Jerseys, Johne’s, log houses, and mental wellness — a LIVE! with Ethan Wallace

Photo credit: Meaghan Thornhill, 2014

If you were going to build a new dairy barn, would you choose a parlour or robots? What about Jerseys vs. Holsteins? Ethan Wallace, of Seaforth, Ont., switched to robots for milking his Jersey herd seven years ago, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

On this edition of RealAg LIVE!, Wallace joins occasional host Kara Oosterhuis to talk about feeding Jerseys, dealing with Johne’s, the importance of farm safety, and a much-needed talk about mental wellness on the farm.

Don’t miss the LIVE! weekdays at 1 pm M/3 pm E on your favourite social media platform!


  • Family history! Ethan and Joanna farm near Seaforth, Ont. The farm was his great-grandparent’s. As of December 31, he and Joanna will be full owners (they took over management 5 years ago)
  • OK, but why Jerseys? The barn his parents farmed in was an older tie stall, and Holsteins were getting so huge. His mum, Rowena, bought a Jersey in 1998 and the cow just fit in so much better — Ethan’s parents then bought an entire herd, sold the Holsteins and went all-in on Jerseys
  • In 2001, built a new barn, a free stall with a parlour
  • Jerseys meant building a 25 per cent smaller barn and being able to keep a smaller land base
  • Jerseys don’t have the same body capacity so you need more concentrated energy, so you do have to feed them differently
  • What about that log house? It was built in the 1830s/40s as the original homestead, and was fully restored a few decades ago
  • Back to cows. Johne’s disease was bought in with the Jersey herd. Because of this, all animals are tested before they calve. There is a major protocol in place to decrease the risk of transmission (which is nearly entirely at birth)
  • It’s a chronic wasting disease of cattle. Not a food risk.
  • Infection happens in the newborn stage, so cows that test positive are calved out in a separate area from the rest of the herd. They have brought the incidence of the disease in the herd to about 10 per cent, down from 40 per cent or more at the beginning
  • There is more testing happening in the dairy herd in general, and it is getting better, but it’s still a big issue for the dairy industry (being Johne’s positive can limit breeding stock sales)
  • What are the barriers to buying more land in your area? Dollars. So. Many. Dollars. Needed. Good land goes for as much as $23,000 an acre
  • On a relatively small base (about 300 acres) Wallace use double crops, fall rye, cover crop/fall forage, to feed the Jerseys. Grow some grain too.
  • In 2013, moved to robots. “Jerseys are OCD,” he says, and like consistency, so having other people milking was problematic, as was finding consistent help was getting challenging too.
  • The robots have been a great addition to the farm. The Jerseys love it!
  • What about farm safety? He had a quad accident last year, with a compound fracture in his leg that laid him up for six months. It was something he’d done so many times (driving the quad to check cows) but we can’t be complacent. And it could have been so much worse. Grateful for still being here.
  • Mental health matters. We get stuck in our own head, and sometimes that’s not a bad place to be stuck. We are isolated, and expected to just “man up” and everything will be fine. It’s not always fine. Medication can help, just like you’d take medication for diabetes or some other disease.
  • Talk more, accept help, just because someone seems happy or funny doesn’t mean they are OK.

If you or someone you know requires assistance with their mental health, the national mental health line can be accessed by dialing 211. Crisis Services Canada can be accessed by calling 1-833-456-4566 or texting 45645. Additional resources can be found at

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