Belinda Arpagaus farms a little bit (old) country.
Arpagaus is a fifth-generation dairy farmer, but only the second generation to farm Seeland Dairy in Enderby. Her parents moved from their home in Switzerland in 1987 to purchase the 135-acre farm site, bringing their four children to Canada. Arpagaus was just 11 years old at the time.
Today, she and her Swiss husband Robin milk 75 cows at the farm, one of hundreds of family dairy farmers in the province producing the raw, whole milk processed into cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, and other dairy products on B.C. store shelves.
While some of their practices are typical of Canadian dairy farms, they have also adapted several practices from Swiss dairy farms and research new innovations, thinking outside the box.
The cows themselves are the French Montbéliarde breed rather than the Holsteins or Jerseys more typically seen on Canadian dairy farms. The breed is shorter and stockier, an efficient producer of higher-butterfat milk with less rich feed. They also use a ‘compost pack’ system in their barn – spreading wood shavings they work twice a day to support the natural composting process. The pack creates a soft, comfortable surface for the cows while producing high quality compost they spread on their land to feed crops.
“The outcome is amazing, with the health of the cows and what we can do in our fields, putting out compost, ” says Arpagaus.
Like most BC dairy farmers they raise their own forage crops on their land, mostly grass and corn.
Their barn is new, built in 2018. Rather than a standard roof, the barn is covered with a huge white tarp, which lets in more light so the barn is brighter. It also features movable sides that open in warm weather and close when it’s cooler.
“When you’re in the barn it’s almost like you’re outside in the shade of a large tree,” she says.
Arpagaus says her parents moved their operations over the ocean in the first place to build a family farm with the advantages Canada offers – in particular the ability to farm one larger piece of land. In Switzerland, the family lived in a house in town and farmed on several small plots of land scattered around the countryside – a challenging setup common for dairy farmers in that country.
Arpagaus’ uncle was already farming in Canada, so it was natural to move close to him.
“In BC, there’s a lot of smaller family farms like ours that work really hard to look after the animals, produce a really good quality, healthy product,” she says. “We’re really proud of what we do, and try to do the best that we can.”