Young farmer charting a new course for her dairy farm, and for the larger dairy community

Mickey is a fourth-generation dairy farmer working on her family’s farm on Vancouver Island, BC. She grew up in the same farmhouse that both her dad and grandpa grew up in. After university, she returned home to carry on the family’s legacy of producing high-quality milk for their local community.

A relatively new dairy farmer herself, Mickey Aylard is helping chart a new course for the dairy industry’s future in BC, while honouring her family farm’s legacy.

Mickey and her husband are gradually taking over the operation of Brackenhurst Farm from her father – a 300 acre, family-run dairy farm with just 100 cows, located on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria. She’s the fourth generation on the farm, started by her great-grandfather in 1930.

“We’re still using barn structures that were here when my family first moved here. We still have cows in barns my great-grandfather built,” Mickey says. “Preserving that family heritage is pretty big for us. ”

“I want to keep farming here for my family, and for the community too,” she says. “My family’s been farming for four generations, and I would love for the family to continue farming here for another four generations. We can’t do that if we don’t take care of the land and the animals.”

For Mickey, that means focusing on adopting the best sustainable agricultural practices they can on their own farm while also getting involved in shaping the direction of the larger industry.

At Brackenhurst Farm, the cows have free, open access to pasture whenever the weather’s good, and they use automated milking robots so the cows can come into the barn and get milked on their own schedule. They rotate access to pasture, moving the cows to a new plot of grass every 12 hours or so and then giving the used plot three or four weeks to recover and absorb nutrients from manure. That helps keep the land healthy and rejuvenated.

“We keep the barn doors open on nice days, so they can come in and out, milk as they want. I really like that aspect for sure.”

Allowing the cows to use outside pasture is only possible because they have so much land.

Mickey's Cows Outside

“I feel very lucky because my great-grandfather acquired this land a long time ago and we’ve kept it in the family,” Mickey says.

They have also dug ditches where they capture the plentiful rainfall they receive, directing it to a pond and away from small farm and residential properties down the hill from them. That helps prevent flooding and reduces erosion from rainwater, while also providing water they use for irrigation, reducing groundwater usage.

Every winter they plant a cover crop of ryegrass or barley to hold nutrients and further prevent erosion, mixing the crop back into the soil in the spring to keep those nutrients intact before planting new pasture crops.

“For us, it is all about practicing sustainable agriculture,” Mickey says.

They have plans for adding new features for sustainable agriculture over the next five years. If budgets and busy schedules allow they hope to install solar panels on their barn roofs to generate electricity – the big, flat surfaces perfect for solar power generation. They’ve already had an assessment done, which determined their roofs are a good location for a solar array.

They’re also looking at planting about five acres of Empire trees – fast-growing apple trees that absorb and sequester carbon dioxide at 10 times the rate of other deciduous trees. They take only 15 – 20 years to grow to maturity, and their blooms attract bees in the spring, which will help support pollinator populations.

“We won’t have any food if we don’t have any bees,” Mickey says. “There are a lot of really cool sustainable practices I would love to do, but it takes time to fulfil them all.”

Charting a sustainable path forward for her own farm is one thing. To contribute to the future of BC’s larger dairy industry Mickey joined the BC Dairy board of directors in 2018.

“The association is all about doing the right thing, trying to look five or ten years ahead,” she says. “If the decisions the board is making is going to impact the industry, I want to be part of that.”

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