Ambitious 20-year-old buys Winchester farm, complete with quota, cows, and 300 acres
By Brandy Harrison
WINCHESTER ó Since February, Adam McDiarmid has been filling his coffee cup a little more often, with weekends taking a backseat and more than a few 20-hour days under his belt. Buying a farm ó complete with house, cows, quota, barn, and 300 acres ó is a big investment, but thatís not the kicker: Winchesterís newest dairy farmer is only 20-years-old.
"It keeps me busy alright. I miss weekends, but itís part of the job," says McDiarmid. "Iím pretty ambitious and Dad wasnít ready to get out and I was ready to get in."
He says it was a stroke of luck the previous owners ó brothers Paul and Richard Helmer ó agreed to sell him the farm as an on-going operation. His parents, who own a dairy farm in Osgoode, put up collateral in negotiations with the bank and while they co-signed on the secondary loans, the main mortgage for the house, buildings, and land is in McDiarmidís name alone.
"Itís my butt on the line," McDiarmid says. "I figured I might as well start paying off the debt now."
As if cropping 250 acres and milking 50 cows wasnít enough, McDiarmid is already upgrading. Heís put in a computerized automatic takeoff milking system to replace the aging portable hose and milker claw system and also plans to save himself two and a half hours a day with an automatic feeder that has a built-in mixer and moves along a ceiling track to dole out feed to individual cows.
For McDiarmid, itís all about efficiency and making time to breed and show the higher-end cattle. The Helmers were awarded a master breeder shield in 2003 and took the premier red and white breeder title at the Royal the last two years. The "whole package" herd caught McDiarmidís attention.
"When they have nine or 10 generations of Very Good or Excellent behind them, theyíre going to make good daughters," he says. "The milk is the bread and butter but selling cows is the gravy."
It was McDiarmidís keen interest in breeding and the fact the herd would be kept together that convinced the Helmers it was the right time to sell.
"We had worked hard to get the cows where they were," says Paul Helmer. "He can build from there and will hopefully win his own master breeder shield some day."
The Helmers still help out from time to time but as of Feb. 1, McDiarmid was on his own.
"It was overwhelming because all of sudden Iím making all the decisions and if I screw up it costs me," says McDiarmid.
Being on his own, with a year old Australian Shepherd as his only full-time help, has its challenges, like the day his heifers knocked the fence down.
"It wasnít fun chasing 70 heifers by myself. The neighbours must have thought I was mental," he says.
His father, Dan McDiarmid, says his son is finding out just how much work running a dairy farm is.
"There have been days when heís overwhelmed with the work, but Iím 47 and there are days when Iím almost overwhelmed," he says. "He does have a driving force behind him ó he gets that from his mother ó he makes up his mind and heís going to get it done."
McDiarmid also has a dash of humility. He thought he knew everything but buying the farm has shown he has a lot to learn: Filling quota is about butter fat, not volume; waiting too long to breed is lost money; and the savings add up if he feeds three times a day instead of two.
"I had to grow up pretty quick," he says, glad his father is just a phone call away. "I realized I donít have a clue compared to him. Itís given me a pretty good appreciation for what my parents have had to work at over the years."
McDiarmid breathes farming. Even when heís out with his friends heís likely talking about cows.
"Itís a great industry with great people. Iíll probably be farming until I die. Itís one of those things that six days a week is miserable and full of headaches but then thereís that one day a week that makes it all worthwhile."