Many Québec dairy farms are small family operations. While Ferme Drapeau et Bélanger is a family operation, it boasts 1,150 head herd and 625 milking cows. In addition to the dairy herd, the family farms 3,850 acres of corn and soybeans. The Drapeau family doesn’t mind sharing the secret to their success: constant growth and improvement.
Ferme Drapeau et Bélanger’s beginnings
In 1956, Marcel Drapeau purchased a farm with seven cows in Sainte-Françoise, about halfway between Montréal and Québec City. By the early 1980s, the farm had grown to more than 100 cows, already leaping ahead of most dairy farms at that time. Today, three generations of Drapeaus work together to manage the operation, looking for opportunities to improve every day.
Farming is a family affair
Today, Marcel is still active on the farm, along with his son Michel and his wife Sylvie, who manage the fields and the office. And their son Dominic manages the herd, and his wife Célia Neault manages the finances.
As the operation has grown over the years, the Drapeaus have benefited from adding additional skills like Neault’s. “She’s very good at managing employees, analyzing data and using various management tools,” says Dominic. “Her contribution has allowed the company to continue to grow.”
Dominic Drapeau and Célia Neault of Ferme Drapeau et Bélanger won Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmer’s Award in 2016
Technology choices made with an eye to improvement
The Drapeaus choose technology and farming strategies based on research, even trips to California and New Zealand to see how other farms operate. They installed a 36-head rotary milking parlour in their 120 x 600 ft. free-stall barn, and they milk on a set schedule three times each day.
“We chose a milking parlour because every day the cows are physically seen and handled by a person who can detect any problems that may occur,” says Dominic. “Using a sorting barrier, we put cows aside in a palpation area for vaccination or insemination without needing to run after them. We have everything we need within a radius of 100 feet.”
“We are better now than we were yesterday and we will be better tomorrow than we are today.”
- Dominic Drapeau
Other technologies on the Drapeau’s farm include genomic testing, motion detectors for reproduction, smart scales, and temperature probes. With their technology investment and their focus on continuous improvement, the Drapeaus have increased milk production from 8,295 kg in 2007 to 11,724 kg last year.
They also use satellite navigation to aid planning for leveling, drainage, seeding, fertilizing, and spraying. As a result, the Drapeau farm typically sees annual improvement in crop yields as well.
Strategies focused on the future
Today, the Drapeau family regularly analyzes data to inform their decision-making. These strategies have grown their farm to the point where they have hired a full-time herd manager, and have a veterinarian who spends a day on the farm every week. More than 20 other people work on the farm, including several agricultural specialists.
In their long-term plan, the Drapeaus intend to build another barn, triple their herd, and purchase another 26-head milking parlour. In all these decisions, they are thinking about how to build an enterprise they will be able to pass on to Dominic and Célia’s children one day.
“The way I see it, I’m only passing through,” Dominic says. “We are better now than we were yesterday and we will be better tomorrow than we are today.”