By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Mixed farming seemed to have disappeared from the farm landscape but enterprising young farmers are recreating this farming ideal with a new twist.
Maitland Acres near Auburn is such a farm. Operated by Bryon and Jessica Beyersbergen, the couple is using digital technology and social media to make mixed farming profitable with direct sales of custom cut meats. They raise cattle, pigs and chickens in an old bank barn where Bryon used to help his grandfather.
“I looked after my grandfather’s livestock for the last 10 years. He still told everyone he ran the farm but I did all the work,” laughs Bryon.
From childhood days baling hay to cropping the fields, Bryon often travelled down Donnybrook Line from the couple’s own home down the road. Bryon runs a farm repair business specializing in starters and alternators. Jessica is a bookkeeper for local farmers. Together, they raise three children under five — Bryella, Ethan and Calen. Having rented for years, they were thrilled and surprised when Bryon’s grandmother, Lila McClinchey, opened the discussion about purchasing the 150-acre property in 2021. Her only stipulation was to be allowed to live in the farmhouse as long as she was healthy.
The farm contains a plethora of lean-tos, add-ons and sheds around the old bank barn along with a pig barn that needs some renovation. That’s where the pigs will be housed next. Right now, all the animals are housed in pens deep in the belly of the bank barn, where old concrete partitions or wooden gates make ideal pen sizes for the animals. Curious Jerseys mingle with Holsteins and Hereford and Angus-cross cattle in the beef section The Jerseys are sourced from Jessica’s parents(Glen and Sheila Burgess) dairy farm. Currently, 33 head of cattle are being fattened for clients.
“We like the Jerseys the most,” confesses Jessica. “They have smaller cuts but the meat has better fat and better taste.”
The pigs are in concrete pens bedded with straw and are curious and friendly. Nearby, two recycled water troughs serve as heated starter pens for meat chickens. Finally, cages in the back house layers and another pen is awaiting turkeys. The animals in this section are all fed by pail and cleaned out by fork and wheelbarrow so there is some good old-fashioned labour required on the farm.
“I don’t mind,” says Byron, though he is thankful the cattle pens can be cleaned out with a loader tractor. “I grew up spending summer baling small squares of hay and straw.” He wants to farm full-time and to him, this place is very much home. He helped his grandfather (now deceased) on the farm his whole life, planting the crops and taking care of animals on the farm.
Bryon is also grateful for the opportunity to farm, marry and raise a family after battling a brain tumour in 2019. Regular checkups are a part of his life.
Bryon’s strengths lie in animal rearing and cropping while Jessica is skilled at marketing and business. She takes care of online orders and booking butchering space with time slots right into 2024 at Harriston Packers and Country Poultry.
The cattle are fed corn, grain and hay grown on the farm. They aren't labeled grass fed or corn fed, because they get it all. “It’s the best of both worlds,” says Bryon. Antibiotics are used to treat sick cattle and as the couple follow withdrawal dates, the meat is hormone and antibiotic free. The farming community recognizes that withdrawal dates means all meat and dairy products are antibiotic free but many customers are still learning how farmers farm and what all the labels mean.
It’s not a business that can support the family of five yet but Jessica and Bryon very much believe in their plan for a sustainable business in the near future. They have plans to create a farm-store near the road, with cattle pastured around it. Cattle on pasture are becoming increasingly rare and she plans to use the visual to help market their products. They are currently working on rezoning before they can apply for a building permit.
Eventually, they want to live on the farm and move Bryon’s farm repair business to the location as well.
Looking way ahead into the future, the couple hope to build a business that can be transferred to the next generation. Family farming is in their blood and they fully intend to combine hard work and dreams so that their three children, all under five years of age, will one day have the opportunity to farm as well. ◊