Glen­dalk Farms: Im­prov­ing on a 125-year tra­di­tion

The Glengarry News - Glengarry Supplement - - News - BY RICHARD MA­HONEY News Staff

“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.

Wa­ter re­cy­cling

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.

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