How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a dairy farmer?
Choosing this path was quite a process for me - as a kid I was pretty sure I didn’t want to farm. I went to university to study Christian Ministry but while I was there I worked on a dairy farm and started reconnecting with the industry. In my early 20s I began realizing my passion for agriculture, the local food industry and all the values of living on a farm, working in a family business, etc. My young family and I recently moved back onto the family farm and it’s a dream come true!
What do you love most about being a dairy farmer? Why?
Especially now that I have a son of my own, it doesn’t get any better than working on a family farm and being nearby for him all day. I love contributing to an industry I really believe in and working with family and a great team of employees. In our business, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, we have the privilege of not only producing milk but turning it into cheese. Having so many different aspects to our operation definitely keeps the work exciting. Artisan cheese is really something that brings people together – our customers buy it for special occasions and to share with loved ones. I count it a privilege to create a product that not only sustains people but fosters those kinds of social connections.
What is the biggest challenge in dairy farming today?
The challenge that comes to mind immediately is the general public’s increased concern and the level of scrutiny applied to the dairy industry today. We feel it acutely as a farm that is open to the public, for free, on a daily basis. People want to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. That challenge is also our biggest opportunity though – we go to great lengths to create a farm that is a welcoming atmosphere to the public and is a genuine and transparent demonstration of modern dairy practices. We’re proud of our farm and our industry and thankful for the ongoing opportunity to show it off.
What’s one thing you wish you could tell consumers about dairy farming?
Happy cows make great milk. For all kinds of reasons, dairy farmers are always looking for ways to make their cows healthier, happier, and to reduce stress in the whole herd. We take animal welfare and milk quality seriously. We believe in our product and our industry and we’re proud of its contribution to our country as a whole.
How many hired staff do you have (part/full time)?
Given that we have a complex cheese-making operation and a tourism destination we have about 15 year-round staff with an additional 8 during the high season.
What family members are involved with your operation, and what are their responsibilities?
My grandparents are great brand advocates in grocery stores and at farmers markets; my Dad is our general manager; my Mom is our cheese plant manager (and president); my brother John is a herdsman, and brother Kevin is in university but working hard on the farm all summer; my wife just graduated from university and goes to markets periodically; and I work in cheese-making, marketing, and sales. It’s a family affair!
What is your primary breed? If it is other than Holstein, why did you choose this breed?
Most of our cows are Holstein but we’ve cross-bred to breeds like Brown Swiss, Guernsey, and Canadienne over the years, so there’s quite a bit of colour in our herd. I’d say there was a grand strategy but the cross-breeding is mostly just for fun!
Are you primarily dairy focused? Do you have any other animals, or are you involved in any other type of agriculture?
We first and foremost are a dairy farm, but my Mom has a thing for horses and our visitors love to see other animals so we keep a collection of animals like miniature donkeys, sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea hens, and more… all “lawn ornaments” as we call them!
What’s your favourite dairy product?
It’s got to be cheese. I always gravitate to the firm alpine-style cheeses made with raw milk – the kinds that have that thick rind and strong smell. We make two Swiss inspired cheeses: Raclette and Rathtrevor (Gruyere) and I could pretty much stick with them for life. I’m also crazy about this super rare Central-Asian beverage called Ayran; it’s a thin yogurt drink but instead of being sweetened it’s flavoured with salt. It sounds odd to our palette but it’s the most refreshing drink I’ve tasted!
Are your kids interested in continuing the family business? If not, what do they “want to be when they grow up”?
We’re at that point now where we’re the kids! We’re excited to continue taking on more responsibility on our farm and ultimately, continue to grow it into a business and a lifestyle that is attractive to our own kids when they grow up.
|Farmer Name||Raymond Gourlay|
|Farm Location||Parksville, BC|
|Housing Type||Free Stall & Pasture|
|Milking Type||Voluntary Milking System (robotic milkers)|
|This farm has been in our family for 16 years|