More than just milk machines: The Jerseys of Masonrise Farm

By Nick Fonda

Farming, Catherine Jones and Levi Mason will tell you, is a lifestyle choice that comes with a certain amount of personal sacrifice. They will also tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the challenges faced by farmers.
“As of April 1,” Levis Mason explained, “milk producers were no longer allowed to ship more than their daily quota, although they are still allowed to ship a little less.”
Under the quota system used by dairy farmers, the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec (FPLQ) allows their members to produce a set number of kilograms of milk per day. Until the end of March they were allowed to either fall behind by as much as 30 days or overproduce by as much as 10 days. These margins permit them to more easily deal with the vicissitudes of daily life on a dairy farm: a sick cow that can no longer be milked, a new cow that’s a particularly good milker.
“What’s unfortunate about that,” he continued, “is that springtime is often a good time for us to overproduce a little. Lots of calves are born in the spring so we have more cows to milk. We’re paid for what we ship, and usually at this time of year we can do with a little extra on our milk cheque.”
Although there have been news items about farmers dumping milk, that hasn’t been the case at Masonrise Farm.
“We haven’t yet had to throw milk out,” said Jones. “We’ve adjusted by withdrawing a few of our cows from the milk barn and letting them out to pasture early.”
Unlike the vast majority of dairy producers in the province, the young couple are not milking Holsteins on their 250-acre farm, but Jerseys.
The economic incentive for choosing to milk Jerseys also involves the FPLQ and the way producers are paid for their milk.
“It’s not complicated, but it is complex,” said Jones quoting one of her former teachers.
“Producers are paid according to the concentration of certain elements,” Mason explained. “The milk is analyzed and the farmer is paid $10-$11 per kilogram for butterfat, $6-$8 per kilo for protein, and $1.30 -$1.60 per kilo for lactose. Butterfat earns the most money, and Jerseys produce milk with high butterfat content, typically 5 per cent, compared to Holstein milk which has 4 per cent.”
Jones and Mason point out that there are a multitude of reasons—in addition to the financial—that made them opt for Jerseys three years ago when they moved onto their own farm in Melbourne Township.
Mason had grown up with both Jerseys and Holsteins on his parents’ farm in St. Felix. Jones had ten years of experience working on a dairy farm with Holsteins. Both are very happy with their 120 head of Jerseys, 50 of which are currently milking.
“It’s a smaller cow,” said Mason, “about half the size of a Holstein, and this makes them a little easier to handle. They eat less food, drink less water, and produce less manure, which translates into lower costs and less work.”
“Because they’re smaller, there’s more stall space in the barn,” Jones added. “If they do fall ill and need medication, they require much smaller doses to rid them of their ailment compared to a Holstein. Jerseys are a very fertile breed and they calf easily. They are a hardy breed, but are also quite docile and easy to lead.”
“They are relatively long-lived cows,” Mason continued. “On average Holstein cows are kept for three lactations, or roughly till the age of five. Jerseys will continue dropping a calf year after year till the age of 14 or 15.”
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