a Surge milking machine.
The arrival of that apparatus, one of the first in the area, spelled an end to the days when every member of the family was required to pitch in to milk cows by hand.
The MacLeod roots extend back almost 225 years. They live on the same land where Dougal’s great- grandfather, William Duncan MacLeod, was born in 1852.
His father, Kenneth MacLeod, was the son of Captain Alexander MacLeod, one of the organizers of the 1793 emigration of 150 Highlanders from Scotland who would settle in Glengarry.
William Duncan, a.k.a. “Billy D.,” would become a prominent businessman, politicians and a “cheese king.” With a 100-acre farm, his holdings expanded to include 18 cheese factories under the name “Kirk Hill Combination.” His interests extended far beyond the county line; at one point Billy D. owned 14,000 acres in the Saskatchewan River Valley.
He served as MPP for the area from 1902 to 1904, and as a long-time member of Lochiel and counties councils.
Dougal’s grandfather, John William MacLeod, later took over the farm. Johnny Willy also served for many years on township council, going undefeated in every election he entered.
Over the course of those years, the MacLeods milked Ayrshires. That tradition ended in 1911, when Dougal’s father, John William, married a MacMaster from west of Laggan. The happy couple received a Holstein as a wedding gift, and the MacLeods have been Holstein people ever since.
Dougal and his brother, John, assumed ownership of the operation in 1967. Starting out with 25 milkers, they acquired more land and more cattle.
While John has since retired for health reasons, Dougal, who is semi-retired, still helps out.
He laughs that, despite the $2 million investment, he will never entirely get out of milking.
“It’s in my blood. You can’t get rid of it.”
DEEP ROOTS: John and Dougal MacLeod with the Century of Holsteins honour Glendalk Farms received in 2013. However, the MacLeods did not always milk Holsteins.
EFFICIENCY: A rotary milking parlour installed in 2010 made the operation more efficient.
MARKER: A stone from a bridge erected in 1946 misspelled J. W. MacLeod’s name. “They probably didn’t have enough room on it,” Dougal says of the stone which sits near his home. Some mistake the souvenir to be a headstone.