MAPLETON – Many students just started school, while others recently ventured into their first job.
Suzanne Brouwer always had clear plans: starting her own dairy farm.
At 23 she achieved her dream of milking her own cows with a milking robot in Kingston, Prince Edward Island.
“It felt like my wedding day all over,” she said.
Brouwer (formerly VanderMeulen) grew up on a dairy goat farm close to Durham before moving to Mapleton at the age of eight.
Even though her parents sold their farm, she remained active in the Wellington 4-H Association and worked on local dairy farms in her spare time and during a high school co-op program.
Farm life shaped who she was and what she wanted to become.
“As a child already, I was eager to get up in the morning and help with chores and come home from school so I could go back to the barn again,” she said.
“I loved the animals, the smells of the farm, and the daily activities it brings. Growing up I knew pretty quickly that farming was something I had to keep in my life forever.”
Brouwer received the Thistle Award from the Fergus District Horticultural Society at her high school graduation.
“The Thistle Award was such an honour and encouragement,” she said. “The support I have had from friends and family over the last few years has just been incredible. It took a lot of planning and hard work to realize my future goals, but I always felt encouraged by those closest to me.”
When her years at Emmanuel Christian High School came to a close, Brouwer chose the Ridgetown campus of the University of Guelph to continue her studies in agriculture.
Her studies at the Ridgetown campus offered countless opportunities to get more involved in the agriculture industry, to grow her skills, and to meet many farmers during farm tours.
The school also provided hands-on learning at the barns on campus. After obtaining her agriculture diploma, she continued with an apprenticeship as a dairy herdsperson.
“Not only did I learn more about the dairy industry, but also about the world around it. Every day I am able to use the knowledge and skills my schooling equipped me with,” Brouwer said.
To start a dairy farm, one needs production rights to ship milk, called dairy quota. This is expensive and hard to get.
While in college, Suzanne applied and was accepted into a special New Entrant Program in Prince Edward Island for a start-up amount of 50kg (butter fat) of daily quota and permission to start milking on Aug. 1, 2023.
Brouwer had to submit a business plan that was approved by a financial institution.
“Being accepted into the New Entrant Program was very exciting. It was the first real step in making my dreams come true and gave me a real sense of direction in my planning,” she said.
After her wedding last October, she moved with her husband Matt to the island where she was able to rent a dairy barn.
Forage is grown by the owners who sell it to her.
Despite serious damage to some of the buildings due to post-tropical storm Fiona, she was able to make the barns ready for the arrival of 35 cows from three dairy farms in Ontario, and 18 young heifers from PEI.
She hopes the heifers will have their first calves and start to produce milk over the winter.
“The months leading up to the first of August were very intense and very busy,” she explained. “I had an incredible team of contractors who all worked tirelessly to make the farm ready.
“We converted a pole barn into a 55-stall freestall barn and added a milk house for the milk tank and robot.
“Everyone was so helpful to have the barn ready in time.”
On Aug. 1, a large cattle truck arrived in Kingston.
“It felt similar to my wedding day! My stomach was in knots with excitement!” Brouwer said.
“I had so many people cheering me on and when the truck pulled in the last year of my life felt like a blur. I couldn’t believe it was really happening right in front of me: it was real.”
She called her farm Eastview Dairy, because “my eyes were set on moving east to get my own farm!”
Every day now consists of feeding her herd, keeping the cows bedded, breeding and checking if all the cows are visiting the milking robot on time.
Her first calves are born and regular routine is setting in.
“I am overwhelmed with gratefulness to God for blessing me with this opportunity to be a dairy farmer and be a part of this amazing industry,” she said.
As a brand new dairy farmer and entrepreneur, Brouwer encourages young people in school to dream big: “Everyone has gifts and talents – make sure you use them. Pursue what you are passionate about and work hard.”