Enniskillen Jerseys was a feature article in our 2020 Fall Special and was written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
Respect the past; invent the future! That could be a tag line for the Sargent family of Enniskillen Jerseys located in Enniskillen, Ontario. Proud of their Irish immigrant and farming roots, Tim & Sharyn Sargent and their kids are the 3rd & 4th generation breeding Jersey cattle, and have robust plans for the future to continue prospering with the little brown cows.
Tim’s grandfather, Bruce Sargent Sr., established a farm in Peterborough County along the Otonabee River. In time, the farm was passed to his son Carl, Tim’s father, and the family kept developing the Springville Jersey herd before eventually dispersing in 1989 when Carl retired.
Tim and Sharyn met when they were both in 4-H. She grew up on a Holstein farm and was a force in the local showmanship classes. “I used to win showmanship in the East Central. He kept asking me to help him show Jerseys. I’d look up at the end of the classes and this tall Jersey guy was watching – I was short and made the Jerseys look big!” laughs Sharyn. From the 4-H show ring to Junior Farmer dances, she kept helping him show and do chores while attending Ryerson for her nursing degree. She graduated in 1988, and they were married that same year.
In 1990, a year after the Springville Dispersal, Tim was approached by Frank Stenger of Enniskillen, who asked them to come help with the Enniskillen herd, and establish a partnership to take over the farm. (Frank’s family had immigrated from Germany and established their Jersey herd in 1939.)
“It was April 1st 1990 – April Fools Day! – when Frank reached out to us,” remembers Tim. “We thought, ‘Go big or go home’ and we packed up and moved about a half hour southwest to Enniskillen.” The couple established the partnership with Frank, and worked alongside him for a decade before purchasing the farm in 2000. Frank Stenger, who passed away in April 2020, was an incomparable mentor. He judged cattle in many countries internationally, and was a major Canadian exporter of Jerseys to locations around the globe, all the while breeding and developing the renowned Enniskillen herd.
Over the years, the milking herd has grown in size from 40 cows to the current 60 head as the Sargents concentrated on building equity in the cows and paying down the farm mortgage. They own 220 acres and rent an additional 170 acres. From early May to late October, all heifers and dry cows graze on rolling pasture land. The milk cows are also pastured and supplemented with component fed corn silage, baleage, and grain ration, while averaging 55 lbs of 5.0% 3.8%p milk per day. “We’ve really focused on making good crops and good cows – every extra penny has gone back into the farm for that purpose,” notes Tim. “We’ve bred for type and fed for production, as the saying goes.”
Another saying says ‘the proof is in the pudding’ and that certainly is the case when you start talking type in the Enniskillen herd. A quick at the classification report tells a big part of the story: 25 EX, 39 VG, 8 GP cows currently. The eight cows over 10 years of age in the herd break down into two 95-point cows, three 94-point cows, and three 93-point cows! Previous herd members have also carried those rare high scores, including the homebred Enniskillen Respect Suzy EX-95-3E 3* who did a fair bit of winning in the show ring, was twice nominated All-Canadian, and left seven VG & EX daughters including Enniskillen Vincent Suzy II-ET, the most recent EX-95 scored cow in the herd. Bridon Jade’s Procure SUP-EX-96-4E 2*, nominated All-Canadian Lifetime Components Cow in 2017 is the dam of Enniskillen Olympian EX-94, a Master C Tops who has almost 50 daughters scored at 94% GP or better.
Much of the herd traces back to two cows that Tim & Sharyn brought with them to Enniskillen: Springville Doris Ellen 23X SUP-EX-92 and Springville M M Suzy 7S SUP-EX-2E – these two are the foundations of the logically named Ellen and Suzy families that melded into the existing families at Enniskillen. Another family with plenty of high-scoring cows and lots of show winners is the well-known Mamie family that hails back to Enniskillen Surville Mamie SUP-EX-2E 4*. The Sargents are thoughtful about their matings and enjoy the process of weaving these powerful cow families together throughout the pedigrees. Enniskillen Engineer, a popular Premier son at ST Genetics, is out of Enniskillen BV Suzy, an EX-93-3E 2* Bridon Vincent daughter of Enniskillen Respect Suzy, who is sired by Enniskillen Respect, a Master C Tops son of Enniskillen Surville Mamie, thus combining the Suzys and the Mamies in his pedigree. His six closest Enniskillen dams total 20 brood cow stars, and the Sargents are just starting to calve in his daughters with some exciting results.
Breeding for the proper type means the herd displays plenty of longevity as is evidenced by the number of star brood cows and Superior Excellent cows that have called Enniskillen home. They’ve bred 50 cows that have garnered at least one brood cow star (in Canada, a cow has to have three offspring before they can get their first star). After digging back into some herd statistics that surveyed all classifications since 1960, Enniskillen has bred 422 VG cows, 196 EX cows, and 66 SUP EX cows. A cow has to be scored out as Excellent after she is ten years old to attain the Superior Excellent moniker, so it’s a fantastic indicator of cows that score high and keep that type as they age, and is a testament to the Enniskillen motto: The herd that stood the test of time.
With that kind of longevity, it’s natural that the Sargents have surplus cattle to merchandise. “I think this year we will have about 26 1st calvers and we will probably sell about half of them. The barn is full right now and we are switching about 15 head currently. We flush about 6-8 cows during the winter and implant most of those embryos in our heifers. We don’t sell a lot of embryos, but about 20% of our income comes from sales of our genetics through live cattle,” says Tim.
When Tim was President of Jersey Canada a couple years ago, they helped put on the Kawartha Pot of Gold Sale in conjunction with the AGM that was being held in the area in March 2018. They consigned about 10 lots to the 50-head sale and were happy with how the sale went – averaging $3,000. Tim mentions they would consider another live sale in the future, especially considering the number of embryos implanted from their good cows that they are currently flushing.
One of their main merchandising platforms is taking a show string to a number of All-Canadian qualifying shows every year including the Royal Winter Fair, which has led to more than 15 All-Canadian nominations over the past decade. Enniskillen Tops Grove SUP-EX 95-5E 4* was a seven-time All-Canadian nominee with Sharyn on the halter in the late 1990s, and was named the Jersey Canada Cow of the Year in 2014. Descendants of the Mamie and Suzy families in the US have also done very well in the All-American Jersey Contest and at the All-American Jersey Show in the last number of years.
This time-tested breeding philosophy and marketing program fits perfectly with the family’s perspective on dairying with purebred cattle. “There is a great amount of pride taken as you walk to the barn in the morning, knowing you have some wonderful well-bred ladies waiting to greet you. I totally appreciate the commercial side of milk production, but our original passion is in registration and classification. With the amount of social media contact we receive, I know there will always be a sound market for well-bred cattle that have style and longevity,” enthuses Tim.
Tim & Sharyn have five kids – Stephanye (30), Bruce (29), Daniel (25), Melyssa (22), and Benjamin (20). Tim along with Daniel, Melyssa, and Benjamin are the main labor force on the farm. Tim and Ben care for the cows; Melyssa looks after calf raising; and Daniel is in charge of the cropping and manages the farm’s Facebook page. Sharyn and a weekend student fill in wherever more help is needed. Stephanye is an Optometrist living and working about 15 minutes from the farm. Bruce owns Farm Boy Productions which promotes Agriculture and Ag businesses with video productions and advertising on social media platforms.The whole family shares a keen interest in the farm, and are able to crossover and help the other siblings when necessary.
The kids have also enjoyed their days in 4-H, and share the Sargent family enthusiasm for the showring. Benjamin won the Intermediate Showmanship class at the Royal in 2017, and had several wins in East Central for conformation and showmanship. Melyssa also won EastGen several times as well as at East Central Summer Show and 4-H shows. Bruce and Stephynie both had winning calves at the TD 4-H Classic in 2002 & 2003.
With three of their kids wanting to be part of the operation, the Sargents knew they would have to find a way to expand the income streams to the farm. About four years ago the family started considering the idea of processing their own milk to make on-farm dairy products, namely milk, butter, and cheese. Three years ago, they got really serious about making it happen – another ‘go big or go home’ decision for the family. Tim was on the Jersey Canada Board of Directors at the time, and had the opportunity to visit a good number of Jersey breeders that were making their own products. “It just seemed like a good fit,” explains Tim. “People stop by our fence all the time to reach over and pet the cows, then they come in the driveway and want to buy the milk. There’s been phenomenal interest from the local population.”
Tim gives lots of credit to some of those other producers in giving them guidance and inspiration. “John Miller of Miller’s Dairy at Creemore, Ontario bottles fantastic milk and makes wonderful ice cream from his Jalon Jersey herd. We’re also fortunate to be in the neighborhood of Kawartha Dairy, which makes some of the best ice cream in Canada. We didn’t think we could compete with their product, so we passed on making ice cream and we’re going to focus on milk, butter, and some soft cheeses like curds. You can make soft cheeses without buying cheese quota, so that makes financial sense for us right now. We’re excited to work on the expansion of our dream!”
The plan is for the Sargent Family Dairy & Creamery to open in early 2021. They’ve sourced a bottling machine from Wisconsin and the on-farm processing facility is currently under construction. There will be a smaller storefront space to sell the products while the majority of the building will be dedicated to milk bottling and butter & cheese production. While everyone at Enniskillen Jerseys will be involved in the venture, Melyssa specifically will be in charge of the production line with help from Sharyn.
Promotion of the creamery is already underway on social media with an emphasis on the family history with the farm, cow care, and the superior taste of traditional dairy products. Their website extols the virtues of Jersey milk and features beautiful photos of the cows, farm, and family.
In a way, the website sums up the Sargent family journey perfectly – honoring the past and the generations of humans and cows that have gone before, while venturing into new territory and new avenues for success.