It’s pretty common in the Valley for family farms to be passed down from generation to generation, but to be an active part of two family farms is much less common. Carrie Simpson has the unusual experience of being heavily involved in both of her parents’ family farms – as a member of the sixth generation on her mom’s side, and the seventh on her dad’s.
When Simpson’s parents (Brent Simpson and Allis Neely) got married, they were both running their respective family farms. With the two Rockburn-area enterprises being only four-and-a-half kilometres away from each other, they decided they would continue to work on both of them.
As a graduate from McGill’s Farm Management Technology program, Simpson now works for both of her parents’ farms. She usually starts the day at her mom’s place (Deerbrae Ayrshires) and then alternates between there and her dad’s farm (Stoneybrooke), depending on where she is needed. She explains that “At Mom’s, we milk about 21 Ayrshires, and at Dad’s we milk about 95 Holsteins and also have 30 cow/calf beef.” Stoneybrooke is also run by her uncle, Neil Simpson, and his son, Eric Simpson.
Simpson explains that at Stoneybrooke they’ve always bred Holsteins, but didn’t have the formal paperwork to prove it until recently. “Dad has it written in his handwriting back to the ‘80s, so we know that they’ve always bred Holsteins to Holsteins. We’ve never had the papers to prove that until 2016. I started doing that when I got out of college, and we started genomic testing.” Though the testing has been great for tracking the breed, originally they started it because they were raising too many heifers. With this process they’ve been “selectively keeping what we need and selling the others,” she says.
The recent storm caused a bit of commotion at Deerbrae. Usually if one farm loses power, they both do. But this time Stoneybrooke never lost power while Deerbrae was out for over 100 hours. “It got to the point when we were [at 90 hours] where I was starting to joke, can we please get to 100!” says Simpson. However, they were in the fortunate position of having a generator that could sustain them. “We couldn’t run everything at the same time, but you’d finish the milking and then do the gutters. I know other farms lost power and really struggled.”
Simpson is in her fifth year of being the president of the Howick-Huntingdon Ayrshire Club. “We’re a small club compared to the Holsteins, but we’re trying to get more things going and evolve the club a bit more,” she explains. This club organizes events like curling and potluck days for their members to come together as a community. Simpson’s biggest hope for the club is to start getting together more often. To her, clubs like this are important because “You can get inspired, or if you have a problem, you can talk to somebody else. They might have a solution; they might have a different way to approach it that might help.” The club also raises money to be able to give back to members by organizing events for them. Some of the money they raise goes towards prizes at fairs for young farmers.
This year, the Ayrshire Club did their own “Breeder’s Cup.” Simpson describes it by saying “It’s like a show, but you don’t actually go to a fairground; the judge comes to you in the barn, and they see the animals and their natural state.” To her, this was a great opportunity to celebrate folks like herself who may not enter their cows in fairs, but still like the friendly competition and recognition.
Simpson acknowledges that starting a farm if you haven’t been born into a family that already owns one is very difficult, and that it can be easy to “take it for granted.” That being said, she adds that “I don’t want to say that it’s impossible to start a farm, because it’s not. It’s definitely not. But it’s just very challenging.” The challenge is especially there for would-be producers of poultry and dairy which operate under the quota system.
She recommends a few different routes to folks who are hoping to start their own farm. For one, there’s the startup program for dairy farms where you can present a business plan and some people will win quota. For poultry there is a similar lottery. But there is still the challenge of having to buy land and buildings. One thing she says she has seen work in the past, is taking over a farm from someone whose children won’t be taking over after they retire. “I’ve seen it happen before that someone doesn’t have kids who are interested, but they’ve had somebody who’s helped them or has a passion and worked alongside them. They have a relationship and have trust. So, it doesn’t go to the family anymore, it goes to this new person to take over.”
Though Simpson is a sixth-generation farmer on one side and a seventh-generation farmer on the other, both of her parent’s farms were originally established in the region around the same time in the early 1800s; she jokes that Neelys got married and started their families at an older age. Now, with the birth of her cousin Eric’s two children, Stoneybrooke has officially reached its eighth generation.