Making the Move North

by Jeanine Moyer

Paul DeJong can sum up the decision to move his farm to Northern Ontario in three reasons - herd expansion, reduced workload and financial freedom. In fall 2017, DeJong and his partner Kim Inglis moved their herd of 85 black Angus cows from Dundalk to Charlton, Ontario. He admits the move was a big decision, but one that makes sense for his farm and lifestyle goals.

"I like farming, but there's more to it than paying the mortgage," says DeJong who already knew he wanted to make some changes to his farming operation when he first heard about BFO's Beef North initiative. "I was at the BFO 2017 Annual General Meeting when I heard about it, but I never considered it until Kim brought up the initiative and suggested we look at moving north."

Before moving to Northern Ontario, DeJong and Inglis owned Ventry Hill Farm in Dundalk, ON. A certified organic farm consisting of 450 acres, including pasture, DeJong was running 85-cow-calf pairs and finishing stockers for an organic market.

Finding a Farm

All it took was a little push and a 'why not take a look' attitude and as soon as spring seeding was completed in June, DeJong was on the road visiting farms listed for sale in Northern Ontario. The first challenge he encountered was the difference in barns and animal housing. DeJong found most cattle overwintered on pasture in Northern Ontario so barns and housing structures that he was accustomed to on his Grey County farm were hard to find. " There are a lot of differences between farming in Grey County and Northern Ontario - the soil, housing and barns, predators and distance between neighbours to name a few. But it's the opportunities that appeals to me - larger pastures, a suitable environment for growing hay and a great climate for beef cattle," he says.

DeJong enlisted the help of Barry Potter, OMAFRA Agriculture Development Advisor, North Region and New Liskeard, who toured him around and provided valuable insight and advice on the local farming opportunities in Northern Ontario. DeJong settled on a 960 acre farm in Charlton, near Englehart. The farm is made up of workable tile drained land, pasture and bush. He was quickly able to sell two of his three farms in the Dundalk area and close the deal on the Northern Ontario farm – all within the month of June. And then the next stage of major decisions began. DeJong had to quickly decide if he was going to continue his current cow-calf and feedlot set up and decide what household items, farm and animal handling equipment would make the move.

“We knew it would be a change. The new farm is more than six hours north of our Dunkalk farm, but it looks just right for our cattle and life plans,” says DeJong. “We can grow our herd, use what we already know to work the land, grow the best pasture for our cattle and enjoy a new lifestyle.”

Making Plans

DeJong was finishing cattle on his farm in Grey County, but without the proper barn structures and access to feed at the Charlton location, the decision to remove the feedlot portion of his farm was made. He would move the cows to Northern Ontario, but keep the stockers on the home farm in Dundalk for finishing until the home farm sale closes in March 2018. And going forward, he’ll make the transition to a cow-calf herd in Northern Ontario. DeJong’s home farm in Grey County was also certified organic, something he’s unsure he’ll continue in Charlton.

Once all the details were finalized, DeJong was able to move 85 cows, some with calves at side, 20 bred heifers, four horses and most of DeJong’s farm and animal handling equipment and household items to the new farm in fall 2017.

“Finalizing the details of moving cattle, figuring out what equipment to sell or take and dealing with all the paperwork sure kept us busy this year,” says DeJong, who was also making plans for the new location, including a number of jobs that needed to be complete before winter set in like digging a new well, building a storage shed and arranging feed for the cattle to get through the winter.

Looking forward, DeJong knows he has a lot of work ahead. “We have hardly any fencing and have to rely on two water courses and a bush line to keep the cattle in the pasture area for now. We prefer to manage rotational grazing so the acreage is a little daunting,” he explains. “And then there are new predators that I’m not used to – timber wolves and bears to name a few.”

One of DeJong’s first tasks will be improving the forage and hay quality on the farm. Winner of the 2017 Mapleseed Pasture Award, DeJong knows that pasture management is key to raising healthy, quality cattle and is looking forward to the challenge. Establishing an Environmental Farm Plan, fencing cattle from access to waterways, drilling a well for safe drinking water, making improvements to the farmhouse, building hay storage and fences are all on the list of farm improvements for the coming year. “Sure, there’s lots of room for improvement, but we’re excited,” says DeJong, who has applied for funding from the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation to help finance some of the projects.

 “We’re excited. We’re looking forward to a new lifestyle with a little less stress in Charlton. And we’re still doing what we love. We have our cattle and we’re farming,” says DeJong.

Looking North?

Thinking of moving to Northern Ontario? Paul DeJong moved his cow herd from Dundalk to Charlton and shares a short list of considerations beef farmers need to make when planning a move.

  • Locals know – find someone who knows the area you’re looking to move to. They can be a wealth of knowledge about the community, land, weather patterns, wildlife, local resources, available markets, etc.
  • Making the move – you’re not just packing household belongings, moving a farm includes animals, animal handling and farm equipment and so much more. Talk to local trucking and transportation companies to find the most economical options.
  • Timing it right – minimizing the stress on animals is imperative and timing considerations have to be given to calving and weaning.
  • Winter is coming – make the move before winter weather arrives to allow cattle to settle into the new environment and avoid winter driving conditions.
  • Finding funds – consider funding and loan programs like Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

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