Photo: Christine Bliss and Darcy Snider of Uptown Dairy
When Darcy Snider’s partner Christine Bliss first suggested that they start a dairy goat operation, his initial reaction was “Over my dead body will there be a goat on this farm!” - or something similar to that. Thankfully, Darcy is still alive and well, as are the more than 100 goats that now live in his barns.
Uptown Dairy of Sydenham, Chris and Darcy’s farm, is one of the businesses that have been helped by the Frontenac Community Futures Development Corporation (FCFDC), and Chris was one of the guest speakers at the FCFDC’s Annual General Meeting on Sept. 29 at the Lions Hall in Verona.
Darcy had previously run a conventional Holstein dairy operation on the 240-acre farm where he grew up, but it was no longer operational. The farm fronts on Rutledge Road across from Sydenham High School. Chris also had grown up on a Holstein farm.
One of their goals was to return the farm to active production, and the dairy goat industry is one of the few agricultural industries that new producers can enter. “The door isn’t closed,” said Chris.
They did their homework first, though. Chris said, “You can milk all you want but you have to have somewhere to ship it.” So even before they brought one goat into the barn they joined the Ontario Dairy Goat Coop and obtained a quota to ensure they would fit into the processing stream. They also worked closely with Anne Pritchard, executive director of the FCFDC, in developing their business plan.
The facilities on the farm had to be renovated because, Chris said, “Goats are more like deer.”
Uptown Dairy is a Grade A licensed operation. One of Darcy and Chris’ goals was to build a disease-free herd with superior genetics, so they could eventually export animals to other countries, and they are definitely making progress towards that goal.
The original 80 goats, mostly Saanens and a few Alpines, were bought from a Mennonite farm. Darcy and Chris unloaded the goats at Uptown on January 31 of this year, a bitter, raw day. They milked for the first time that same night and sent out their first shipment on the Wednesday following. In the beginning they were shipping 982 litres of milk a week and they have already increased that amount by 50%. Their milk contains 3.52% fat and 3.29% protein, a significantly higher ratio than in the milk of a prize Saanen doe that was recently featured on the cover of a goat’s milk producers’ newsletter.
Another unique feature of Uptown Dairy is that it is the only goat herd in Canada that uses sand bedding instead of hay bedding for the animals. Darcy says, “Diseases can’t grow in sand.”
Chris and Darcy plan to expand their herd to 300. Chris also has a full-time job at Goodyear but she still finds time to make goat’s milk soap and ice cream.
Some days, she admits, are a challenge. “Sometimes I think I can’t milk another goat and then I look down the row with over 100 left to milk.” During one such moment of being overwhelmed, she says, Anne Pritchard showed up at just the right time to encourage her.
Which prompts Chris to give this piece of advice: “Don’t get stuck but if you do, don’t stay stuck. Pick up the phone - and trust that you’re going to make it.”
One of the FCFDC’s main priorities continues to be the bringing of broadband internet service to Frontenac County, and the second guest speaker at the AGM was Maureen O’Higgins from the consulting firm Actionable Intelligence, who gave an update on the efforts to close the gaps in broadband service.
She said that the county will be able to move Central and South Frontenac, and the Frontenac Islands, to near full broadband coverage by 2010, though there will always be some gaps due to terrain problems.
North Frontenac, however, presents a totally different situation because the terrain is so much rougher and the market is also much more difficult because of North Frontenac’s lower population density. She said that negotiations are presently underway with a service provider.
During their last fiscal year, Frontenac CFDC lent $610,500 to local businesses. Since its inception in January 2004, it has lent a total of $3,202,444. Business Development Officer Dave Smith said that although the FCFDC strives to publicize itself, there may still be businesses out there that are unaware of the FCFDC, and he encouraged those in attendance at the meeting to spread the word if they knew of anyone who could benefit from the FCFDC’s services.