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Text: Jane MacDonald. "Straitside Holsteins: Time to Come Home". Atlantic Holstein News Vol 10. No 5. Atlantic Holstein News Inc. August, 1997. 

Everyone has heard of the Irving dynasty. The Holstein business has its own version and they're not too distantly related!

Our Irvings are Keith, Joan and Kara and their herd Straitside Holsteins, recipients of the Master Breeder shield in 1991.

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They live beside the unique village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Always known for its Windsor Salt, Pugwash, with its picture perfect harbor, used to be a quiet little town. Now it is the heas office of the "Seagull" empire, the pewter company that employs some 300 people and has revitalized the community. They may even have a shopping mall soon!
Keith Irving's grandfather and K.C.'s father were brothers. Keith's grandfather grew up in Buctouche, farmed and fished and cut wood in the winter. They fished the river in the fall and one fall there were no fish. Their Methodist preacher told them of a new land of milk and honey, "God's country", and he led them there. There were the Mundles, the Irvings, the McNairns and several other families who came to Pugwash area in the early 1900s.

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Keith's father Fred was born in 1899, just before the move, one of a family of a dozen children. They came to the farm at the present location, the beginning of the Gulf shore. It is on the ocean and you can see PEI in the distance. There used to be 16 farms on this road, between Pugwash and Wallace and now they're the only ones left. The Irvings' land base has grown as some of the land had been offered for sale. Most of the cottage lots, right on the shore, are sold off but there is abundant land across the road.

Fred was a horse trader, literally and the first registered Holsteins, 4 heifers, were acquired in a trade for one horse, from a big dealer named McFarlane who later went out of business (one of these was Ocean Silk D, later Junior Champion in Truro two years in a row). Fred used to buy wild horses, wild cattle, anything "he'd get 'em broke and away they'd go" said Keith. That kind of turned around when he traded for "a couple of good ones I didn't want to let go" he added. When Keith was in his early teens, his dad would sell the good ones to Arthur Dickie. Keith can remember fellows like George Mill and Bob MacNeill - they'd come to town for church and come over for a visit in the afternoon and buy a couple of heifers.

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But, when Keith was 20, his dad died. His mom, Margurita, lived with them at Straitside until she died 11 years ago, at the age of 84. Keith and his brother George ran the farm as part of the estate for several years then sold the whole herd except four old cows and a few heifers to try to settle up. Then Keith and George started over as Straitside Holsteins.

Meanwhile, in 1965, Keith and Joan were married. Keith met Joan's sister first. "She should've had you" says Joan, and, Keith adds, "then I'd be living the high life".

Joan grew up on a small farm between Tatamagouche and Wentworth. Her mother told her not to marry a farmer - Joan's mom had worked so hard on their farm she wanted a better fate for her daughter. Joan began to work at the Sunset Adult Residential Centre in Pugwash as a domestic and in 1965 took a course in occupational therapy. That year they were married.

George and Keith farmed together from 1958 until 1973. George passed away after open heart surgery, when an infection went into the valves. They worked well together - George focused on the crops and Keith worked mostly with the cows. Kara, the next generation, prefers to work with the cows, too. Actually, she has been milking cows since she was 12 years old and is quite accustomed and happy to being left alone with them. She likes to keep the registered paperwork organized, too. Dad & Darrin can go into the fields, knowing everything in the barn is under control.

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Later, Keith brought out George's widow, Helen. She lives in their old home down the road and Keith farms the land. Yearlings and bred heifers are housed down there, usually about 30-35 head. Some of the barn is loose housing, some is tie-stall, but it's all labor intensive, there's no barn cleaner!

Those early years, when Keith and George were farming together, both men worked outside jobs, as well. George was a fishermen in season and Keith worked in the salt mine from October to February for eight years.

Helen and George had three daughters. The eldest is Arlene and she lives in Dartmouth with her husband George and two daughters Nicole and Tracy. Their second daughter, Georgie, lives in Tatamagouche with her husband Dale and daughter Jaime. The youngest is Shelley, a lab technician who lives on the Gulf Shore. She and her husband Jerry Langille have two children, Candace and John. Keith has two sisters in the area, one in Tatamagouche and one in Pugwash. His other two sisters and brother live in Ontario. You can imagine there are lots of visitors in the summer!


The core of the present barn was built in 1963. It was originally 40 stalls, 20 on each side with 3 calf pens. In 1981 an extra 50 feet, more calf pens and a calving pen was added. Four years ago a piece was added on to the end of the barn to accommodate heifers weaned to 6 months, two groups in free-stalls and large doors provided for year-round access outdoors.

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All cows and heifers are pastured after 6 months of age. The cows go out behind the barn which goes right to the high tide mark and there are several fields handy for aftergrass. The close-up dry cows are right across the road, and there is another pasture, a couple miles by paved road but not a mile through their own woods when it's dry enough.

As far as 'the big picture' goes, it's a little soon to bring it completely into focus. The bottom line today, as far as feeding goes is "we're not feeding to milk, rather feeding to grow and develop. Dad worries about growing them up big and I know we have to fine tune for production." says Kara. A normal day includes 4 feedings of grain and 6 of hay. "The more times a day you feed," says Keith, "the better they grow."

In 2002 we began adding an extension onto the main dairy barn. This area is designed to house 45 heifers and dry cows with extra space for calving pens and storage. Although the heifers moved into the barn in spring 2002 it is still a work in progress. Now during the winter months the animals can be housed on the home farmand and be monitored more closely. The new barn is a 2 row free stall with alley scrapers for easy cleaning and manure handling.



email: straitside@holsteins.ca