Farm-sitter finds a summer job giving farmers a break

Young farm entrepreneur Meaghan Herrington starts a business taking care of farm chores

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Almost any agricultural professional knows that a day off (or two or three) can be an impossible dream.

But those living near Brighton, Ont., can turn to Meaghan Herrington and her summer business Early Morning Relief Milking and Farm Services.

The East Northumberland Secondary School student offers such services as cow clipping, barn cleaning, relief milking and other chores to assist with daily farming basics.

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And you don’t have to worry about her expertise — Meaghan has lived all her life with parents, Amy and Adam, on their fourth-generation Herrington Brothers and Sons Farms Ltd. (which Adam owns with his cousin Justin).

So far this summer, Meaghan’s jobs have ranged from farm-sitting a Hastings operation so the owners could get away for a weekend, to a regular three-day-a-week commitment at a busy Campbellford farm where there is a constant need for an extra hand with the milking and other chores.

Meaghan was able to start her business through the Summer Company Program, a provincial project aimed at encouraging student entrepreneurs. In Northumberland County where Meaghan lives, the program is administered by the Business and Entrepreneurship Centre Northumberland, offering its successful applicants up to $3,000 in seed money — $1,500 at the beginning of the season and the remainder after running the business for 280 hours — as well as business mentorship and expertise.

In a county where agriculture and food processing is identified as one of the top five economic sectors, Northumberland Summer Company agricultural start-ups happen fairly regularly.

Meaghan is pleased to get her business going, but her longer-range plan is to be part of the fifth generation on her family farm after she finishes Grade 12 and attends the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus to study agriculture and animal science.

“I like being around animals and to help the family,” she said.

“I like being outside, being active. I like being busy, and this keeps me on my feet.”

The farm occupies 750 acres in Hilton, Adam said.

“We’re strictly dairy farmers, mostly self-sufficient. Our crops feed our cows, with some extra to sell as a cash crop.

“We milk 72 cows, but we’re trying to become more efficient as the market has tended to become tighter,” he stated.

“Hopefully in the foreseeable future, I can see there being a dairy future for my children, even my grandchildren. We are definitely proud dairy farmers and huge supporters of supply management. It keeps us competitive in a market that could become very flooded.”

Adam Herrington, left and Meaghan Herrington at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
photo: Ami Herrington

The Herringtons have always valued hard work, Adam said, but know that family is even more important. So they have always tried to work a family get-away into that 365-day-a-year job. Luckily, it’s a big enough extended family that this can be done.

Not every farmer has the luxury of having competent help available to allow some all-important down time. But Meaghan has seen it all.

“Meaghan was one of those kids, right from a young age, who always wanted to be on the tractor, always wanted to be in the barn, loved animals, any animals — dogs, cats, and especially cows and calves.”

She has also enjoyed 4-H, and attended the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto the last couple of years with her calves.

Last year, Meaghan said, she got a third-place finish in the 4-H portion of the exhibition and a fifth-place finish with a calf from Kingsway Farms in Hastings.

Adam is delighted with the mentoring relationship she has established with Kingsway — “great-quality cows, amazing animals, one of the leaders in Canada as far as cows. They have a great family that treats Meaghan like one of their own.”

The Herringtons take pride in turning out peak-quality dairy products, as certified by stringent industry testing. And Adam believes part of that success is the best care for their cows.

In a shady pen with soft bedding and a fan running to dispel the heat, Meaghan enters and proudly removes four-month-old calf Oakfield App Ava Rascal. She owns her 50-50 with Kingsway Farms, and her father declares the calf a Royal hopeful.

Meaghan loves the process of a getting to know a new 4-H calf, establishing a new connection to a new animal.

In a nearby barn with open windows so the fans can circulate the breeze, her former 4-H calf Jo stands at the head of a line of mature milkers. Meaghan strokes her proudly, and grabs the clippers so she can trim her more closely. Clipping is important for the cows’ comfort and cleanliness, she said.

Speaking of clippers, the Summer Company program’s help with start-up costs (like equipment) is much appreciated. Even the steep cost of a business licence falls more gently with this kind of assistance.

The licence is good for five years, Meaghan pointed out, so her business can operate for a few summers more, perhaps, depending on demand, even take on some employees.

And Meaghan’s profits will not just be financial.

Along with the financial-grant dollars, Meaghan will gain new and different opportunities and experiences that will enrich her years at Ridgetown and on the Herrington farm.

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