Working together for a common purpose

ST. ANNS, Ontario – “There is no better time, nothing so satisfying, as when the whole family works together for a common purpose,” say Neil and Margaret Comfort, milking together for 44 years at Brookturn Holsteins, St. Anns, Ontario.

People ask them how that goes every day, the two of them milking together these four decades.

“Milking together with the best partner I’ve got in the world?” Neil answers them. “That’s easy!”

He’s also quick to point out that her side of the barn shows he needs to be more diligent with the Udder Comfort.

“I don’t think there has ever been a time you could come to the barn and look down the row of cows – especially on Margaret’s side – and not see the blue. She is even more conscientious with it than I am. We’re into using it on the fresh cows, and Margaret uses it on anything she feels just doesn’t seem to be milking quite right,” Neil explains.

Margaret laughs and agrees, and they both humbly relate what they love about dairy farming is “you keep learning.

“Being in it as long as we have, there’s always someone who knows more, and we get the privilege of learning from them. There are a lot of great people in this industry.”

Registered Holsteins have been milked at Brookturn for four generations at the farm that has been in the family since 1797. The dairy herd was started by Neil’s grandfather, with the grandchildren now being the fifth, and the oldest, 9, showing cattle on her own this year.

“Our son David has been involved for over 20 years,” says Margaret, noting their daughters Laura (Ryan) and Amanda (Brandon) also help out as does David’s wife Shauna.

“Amanda helps with Holstein sire selection and behind the scenes. We go to her for major consulting,” says Neil. She works for Holstein Canada. Recently married, her husband Brandon VanNieuwenhuizen, not being from a dairy farm, is growing to love this business that is a way of life as well.

In addition to the dairy, David runs the sheep-raising, showing and sales business that has been part of the farm since its earliest days.

Neil and Margaret purchased the farm from Raymond in 1986, now working 300 acres.

The milking herd today at Brookturn averages 65 registered Holsteins, producing an average 12,000 kg M, with a BCA between 237 and 240. In the herd are 11 Excellent cows, 36 Very Good, the remainder Good Plus.

Not far into a conversation, the cow that has proven to be the heart of the herd came up: Brookturn Motown Lesley EX-90-2E (pictured on the sign above) and her daughter, the acclaimed Brookturn ReDesign Lesley Ann EX-91-2E.

“Every farm has a cow story, a cow family that they look back to as influential,” says Neil. “Lesley put her stamp on our herd.”

Together, Neil and Margaret recall vividly the 2010 Niagara County Show.

“It was our first show back in 20 years, and we took just one cow, Brookturn Motown Lesley (above). She was grand champion as a junior-three that day. We had the opportunity to sell her then, but we didn’t. We flushed her to Braxton, a young sire from Select Sires, and this became a phenomenal cow family for us,” Neil recalls the events set in motion after that show in 2010.

One of her progeny Brookturn Gold Chip Lacey (above) was grand champion just last year (2021). Lacey’s daughter won the junior 2-year-old prize, and a heifer was first in her class.

Lesley ultimately scored EX-90-2E. Her first daughter — the Redesign (Lesley Ann) — scored EX 91, and she gave Brookturn three EX daughters and a VG 88.

Over the past 12 years, the Niagara County Show winners’ bloodlines live on and do well in and out of the showring, including Brookturn Empire Stacey EX-93-3E. She had three new VG 2-year-olds to her credit last year and was 2019 reserve grand champion, second only that year to her herdmate Haws Dempsey Rhyme as grand champion (above).

The Comforts are committed to carrying on with classifying and improving their herd of registered Holsteins. But the day-to-day management of land and animals, the rhythms of life on the farm, the interactions with the people in the business, and the youth in 4-H — these are what drive them.

“There are so many facets from breeding to cow management, thinking about udder health and improving on test,” Margaret observes.

This is where Udder Comfort has been influential, as they’ve used the product for 15 years.

“We really appreciate this product for our heifers prefreshening and for our fresh cows,” says Margaret. “The blue coloring is also a bonus to remind us or someone helping us to give that cow an extra look, some extra attention.”

Neil says it pays to be proactive. 

“Using Udder Comfort on prefresh heifers and fresh cows, that’s our mainstay. We start spraying them in the transition barn, when they are upclose, and we see the udder getting full. It really softens up the udder, so the cow is more comfortable, which in turn helps with her milk letdown,” he explains.

Quality udders are also in shape for producing quality milk. “We notice this advantage and give Udder Comfort credit for helping our farm earn several quality awards,” says Margaret.

As a tiestall herd, bedding with straw, they do see somatic cell counts bounce around at times, but they are always in the quality range, averaging a little over 100,000.

“When I find something that works very well, I don’t change it. I’ve talked to others who have learned that also after trying something else,” Neil points out.

It all comes down to quality, comfort and peace of mind.

“The peace of mind comes from using a natural product to maintain a healthy udder and be proactive on any udder management issue. As a dairy farmer, my biggest phobia is that a cow treated with antibiotics will get into the tank, so if I can minimize that risk with good udder management, that’s the way to go, and Udder Comfort is our go-to,” he says.

Margaret points out the income advantages in minimizing the risk of clinical mastitis by being proactive.

When the family is showing, they make double-sure to have Udder Comfort in the show box.

“We don’t go to many shows,” Neil says, “but it’s essential for that. We use it before and after showing, and I have to chuckle as other exhibitors ask if we have some to put on their cows.”

The cows at Brookturn mean so much, and it’s obvious the people in this business mean even more. The Comforts share how their own children came up through 4-H and have become leaders in the county.

“Nowadays, fewer 4-H kids come from farms, so they come here and have a chance to work with our cattle, and we end up employing some of them,” Margaret reflects.

Neil reflects further on the people side of the cow business, recalling a day of tours at the farm when two groups arrived — international visitors with World Wide Sires and another group from Denmark.

“We learn from each other,” he says, “and quickly find out farmers everywhere have the same challenges.”

By Sherry Bunting

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