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Par-Chier Farms downsized in a big way

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 February 2018
Par-Chier goat farm

Jim and Sylvia Parish downsized their dairy operation back in 1998 – but only if you look at the size of their animals. In all other respects, they upsized.

Their Blyth, Ontario-area farm originally belonged to Sylvia’s late husband’s family and was a dairy cow operation. Sylvia operated it alone for a time following her husband’s death, but it was a daunting task to manage the dairy along with her four small children. Sylvia held on to the farm “for the boys … but I loved the farm too,” she says.

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Later, she and her new husband, Jim, milked 25 to 30 cows, but it became clear they needed to go bigger or make a change. The decision to make the change to goats was not quickly made. The idea came from a friend who was going into the business, but the Parishes thought it through over a six-month period before going ahead in 1998.

They first set up a basic headlock parlor which could only milk about 250 to 300 goats per hour and, in 2011, installed a rapid-exit parlor and increased to 350 to 400 goats per hour, taking two or more hours twice a day for milking duties.

However, they did not have space to house all the goats in one location and rented barns on neighboring farms. They spent a lot of time moving goats back and forth and felt this was not efficient and wanted to have all of their goats at home to make it easier to manage. In doing so, the Parishes were able to make room for a heated nursery for the newborn kids.

Fast-forward to 2016. Sylvia’s family has grown up. Two of the children have chosen careers away from the farm, but sons Corey and David Passchier are still involved in farming. Both attended Ridgetown Agricultural College, Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada.

Corey has his own dairy goat operation; David is part of the operation at the home farm, which was incorporated two years ago, with the ultimate goal of David taking over eventually.

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Jim, Sylvia, David and David’s wife, Kirsten, are all involved in running the business. Jim and Sylvia do the milking, David is herd manager, and Kirsten is in charge of a very busy nursery. Jim does the bulk of the fieldwork and crops; Sylvia is the bookkeeper. The young couple is also busy raising their own family of three: Levi, Macy and Axel.

A new barn large enough to free-house the entire milking herd of open does was built last year. It features a central feed aisle with gates to allow tractor access from one end. When not needed, the gates allow the goats to move around the end in a large U to access both sides.

At milking time, a crowd gate up one side sends the does toward the parlor and prevents them skipping out on milking. After milking, does are released to the opposite side of the barn.

Installation of the world’s first Dairymaster computerized milking rotary and feeding station combination took place late in 2016. Built by Greenoak Dairy Equipment, this is an 80-stall rotary parlor located at one end of the new barn.

Does enter individual stalls and are fed their ration as they enjoy the ride, with the amount determined by the computer. Milking in the new system started near the end of November. Each stall has two doors that open between the does’ back feet to present the milking cups.

Jim Parish sttaching milking cups

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All the operator has to do is attach the teat cups as the does come by. The unit automatically drops when milking is completed, and the door closes again. Milking now takes about an hour-and-a-half for 900 does.

As the does enter the stall, they face inward, with all the pulsators and electronic metering equipment on the interior of the parlor accessible by an overhead staircase for easy servicing. No equipment is within reach of curious goats, which are always ready to investigate or chew things.

Upon exit, does can be sorted to the main pen or to the old barn via an overhead walkway. This barn is adjacent to the new one and houses does that are pregnant or to be bred as well as a kid nursery.

There have been a few glitches as the new machine was fine-tuned. Goats had to learn the new system, including leg placement to allow the doors to open. It took some of the does several months to learn to enter on their own. Overall, though, the Parishes are happy with the new parlor, milking unit and sorting gates.

At the time of this writing, the feeding station part of the unit is still to be set up. Once functional, the parlor deck will be turned on and rotate day and night; this will allow goats to enter the rotary for grain as they like with the ration customized to individual production needs.

It will not be a full 24-7 setup: Milking and washing up times have to be scheduled as well. David wants to see the rotary feature halt if the unit is empty to save on electricity.

The Parishes’ goat herd consisted of about 900 milking does plus youngstock. That number is changing daily by multiple animals as does are kidding. The herd is not on official test, but much information comes via the computer system tied in with the parlor.

The majority of the does are Saanens with a sprinkle of other breeds evident. Only 40 percent of the herd is bred each year, as goats can milk for two to three years without freshening (duration milking). Once production slows down, they are dried and bred again. Does in this herd average 7.7 pounds of milk per day.

Milk is marketed through the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-op in Teeswater, Ontario. Most goes for making goat cheese. Sylvia and Jim have been part of this co-op since its inception in 2002, and Sylvia is on the board of directors.

When not busy with the farm, the Parishes are involved with their church and Bible study, and also try to get in a little camping in the summer time. Jim enjoys carpentry and playing music, while Sylvia enjoys flower gardening. David is a hockey fan, while Kirsten does a bit of freelancing on the side.  end mark

PHOTO 1: One side of the milking barn, showing does relaxing after milking. To the left is the feed aisle, with the overhead walkway above it. The rotary parlor is at the far end, with goats being milked and coming down the release ramp. Left of that can be seen a mass of goats behind the sweep gate, waiting their turn to milk.

PHOTO 2: Jim Parish attaches milking cups as does rotate past him in the parlor. Photos by Alice Guthrie.

Alice Guthrie
  • Alice Guthrie

  • Freelance Writer
  • Hagersville, Ontario

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