Meet Chris & Kyla Riach
Dairy farmers who just recently moved to the Matheson area to start a beef farm, Bear Path Farms
By Emily Potter, Project Assistant for Beef North
Tell me about your background and your planned operation here in Matheson.
I was raised in the Woodstock area on a dairy farm and lived on the farm my entire life. In 1997, my brother and I took the farm over from our parents. I went to school for mechanical engineering, which has been really helpful with the farm.
My wife and I bought this farm in Matheson and just moved up a couple weeks ago, along with our youngest son. We have three sons and a daughter. The others are also interested in farming, and they may consider moving up if the opportunity arises for them.
We’ve purchased 300 acres and are renting another 650. There’s also a lot of land surrounding us that we could purchase if we ever want to expand further. Our main farm hasn’t had cattle on it for at least 15 years. There’s been some land clearing done, but it’s a work in progress. We’ve also purchased a few Highland cows to help with the underbrush (learn about land clearing projects in Northern Ontario and funding available for land clearing and tile drainage).
This year, we’re focusing on preparing the fences on the entire farm, whether it be adding in new fences or making repairs. Our goal is to have cattle on the home farm by mid-July, with hopes of having 40-50 cow-calf pairs by the end of the summer. We’re undecided on what breed of beef cattle to use, but we’re leaning towards a commercial herd.
We plan on working to re-seed some of the pastures and hay fields as they haven’t been used in so long and there’s lots of overgrowth. One piece of our land will have to be completely re-fenced in time for next year, but the grasses are looking pretty good. I plan to use a mix of brome, rye and Kentucky bluegrass, meadow fescue, creeping red fescue, alfalfa, lading clover, white clover and timothy. I also plan to plant some annual Italian ryegrass and possibly some tillage radish both for late fall feed as they are both very aggressive. The tillage radish will also break open the soil and allow for better drainage.
I sold grass seed off-farm for evergreenseed.ca when we were down south. I also have a 20’ AerWay that I want to try on the pastures and hay fields to see if I can improve existing stands without having to re-seed everything right away (learn more about improving pastures with AerWay technology here).
Why did you decide to move to Northern Ontario?
We have friends who live in the Matheson area and we’ve been up to visit many times before. We were able to get to know some of the locals even before we made the decision to move. The community provides us with a small town feel and everyone is friendly and helpful. It was also frustrating to see a lot of fields up here just sitting there, not being used at all. Down south, it’s almost impossible to rent or buy land because it’s just so expensive.
I see the lack of infrastructure up here as a positive thing. If I want to invest in infrastructure, I would be the one to benefit. There’s room for my sons to come up and start their own businesses, too. We’ll be relying on Timmins and Earlton mostly. Timmins is only 45 minutes away from us and can meet most of our needs for heavy equipment. Earlton and New Liskeard can provide us with everything else.
What are your long-term plans for your farm?
Eventually we’re hoping to have at least 200 cow-calf pairs here and expand for hay and potentially grow some oats and barley in the coming years as cash crops. We also want to grow timothy as a cash crop.
I sit on the Board of Directors for the Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative, and we’re seeing a big demand for hay globally. The board feels that Northern Ontario would be a good area to grow hay (especially timothy) to help us meet these demands. The board is looking to build a packing plant to ship timothy to Saudi Arabia, China and other countries with a strong market for timothy.
Have you been able to make use of any funding or programs?
We’ve been able to work with Stephanie Vanthof from Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance and Carole Boucher from the Ministry of Northern Development & Mines in Iroquois Falls to apply for the Northern Business Opportunity Program for Small Business Start-up Projects from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Cooperation. We’re currently in the second stage of the application and are working to complete our business plan for them.
What are some challenges you see yourself facing?
Moving up north in general has been a challenge, but we’ve had a pretty solid plan. Things definitely don’t go as quickly as you’d like them to when moving, especially moving our equipment up north. We got lucky and were able to find a truck driver who delivers to our area back south and who could haul back some of our equipment. The biggest challenge moving forward will likely be dealing with the new climate, growing seasons and rain levels.
What are some opportunities you see, and what are you most looking forward to?
I’m actually looking forward to the challenges. I see them more as opportunities. It’s interesting to start with somewhat of a blank slate, doing something different (I’ve been milking pretty much my whole life).
It is very difficult and expensive for my sons to get into farming in the south, but they would have the opportunity up here if they want it. There’s opportunity for my son to open a mechanic shop, too.
We did some custom baling in the south, and there would be lots of opportunity for us to do that here, too, if we wanted, especially with the Mennonites. Again, getting to know the people in the area helped us discover that option.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone moving up here, what would it be?
Spend some time in the area you’re looking at. I was able to get to know some of the people before I moved, and they’ve been really helpful with the move. Whatever I need, they know exactly who to call. They can also advise you with what works and what doesn’t in that area. The climate up here is very different compared to the south. It’s not as hot and rains can pop up quickly, so you’ll want to come experience it for yourself, or else you’ll be in for a major shock.
Also, don’t be afraid to stop in at farms and meet people. I met a few farmers in the area this way, and they were all really welcoming and answered all of my questions. Most importantly, don’t come thinking you know everything already. Keep in mind that it’s different, and you’ll be on a whole new learning curve.
This old combine has been in this field for years. The land shows a lot of promise and opportunity for Chris and Kyla as they start to work at building their beef business.
The Riachs purchased the farm as-is, so there is lots of clean up to do, including old equipment lying around and partially cleared land.
Chris and his family are ready to put in the work to prepare the fences and the land for cattle.
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