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Sam Macdonald photo
Sam Macdonald photo
Richard and Nicole Brousseau, owners of Moo-Lait Farms were eager to show the comfort in which their cows live. In the living portion of their barn, the cows are given a bedded straw pad allowing optimal comfort and low stress levels for the animals.
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St. Paul farmers win provincial award

Mar 18, 2014 10:15 am | Sam Macdonald

Richard and Nicole Brousseau have seen their hard work on the farm pay off big time, having won the Outstanding Young Farmer’s Award for the Alberta-Northwest Territories Region in February.

The Brousseau family owns Moo-Lait Farms, located about 15 minutes east of St. Paul. They run a herd of dairy cows consisting of 10 per cent jerseys, and 90 per cent Holsteins, and are set to represent the region in the Outstanding Young Farmers’ Award program on the national level.

“Our prime focus is dairy,” said Richard, when speaking of the family-run farm. “We have a crop enterprise as well, its main focus is to grow our own feed for the farm, and market the excess.”

He says the idea behind trying to grow their own feed is to be “profitably efficient and self-sustainable,” being able to provide for themselves with what they produce.

“We moved back to the farm in 2006. I originally grew up on this farm, and Richard grew up on a farm north of St. Paul in the St. Vincent area,” said Nicole, describing how she and her husband have been farming all their lives.

Both Nicole and Richard attended Lakeland College in Vermillion, working on the campus farm. Looking for a way to start their own enterprise, they took advantage of an opportunity to start farming in the St. Paul area, on the land her parents already owned.

“We wanted to farm for ourselves, and get into the business for ourselves. We had an opportunity to come back and work with my parents, and started our farm on their land, with our own quotas, and or own cows in exchange for a management role,” said Nicole.

She added, “We took on managing the herd, without having to buy the location to get started, which worked out great for us.”

The Outstanding Young Farmer’s Award has a number of preconditions. These include the necessity of the farmers being under the age of 40 and actively farming, and the need for applicants to be in a managing role of the farm, deriving 70 per cent or more of their gross income from farming.

Nicole listed accomplishments that applicants for the award must be able to show. Accomplishments include progress in an agricultural career, environmental stewardship, production history, financial and management practices, contributions to the wellbeing of the community, province, and country, as well as a letter of support.

“When you attend, they select four farmers per region to attend the event, then you have to go through interview sessions to see if you fit the proper criteria,” said Nicole. “You have to give a Power Point presentation showing your progress, where you’re headed, details of the operation, and what you’ve done.”

Richard noted the importance of the letter of support saying, “It’s from a financial institution saying you’re financially capable of farming, and are doing a good job of it.”

A central feature of Moo-Lait Farms is a new barn being built to house and milk the cows. Outfitted with facilities for workers, a herringbone-style milking parlour and milk storage equipment, Nicole and Richard describe it as both safe and efficient.

“There’s a focus on comfort and health of the cows,” said Richard. “It’s built to minimize our ecological footprint, and help us be a steward of the land while maintaining our farming operation.”

The living area for the cows is designed with comfort in mind, with all natural ventilation, and an automated tarp to help with air conditioning. Cows are given a straw pack resting on a clay foundation, so they are able to stand and lay down.

“Cows are healthiest when they are able to rest in any position and with the straw pack. This reduces stress, and lower stress is linked to healthier animals,” said Richard.

When asked how it feels to be representing the St. Paul area on the national level, Nicole said, “It’s humbling, and it’s exciting to represent Alberta. We feel we have to carry a torch, and like we’re responsible to represent farmers in the area, promoting agriculture, progress, and the exchange between farmers. We feel responsible to carry our title.”

Nicole and Richard both expressed excitement at the prospect of travelling to Quebec city in November of this year, which is where the nationals are being held.

“The part we enjoy is we are alumni, it’s our responsibility to carry on what others have started. To be part of a group of that caliber is a reward in itself,” said Richard.

He continued, comparing the award to a hockey player and a medal saying, “When you’re on a hockey team for example, if you strive to be the best, that’s what you get. You’re looking to be the best, not get a medal. We don’t look for the award, we just do it because it’s our passion. The award is a good thing, but it’s not what we look for when we work.”

Nicole agreed saying, “We really enjoy what we’re doing. We get up in the morning to do the best we can, and we believe this is our path. If you do your best, people notice. That’s where the nominations come from.”

Richard said a local retired farmer who insisted they apply nominated the Brousseau farm.

“We declined at first, and eventually filled out an application. The deadline passed, we sent it in anyway, and we still got selected,” he said.

Nicole describes the coming event in Quebec as “super exciting,” saying, “We’ve always wanted to visit Quebec. Richard’s ideal vacation is to visit other farms and now we can do that.”

Richard and Nicole credit their mentors, college instructors, family, friends, industry contacts, and other agricultural producers as inspiration to work hard.

“Nicole’s parents have also been important for giving us an opportunity to start somewhere,” said Richard, with Nicole adding, “We found mentorship and examples from so many people.”

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