What I felt at Ferme Jacobs
I was able to work at Ferme Jacobs in Cap-Sante, Quebec for 50 days from February 4th to March 24th. Originally, I planned to stay until April 4th, but due to the coronavirus epidemic, I decided to return to Japan in a hurry. The training period has been shortened, but every day of the 50 days has been very enjoyable and fulfilling.
The reason why I wanted to participate in this training program was that I was interested in dairy herds in Canada because many dairy farmers in Japan told me that dairy cows in North America are wonderful, I wanted to know about dairy farming in winter in Canada, which is colder than Hokkaido, and I wanted to experience what overseas training is like because I am thinking of going on a long term overseas training after graduating from university. And getting a scholarship from the Hokkaido-Alberta Dairy Science & Technique Exchange Association gave me a great boost.
At Ferme Jacobs, they milk 130 cows at the stall barn and about 100 cows at the free barn which has many fresh cows. Since a new robot barn is scheduled to be completed in the fall, the number of free barn cows are increasing daily. For the reason, there are mainly fresh cows, but there are some cows that had been in labor for half a year, and cows with bad legs in the stall barn.
A total of 10 people working on the farm, including 4 family members (Ysabel, her brother Yan, and their parents) and 6 workers. 7 of them are working full time. Ysabel and her parents work mainly give milk to the calves, work with machines, on ranching and office work. Of the 6 workers, 2 Canadians (15 years and 3 years of working) and 1 Swiss (3 years of working) take alternate days off once a week and twice a week. 3 Guatemalans signed the agreement and work 7 days a week. (In Canada, if you sign an agreement, you can legally work 7 days a week.) In this farm, working hours are recorded on timecards. In addition, if you wish, you can work on holidays or take a week off.
Ysabel’s husband (Tyler) runs his own farm and he doesn’t work for Ferme Jacobs. I found it very interesting that a couple run their own farm. When I asked them why, they laughed and told me that dairy farming in Canada is a quarter system and that it is to avoid quarrels between the two.
From the door on the right, you can go to the baby room, the heifer barn, and the fresh barn.
Fresh cattle barn
Front space is the milking area.
Shown in the picture, cows come to be milked through the feeding passage with the fence opened.
Heifer cattle and dry cattle barn
(From 12 months of age to delivery.)
Divided into 4 groups on the right and 3 groups on the left.
Exterior of the barn in the picture on the left.
Postpartum cows are moved to fresh barn by careful walking on snow.
Outside heifer hatches and heifer/donor cattle barn
(The inner half of the building is used for donor cattle, and the other half is used for heifer younger than 5 months.)
There are a milk taxi and some feeds in the building in front of us.
Calves are weaned on postnatal day 60 after being moved out of the baby room.
There is a rough guideline that the cattle in the baby room, the outside heifer hatches, and the heifer and dry cattle barn should be moved here when they are several months old, but they told me that the moving time may change depending on the number of cattle.
The calves outside were exposed to the cold, but they were far less sick than the calves inside, such as diarrhea, and sometimes the calves that had just moved outside got sick. I was very surprised that the calves outside were in better condition.
Until last year, calves were outside from the third day after birth, but they had to move to the baby room for various reasons. As a result, the number of calves with diarrhea increased and we tried to avoid diarrhea by trial and error.
All the Guatemalans who work on the farm were very cheerful and I was impressed by the Latin music that they played, danced and sang during milking. I think it’s great that they can enjoy their work this much.
What I found interesting was the Guatemalan migrant worker system in Canada. After working in Canada for up to one year, they can return to Guatemala and come back to Canada to work. One of the Guatemalans had been working at Ferme Jacobs for a total of six years and highly relied on by other workers.
Also, many of the Guatemalans who come to work on this farm speak only Spanish, but because of the similarities between French and Spanish, all the other Canadian workers spoke Spanish with them. (In Switzerland, French is one of the official languages.) If you understand the basics of Spanish, it’s easy for French speakers to understand Spanish, but it’s a bit difficult for Spanish speakers to understand French. It has similarity between French and Spanish, but French seems to be more complicated. What I thought, it’s rare for employers to bother to speak Chinese or Vietnamese in Japan, so of course the languages are not similar as French and Spanish, but I think it’s very good that they can communicate in the same language.
It’s a bit off the subject, but I heard that in Quebec there are schools which teach in English and French, and Ysabel’s children goes to English school and Yan’s children goes to French school. So, it was easy to talk with Ysabel’s children, but it was a little difficult for me to talk with Yan’s children. I understand that the language environment is different from Japan, but it is amazing that they are bilingual from a young age.
A commemorative photo was taken on a slippery snow mountain that appeared in the bad weather of snow from the rain the day before.
My two housemates are the people who love fun things.
It was a very hard day that I went downhill while sliding in every place that was smooth and had a little slope, and I could not walk up even though I took a step, and I slipped back to the beginning.
Before I left Japan, my destination was Quebec, so I thought the world of English and French was waiting for me, but when I arrived, I was very surprised at the world of English and Spanish. I heard that Guatemalans are working in many farms in Quebec. I thought that hiring foreigners is the same in every country.
As for English, I had no problem communicating with the workers, and I felt that Spanish is a little bit similar to English. I didn’t understand a single word of French in two months, but I think I can live here with English and a little Spanish.
The Guatemalans were very friendly to me and spoke to me until I understood, even if I didn’t, and I think my Spanish has grown a lot in the last couple of months. I think it is very rare for Japanese people to force through in their native language until the other person understands, but I felt it is very important to have a strong desire to be understood somehow, because I was able to understand what the other person was saying somehow as a result. Also, I realized again that it is a shortcut to improve my language skills to talk a lot. I was very happy when I used it like “I wonder if I can use this word here because they were using it in the same situation.” and it worked properly.
The Canadian workers’ native language is French, and most of their conversations are in French or Spanish with others, so it is a good memory that they were sometimes mistaken to told me “You do this job.” in Spanish instead of English.
My life at Ferme Jacobs
6:00 Feeding the heifers inside and outside
Feeding calves outside and in the baby room by a milk taxi
Cleaning the inside heifer barn
Cleaning the passageway and passageway in the front of cows at the stall barn
Cleaning of the fresh cattle barn’s milking areas
10:15 Breakfast and break
11:30 Clipping or clean up baby room and moving calves
15:30 Snack and break
16:00 Feeding the heifers inside and outside
Feeding calves outside and in the baby room by a milk taxi
Brushing some show cows
If I have some time, I clean some water bowls at the outside heifer hatches.
19:00 Riding a tractor to get food close at the stall barn and the fresh barn
Opening the fence of the fresh cattle barn and clean the milking area
Feeding and adding straws for some cows (Immediately before drying or treated cattle) staying at the
20:00 Finish working
Monday to Saturday was the same as above, and Sunday was a day off. Sometimes Ysabel would invite me to supper and took me skiing with her and Yan’s children. It was very fun.
The children seemed to love the farm very much, and they often came to play and helped the work in the baby room on holidays, and they looked very enjoyable.
I have been living with two Guatemalans for the past two months. Our house was always in Spanish and I could eat delicious Guatemalan food every day. I rarely cooked because they liked to cook and loved to feed me. (I made sandwiches rarely in the morning.) Once a week or so, three of us would go shopping after work, and I was really looking forward to slipping into McDonald’s just before closing. The neighborhood (About 15 minutes by car.) of McDonald’s closes at 21:30 on weekdays and 22 o’clock on holidays, and often closes before closing time (Up to 30 minutes before), so we missed McDonald’s sometimes unfortunately.
I was surprised that the speed limit in Canada was 90 km/h and the traffic lights were only in the city and not in the suburbs. I guess because of the wide roads and good visibility.
Many Canadian provinces, including Quebec, have daylight saving time, which is 1 hour earlier on March 8th at 2 AM. I was very confused in the morning because no one talked about it the day before, and I had never expected that daylight saving time would be introduced on a mediocre day like the 8th. When I went to work in the morning, the milk taxi was still working for the milk, the time display was one hour later than my smartphone, and it was dark than usual outside. What I thought first was that the milk taxi was broken, but my watch and the time of the milk taxi were the same, and other people were working as usual, so I became suspicious that it was April Fool’s Day today. And when I got home, I googled, and I looked it up, it said last night was daylight saving time. This was the biggest culture shock during my stay.
Heifer (5～12 months old)
The place in the upper right of the picture is where fresh cows are milked.
Opposite view of heifer cattle (right) and milking cows (left).
When the outside temperature reaches -30℃, the air became white even inside of the barn.
(Usually kept at around 5℃.)
And when I opened the door connected to the outside, the outside air turned white and blew into the inside.
I was very impressed.
Heifer cattle (left) and milking area (right).
The milking area became empty after milking.
Treated cows and donor cows sometimes stay in the empty space.
Baby room (Room temperature about 8℃.)
What you can see in the back is the heifer barn and the milking area in between.
What I learned
I was very impressed that everyone looked closely at the condition of cows. They are not just walking, but constantly wondering if their hooves are stretching too much or not, if there are mucus coming out or not, if they are eating well or not, if they looked sick or not, and so on. They found cow problems early and deal with them immediately, so I rarely saw a veterinarian on the farm. It was very frustrating that I had not found any abnormalities and there were a few things I noticed after being told by others. Also, I do had noticed, the “immediate response” had not been made, and as a result the condition of the calves became worse, so I strongly felt that this bad habit had to be fixed. I would like to take advantage of these experiences in the future.
The cows were observed not only during the day but the whole work was finished at 20 o’clock, and it was continued after that. They looked around the barn after 21:30 (Guatemalan), and again after 12 o’clock (when Yan woke up somewhere between 12 o’clock and 2 o’clock) to push feed and checking the stanchions are not locked, or looking if there were cows that were about to give birth. If the cows were about to be born, they would check the barn every 30 minutes until the calves were born. As a result, there were very few accidents during labor, but they sometimes started working without sleep in the morning when labor was prolonged, so I felt that this farm is a just gathering of cows first people.
They also put a lot of effort into not only daily observation but also keeping the body clean. There was not a single cow covered in feces because everyone was dropping feces before or after working. Up until now, I have tended to put off dropping feces, so I decides to increase the frequency from now on.
In winter in Canada, temperatures may drop below -30℃, so all buildings are airtight, and inside temperatures are always around 5℃. As a result, the cows inside were always clipped, and on rare occasion, cows were washed inside when cows were offered for sale or visitors came. The heifer outside had their heads and shoulders clipped, and I think it is possible to do in Hokkaido. When the visitors came, they not only washed some specific cows, but also washed the tails of all the stall barn cows and clipped all the udders before they got classified. Almost all the cows in this farm were very nice, so I guess it might be influenced by the high level of interaction with people.
At the time of my departure, the coronavirus had just begun to spread out and I was able to leave without incident. I didn’t expect the coronavirus would spread out whole world at this time. However, just before returning to Japan, I felt that the situation was getting worse and worse, for example, I had to disinfect my hands with alcohol and put on gloves before working on the farm, and one person went shopping for everyone else. This farm has a system in place to ensure that if they left some days, there would be no problems with their overall work for a while, so one person who returned from other states had two weeks of quarantine perfectly.
Also, when I went to the hospital because I got sick once during my stay, two guys like a security guard checked at the entrance if alcohol disinfection was performed when everyone entered and left. In the waiting room, chairs were placed more than one meter apart from each other, and six-seat benches were closed with packing tape so that only two people could sit apart.
To change the subject, the main staff at the hospital spoke French, so a doctor who could speak English came all the way to the hospital to explain various things because I can only speak English. I was very happy that she explained it to me while checking if I understood it properly.
With the coronavirus epidemic, Quebec has decided to close all schools for a long period of time when only returnees from abroad were infected. Also, everyone I’ve seen cares about personal distance, and I think Canada’s strong sense of crisis and quick response to the coronavirus are wonderful. On my way home after returning to Japan, I saw Japanese people who didn’t have enough personal distance, and some of my friends are traveling and hung out around, so I’m very worried that the infection would spread out more and more. I hope the coronavirus will end very soon and everyone will be healthy.
The staying in Canada was much more fun and interesting than I had expected, and I was able to learn a lot. I was very happy when the workers at Ferme Jacobs told me to come back to the farm again. I can’t stop feeling excited about going Canada again after graduation. I would like to acquire a lot of knowledge and skills in the remaining two years of my university life so that I can learn a lot more. And maybe I’ll study Spanish a little.
Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone at the Hokkaido-Alberta Dairy Science & Technique Exchange Association, Ferme Jacobs, my two Guatemalan housemates, and all those involved for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you so much.
Sometimes there were cows with their faces on the chain.
And the calf in the feeder.
Is it popular among the cows?
Thank you for reading through!