A couple of 30-year-olds with a passion for farming bought up the dairy farm with its herd of about 45 cows in January from Lloyd Yuill.
Born and raised on that farm, the 57-year-old said in an interview he figured it was time to take things a little easier. As the owner of Amber Hill, he spent decades putting in 80-hour work weeks.
Now, he’s only putting in a few more hours a week than most full-time workers. For him, that’s taking it easy.
“Forty hours a week. That’s the good life,” he said.
Amos Yuill, Lloyd’s grandfather, bought the farm back in the early 1910s. He and his wife raised 14 children, including eight boys, and eventually passed on the farm to the first of their sons to be born there.
“The three oldest boys moved to the United States and the other ones started other farms in Old Barns,” said Lloyd Yuill.
Although his father, Isaac, and mother, Florence, had other children, including two other sons and a daughter, it quickly became apparent to the couple that the farmer in the family was Lloyd.
“I guess I was the only one that had it in my blood,” he said. “You’ve got to like hard work and, to a point, being your own boss. Who wants to be stuck in an office all day?”
Without children of his own to take over the family farm, Yuill decided to sell it as a going concern so he could go into semi-retirement, retaining only one acre – on which he has built another home – and some woodland.
The deal was done with someone he already knew.
Keltie MacIntosh-Elliott had worked at Amber Hill about seven years ago and stayed in touch. Over Christmas two years ago, she asked Yuill what he was planning to eventually do with his farm.
His answer was swift.
“I should sell it to you,” he said.
Two weeks later, MacIntosh-Elliott and her husband, Nick Elliott, called the farmer back and asked him if he had been serious. He was. And talks began to clinch the sale.
“We both grew up this way, farming, and we love it,” said MacIntosh-Elliott. “It’s the lifestyle … We’re in it for the cows. We love them for their personalities. They’re wonderful!”
Wonderful. But demanding.
Since taking ownership of Amber Hill, the young couple have been putting in near-impossible hours. They get up at 3:30 a.m. and only hit the sack at 10 p.m. That’s a 129.5-hour work week. And, sometimes, the couple works even longer hours.
In the middle of the night, March 20, a cow affectionately named Margaret was in labour. Although a few bulls had already been born this year by then, the couple was hoping for a heifer, a young female, to help build up the herd.
Elliott took the first shift to keep an eye on the expectant mother. Then, it was MacIntosh-Elliott’s turn. And, finally, at 2 a.m., the calf was born. A heifer.
“I was up checking on her every hour and half hour,” said MacIntosh-Elliott.
Even though he’s sold off the family farm, Yuill doesn’t miss it, likely because he’s still keeping his hand in it.
Years ago, his father set aside a one-acre plot of land. It’s on that parcel right next door to Amber Hill that Lloyd Yuill has built himself a modest, 1,350-square-foot, one-storey bungalow clad in vinyl siding.
No matter the time of day or night, Yuill is there, ready to help out the farm’s new owners.
Brian Cameron, general manager of the industry association Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia, says that kind of arrangement is a bit exceptional but a real boon for the new owners.
“More often than not … that would be the exception rather than the rule but it’s great because it should help the people who have bought the farm,” said Cameron.
Yuill won’t disclose details of the sale of Amber Hill but said he is doing well enough to semi-retire – even though he’s not what he would consider rich.
“Let’s just say I’m okay,” he said. “They won’t have to dig two holes for me when I die, one for me and one for my money.”
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Dairy industry changes with the times
OLD BARNS, N.S. – Technology on dairy farms in Nova Scotia has gotten to the point where robotic arms are milking the cows.
This isn’t your grand-daddy’s farm anymore.
“The biggest technology leap in the last 10 years has been the introduction of automated – or robotic – milking stations,” said Brian Cameron, general manager of the industry association Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia.
The way this technology works is straight out of a sci-fi flick.
Lured by grain, the cows walk into a milking station. There, a robotic arm comes out, cleans the cow’s udder, attaches the milking equipment and, afterwards, removes it and disinfects the teats. A gate opens. The cow leaves.
No human beings need apply for the job.
In Nova Scotia, there are 215 dairy farms with an average of about 100 cows each. Since these robotic milking stations can handle about 55 cows each, that means a typical farm would need two of these machines that can cost about $175,000 apiece, said Cameron.
Add to that advances in tractors – including the arrival of driverless tractors such as those now being sold by United States-based Autonomous Tractor Corp. – and other equipment such as computerized accounting and database systems, and it’s clear today’s farms are much more technology-driven that those only a few decades ago.
At the Amber Hill farm in Old Barns, near Truro, new owners Keltie MacIntosh-Elliott and Nick Elliott are hoping to eventually modernize operations somewhat. Lloyd Yuill, who ran the farm for 37 years after taking it over from his father, admitted he doesn’t even own a computer.
That farm does have automated milking stations but none that use robotics. In the eight months the couple has owned the farm, they’ve been putting in 18.5-hour days. The couple of 30-year-olds can do that now but MacIntosh-Elliott said that may change when they start a family.