According to Bill Van Rootselaar, naming the family business was something of a flash of inspiration.
“In the late ’70s we built some new barns and we put tin roofs on them,” Van Rootselaar said. “The sun hit them in such a way that my wife and I said, ‘Silver Top Dairies . . . why not?'”
The Van Rootselaars are the 2014 BMO Farm Family of the Year representing the MD of Willow Creek.
They are honoured Monday at the Calgary Stampede.
Immediately following World War Two, many farmers from Holland came to Canada in search of opportunity.
Bart Van Rootselaar was one of these immigrants and he not only found work, but he found Effie, another Dutch newcomer who would become his wife.
In the early years, according to Bill, his parents hoed the sugar beet fields near Picture Butte and also worked for a farmer east of Granum.
“Work was a thing they knew how to do,” Van Rootselaar said.
In 1952, the Van Rootselaars bought land near Fort Macleod and began farming for themselves.
Back then, Bill said, the farm was truly a mixed operation: crops, some beef cattle, some dairy cattle, pigs and chickens.
“We learned a little about everything,” he recalled.
As a young man, Bill Van Rootselaar worked off the family farm installing equipment at dairy farms in the Fraser Valley of B.C., where he met his wife Rita, and southern Alberta.
“I had the opportunity to travel to a lot of different farms and was able to see farms at various stages of development,” Van Rootselaar said. “I picked up fairly quickly that dairy was a very stable income job.”
In 1977, Bill and Rita leased some land from Bill’s parents and formed their dairy herd.
By the end of the 1980s, Bill and Rita had bought out the senior Van Rootselaars and had built a new dairy barn as well as a feed mill.
Between the 1980s and 2000s they acquired enough farm land to self-sustain their entire operation. In 2013, they expanded again — building a state-of-the-art facility incorporating the most up-to-date thinking in animal care and efficiency.
“We worked really hard to get the best technology that would stand up for a long period of time,” Bill said. “Our intention was to build for the long term.”
The farm’s internal rotary milking system is a good example.
According to Crystal Olive, Bill and Rita’s daughter who looks after the farm books and oversees the 450 head dairy operation, “Before, it took us eight hours to milk cows twice a day. Now we’re looking at about four.”
The rotating platform milks 36 animals at a time.
Bill and Rita’s son Jamie is the operation’s builder and he also maintains the farm’s increasingly sophisticated equipment.
Silver Top Dairies grows all the feed for its animals, producing barley, wheat, corn and a variety of grasses.
“The key thing is to test ingredients and then give the right mix to the right animals,” Bill said. “Animals like to be fed the same good feed every day just like they need to be milked at the same time every day.”
Son Robert manages this part of the operation, along with their new fiber extraction machine, flushing operation, and robotic feed pusher in the new dairy.
“You never quit learning,” Bill Van Rootselaar said. “We’re always trying to find new ways to do things a little bit better.”
“I love it all. Every year you start fresh. It’s a continuum of new life.”