Working 5 to 9

For almost 150 years, the Walsh family has produced milk in Kilbride

Danette Dooley
Published on February 16, 2008

From dawn till dusk, Denise Walsh spends much of her time looking after her "girls" - all 450 of them.

"I'm usually up at 4:30 and here to milk the cows at 5. This is more of a 5 (a.m.) to 9 (p.m.) job then a 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) job," Denise says during an interview on the family's farm.

From dawn till dusk, Denise Walsh spends much of her time looking after her "girls" - all 450 of them.

"I'm usually up at 4:30 and here to milk the cows at 5. This is more of a 5 (a.m.) to 9 (p.m.) job then a 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) job," Denise says during an interview on the family's farm.

Glenview Farm in Kilbride is home to 450 dairy cows, over 220 of which are milked by machinery to produce 6,800 litres of milk every day.

The Walsh family has been active in the agricultural industry since the 1800s.

Today, Glenview Farm is owned and operated by Patrick Walsh and his children Denise, Robert, Dave and Wayne.

Denise is the youngest of those involved in the family business.

Her rosy cheeks flush a deeper crimson when asked about her earliest memories of living on the farm.

Laughing among themselves, her brothers encourage her to tell the story that has been passed down through the years.

"They used to put me in a feed bag and hang me on a nail on the wall while they were milking the cows," Denise says.

"We called her Rusty the Rooster," one brother laughs.

Fifth generation

The Walsh family says that the oldest document they have uncovered about the farm notes that it was sold to John Walsh - Patrick Walsh's grandfather - around 1860.

John then sold the farm to Patrick's father Richard (Dick) Walsh in 1904.

After Dick's death in 1948, Patrick and his brothers, Richard and Leo, took over. Leo moved to his own farm in 1979 and, following Richard's death in 1980, Patrick's son Robert shared ownership of the farm.

Glenview farm employs four part-time and three full-time staff.

Dave's son Jason and Robert's son Evan are the fifth generation of the family to work on the farm.

Patrick Walsh is now 80. Farming is the only thing he's ever known, he says.

"There was a lot more physical work than there is now," he recalls of his early years. "We had to milk the cows by hand. We had 25 or 30 and whoever could milk the fastest got the easiest cows. And everything had to be done with a horse and boxcar back then. There were no tractors."

Through the years the farm has grown tremendously from about 20 acres of land in Patrick's early days to approximately 380 acres being farmed today.

Expansion plans

According to information provided by the family, plans are in the works for expansion of the land base to maximize forage production and to take advantage of the opportunity to increase industrial milk production.

"Back in father's time there wasn't much technology, only a pen and a piece of paper," Dave says.

Today, he says, the majority of things happening on the farm are recorded by computers, including tracking the cows.

"We monitor the amount of steps they take in the barn and that lets you know their activity. If it's low, you could have a sick cow that you've got to tend to. If it's high, you've got to look for the reason why."

Wayne spends much of his time doing field work and ensuring the bars are kept clean.

"Of course, it's all done by machinery today. The only guy who worked in this business was him with the horses," Wayne says, glancing towards his father.

In addition to producing milk, Dave and his wife Stephanie have taken technology to another level by starting secondary processing.

Glenview's Finest Inc.'s first product is Glenview's Finest Scald Cream dessert topping.

"This is really going back to the traditional days when people out around the bay had one or two cows," Dave says.

"They used to take the milk and let it stand for awhile and scald it and then they'd separate the cream from the buttermilk."

Kitchen gardens gone

Robert, who has served as chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador for the last five years, says back in his father's day about 40 per cent of the province's population were involved, in some way, in agriculture.

Today, he says, that number has dwindled to less than two per cent.

The decline makes it even more remarkable that all the Walsh children have left their footprints on the family farm and all remain involved, in some form, in the agriculture business.

Mary (Walsh) Lester and Patricia (Walsh) Lester are part owners of Lester's Dairy Farm on Brookfield Road, Richard Walsh owns Oceanview Daily Farm in Bay Bulls, Carolanne Walsh MacIntyre works with the City of St. John's Humane Services and Ronald Walsh works with the Chicken Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As the number of people involved in the agriculture business decreased, Robert says, farmers had little or no input into decisions that were made regarding programs to help offset the increasing cost of doing business or how land would be dealt with.

However, he says, that's changed in recent years.

"There is a growing sentiment that there is a real importance of having food produced locally, so that you know where your food is coming from," he says.