Trio of brothers make good team in running dairy operation

Jim Day
Published on July 12, 2014

Ronald MacDonald could buy farmland for a song back in his day.

However, the modest cost to expand his farm was still prohibitive.

So the Little Pond farmer kept his operation relatively small. He was only milking six cows when he started out as a third generation MacDonald to farm this scenic eastern Prince Edward Island land, with Spry Point nearby offering breathtaking views of the red cliffs hovering high above Boughton Bay.

The dairy operation had grown to all of 23 milking cows when a 17-year-old Robbie MacDonald left school to join his father Ronald to work the family farm.

First, though, Robbie got a taste of some “dirty job’’ in the oil fields of Alberta before quickly heading back home. His father made him sweat for a short time before giving him the nod to be a part of the operation.

Robbie, recalls Ronald, took well to the job. He dove right in.

“There was never any problem,’’ says Ronald. “He loved farming...and he didn’t mind work.’’

Fast forward several years to one of Robbie’s two younger brothers, Kent, coming on board armed with a business degree from Mount Allison University.

Ronald saw this as the right occasion to step aside.

“When the two of them got into it, I thought it was time for me to get out,’’ he says during a short interview after serving up a hearty, hot lunch to two of his sons.

Later, seven years ago to be exact, Ronald’s third boy, Mike, joined his brothers.

Mike says he always wanted to farm but the operation wasn’t big enough for him to come on board earlier on. So, after studying agriculture business at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, Mike went on to work for several large companies, including a Shur-Gain research facility.

Today, there is plenty of room for the three siblings to divvy up the work and reap the rewards of long, hard days of farming that typically tally up to 65-hour weeks.

The trio farm 1,500 acres. Corn, soybeans, barley, hay and silage are the crops grown here at Ponds Edge Farms.

The cows, though, are the bread and butter of the operation that houses two heifer barns, a dry cow barn and a calf barn. More than 230 Holsteins are milked three times a day with the farm enjoying one of the highest milk productions in the province.

Each of the MacDonald boys milk the cows, but to differing degrees.

Mike is the man in charge of milking.

Robbie takes care of feeding the cows.

And Kent tends to the crops, as well as the farm books.

“All of us can do anything in the farm...but we try to stay out of each other’s way,’’ says Robbie.

That isn’t to suggest the brothers do not work well together. Far from it.

Respect towards one another is strong. Each realizes he is working for the family farm and collectively working for one another. They have a rotation schedule that ensures Robbie, Mike and Kent all get their share of evenings and weekends free. They are also mindful not to overlap vacations.

“You don’t have jealousy factors or pettiness,’’ says Mike. “It’s just being accountable to the farm.’’

Mornings are spent in the barn feeding and milking the cows and managing the herd’s health.

The MacDonalds usually touch base around 10 a.m., roughly four hours into the work day, to plan out the rest of the day that could entail spraying, harvesting, repairs or other farm work.

Ronald likes what he sees in how his boys run the farm.

They work hard, he observes. They put in long hours. They work well together.

“Oh, it’s a terrific operation,’’ says Ronald proudly. “Oh, they all wanted to farm.’’

Mike simply loves the farm life. Working with cows is a passion.

“It’s cows doing well,’’ says Mike. “I get stressed out if the animals get sick.’’

Robbie delights in getting out in the fields.

“I like to see things growing,’’ he says. “I love running the combine. I love harvesting a good crop.’’

Robbie says he and his brothers are not fixated with how much money is in the bank. Nor do they bother sizing up how they fair among one another on a financial basis. The focus is on building farm equity.

Robbie has been keen in growing the overall operation.

Once he teamed up with Kent, the pair purchased another dairy operation. And over the past couple years the dairy portion of the farm has grown by about 20 per cent.

Mike, who was 39 when he joined his brothers on the family farm, sees no need to rush his boys into farming. He believes his sons Morgan, 16, and Denver, 14, have a little maturing to do before the possibility of either or both getting into farming is seriously entertained.

Kent’s 18-year-old son Alex, meanwhile, is in the midst of working his second summer on the farm.

Mike clearly would like to a fifth generation of MacDonalds to take over Ponds Edge Farms one day.

“It’s your history,’’ he says, choking up with emotion.

“In 10 years’ time, hopefully there will be another generation farming.’

Robbie MacDonald gestures towards a cow as his brother Mike looks on. The pair own and operate Ponds Edge Farms in Little Pond with their brother Kent.