Established in 1967, Baildon Hutterite Colony near Briercrest, south of Moose Jaw, has come a long way in significantly contributing to the agricultural industry in Saskatchewan. This was a visit I couldn't wait to make, and gave me the opportunity to walk around and learn how farming in colonies has evoloved and continues to grow in our province. This is one side of the story I wish to explain and dig into a little deeper.
On this day, I travelled down from Moose Jaw where I met with Peter, one of the leading managers at Baildon Colony. Driving up the approach, I could see how large it was. Cultivated farmland surrounds the colony, where approximately 19,000 acres is farmed. A large variety of seeds are planted, including lentils, canola, barley, wheat, peas, and soybeans. This flat landscape is known as the Regina Plains. To cover the vast terrain that surrounds this area, they operate a type of equipment that is quite large and moderately new.
The cereal crops produced are often used to feed livestock, which was where I began my tour with Peter. These facilities house dairy cows, chickens and hogs, and a feed operating plant. Each facility is unique and has a working operator/manager on site monitoring and assessing the equipment and animals. This was a side of agriculture I had yet to see until now.
We began with a visit to the poultry facility, where the hens were busy laying eggs. I was quickly informed that this wasn't any ordinary poultry facility, rather it produces organic eggs that are distributed to Star Egg, a Saskatoon-based business. Back in 2016, when Baildon Colony was first approached by Star Egg, there had never been a commercial organic egg producer in Saskatchewan. The Colony accepted the challenge to develop the organic egg production, and with that, the old layer barn was converted to a state-of-the-art, free run pullet barn. Renovations included enhanced heating, lighting and air ventilation. The barn was better designed for quality of life, and also to produce in a more sustainable, cost-effective way.
Next, Peter and I walked over to the feed plant. This was where feed would begin its distribution to each of the specific facilities on the colony. The computerized feeder system was specifically made for easy transporting of food. It increases efficiency and is considerably less labour intensive than traditional systems, requiring only one person to control the operation behind a desk. This technology allows the operator to pick and choose where the feed goes, and what kind of 'recipe' to use, depending on whether the animal consumes organic feed or not. This was a process I was intrigued to learn about. Seeing how easy and fast it was to simply choose a recipe and press 'enter' for instant results really showed me how technology improves feeding efficiency on the colony.
Leaving the feed plant, Peter and I ended up skipping past the hog operation. Entering the faciltiy would require suiting up into barn-specific clothing and boots, as hogs are susceptible to diseases that can be passed between animal species, or from humans to animals. After a brief mention of the hog operation, we continued on towards the dairy faciltiy, where it would be my first time stepping inside a dairy barn.
I first expected to smell the manure as I walked in, but surprisngly there wasn't any I could smell. The ventilation system inside the barn was so advanced that you would never figure you stepped inside a dairy barn if you had been blindfolded and ears covered. I learned ventilation was key for any facility on the colony.
Peter and I walked through the main corridors that housed the cows that were producing milk, and we walked back into the rooms where the baby calves were being kept. This was a fairly large facility, but incredibly well designed. Each room has a purpose. Beginning with the newborns, to middle-ages, then adults, the dairy barn was well set up for dairy production.
There was also the technology that is used for collecting the milk. At various times of the day, dairy cows are moved into separate rooms where they are positioned to be milked. Milking is not like it used to be, as the process is now automated and happens using strategically placed suction cups. Increasing productivity from the traditional hand-milking methods of the past, computers monitor the entire process, and once finished, the cows slowly walk back to the barn, while the milk is transferred into holding tanks and chilled. Once a day, the milk is tested and picked up to be sold. The process is quite fascinating, and after seeing the different steps that are involved, I can understand why the members of the colony embrace new technology with benefits that can be seen in improved profitability, lifestyle and quality.
This behind-the-scenes guided tour of Baildon Colony was an incredible experience. I have heard and seen from the distance, the large equipment making laps in the field, but I had never gone for an inside look at the operation until now. This tour has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work involved. Baildon realizes that embracing and adopting innovation and technology is vital to remain competitive. They will continue to grow and strengthen their colony by evolving as technology continues to progress.
I want to thank Peter for allowing me to visit his home, tour the farming facilities, and stay for lunch while seeing the school and other rooms on the colony. Best wishes to this grain season!
Thanks for reading,