Stories from a fourth-generation dairy farm - DFM
On the farm

Stories from a fourth-generation dairy farm

For Alain Philippot, dairy farming runs in the family. But when it came time for him to decide whether he was ready to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, he wasn’t sure. Would he be able to run the farm as successfully as his dad, or as wisely as his grandfather? It wasn’t an easy decision for him to make, but it was a natural one that other generations in his family had to make too.

Originally from Brittany, France, Alain’s grandfather, Pépère, came to Manitoba in 1907 at the age of 19. His brother was the first to make the trip to Manitoba with the hope of owning land, which wasn’t possible for the family in France because of their Celtic heritage. Ambitious and smart with his money, Pépère, expanded the farm and bought more land. He had nine children of which Alain’s father Raymond (born in 1932) was the youngest. Alain remembers his grandfather as a sharp old man, even into his 90s. When Alain would come home for a visit from university, Pépère would share stories with him about family and farming.

When it came to stories about Alain’s father Raymond, his path was clear. He loved the farm and farming, and he didn’t like going to school. All he wanted to do was start his own farm, and this, along with Alain’s mom, reinforced his resolve to succeed as a dairy farmer. As Alain sees it, it takes teamwork to make a farm work, and his father had found the perfect partner in his mom. In fact, it was Alain’s mom who suggested they go into dairy farmingshe knew how to milk and take care of cows, too. She also knew that dairy farming was something they could succeed at together and create an income stream that they and their growing family could depend on. So, Alain’s parents signed up, paid it off in a year, and their world changed forever.

I think my father genuinely did like farming. He really enjoyed it and was a great dairy farmer who took a lot of pride in what he did.

As a young child, Alain was forever tagging along with his father around the farm, holding onto the loop of his coveralls so he could keep up. Some of Alain’s first and fondest memories on the farm were when he was playing around in the barn with his parents as they were doing chores. But when you turn eight on a dairy farm, the real work begins. For Alain, that started with feeding the calves, and then when he was older and bigger, it was time to drive the tractor.

But by the time Alain was 17, he decided the farm life was not for him. Like most teenagers, he was focused on a world of possibilities. He questioned if dairy farming was the right for choice for himwhat if he couldn’t run the farm with the same passion his father and grandfather did? Alain applied to Red River College Polytechnic to go into computer technology, but the program was full, and he had to wait a full year to reapply. In the meantime, he decided to stay home and help his dad over the winter and discovered that he really did enjoy working on the farm without school and homework weighing him down.

I was like oh you know what? I don’t hate farming, and so I decided to switch from studying computers to agriculture, because it’s not necessarily all about loving what you do, doing something with passion doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy and love it every day. It’s that you’re going to get through every day and when you enjoy solving problems like I do, that’s what gives you your passion.

Alain pivoted his education and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Diploma in Agriculture in 1985. He bought cows in 1986 when he was 21, and he bought the family farm when he was 26. After that, there was no going back. He found the work rewarding and enjoyed it even more because he got to work closely with his father. Even though they didn’t see eye to eye on some things, his father was very understanding. He would tell Alain, “…you can do whatever you want, how you want with your money…”. Having his father let him try new things was great. It showed Alain that he could run the farm successfully without endangering everything his father had worked hard for.

My father would tell me that the best time for him was when I came and bought the farm because now, he could just enjoy farming and didn’t have to worry about it… so we really did have fun. Yes, there were hard days, there were tough daysbut for 20 years, I worked very closely with both my parents, and we all really enjoyed that.

But as time passed, Alain’s father slowed down, or as he put it “he slowed down slowly.” Still, his father would come to do chores every day, no matter what, and that’s how he got the nickname ‘The Inspector’. He would show up around 3 o’clock, pull into the yard, and inspect everything that was being doneand if everyone was doing everything right. You could tell he loved being part of the farm and the family, every day and in every way.

I don’t think you could ever remove that farm out of him. It becomes part of you over time. You’ve given so much of yourself and it gives so much back to you. And in the end, weirdly enough, you become part of the farm and the farm becomes part of you… it just becomes part of your DNA and the land, the soil, the trees, the environment, the air is all tied into it.

When Alain’s father passed away, it was a huge loss for him and his family. Not only did Alain lose his father, and his children a grandfather, but he also lost a business partner, mentor, and friend. It was an incredibly difficult time for Alain because it made him question his reason to continue dairy farming. As Alain says “…your business decisions become clouded because of emotion based on you being the third or fourth generation. But is that enough reason to keep going? And your compass is no longer pointing north, so I didn’t know where to go from here.”.

Thankfully, the direction and answer Alain was looking for came from a familiar sourcehis 26-year-old son. Today, the next chapter of the Philippot family story is being written by Nicholas, who has chosen to work alongside his father on the dairy farmjust like Alain’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather proudly and successfully did before him.

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