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Deep Roots at Dorland Farms

Photo courtesy the Dorland Collection

Terrills, Dorlands, and Nine Generations on a Family Farm

The black and white 1858 photo is a family treasure. It shows a fine brick house under construction, workers frozen for the long exposure, standing on a wide plank girding the tall second storey. Other men pose casually on the hip roof, or lean against the wide chimney. Below, men and boys, a dog, and a team of horses wait to resume work.

This house still stands, up a maple-lined driveway bordered by a rail fence, in the country west of Wooler. Although there have been many changes over 160 years, Great-grandfather Dorland would recognize the place, and be proud. For this is “the old Dorland place,” Maple Lane Farm, home to generations of hard-working, forward-looking farmers. Today Justin Dorland, the eighth generation on the farm, his wife Jennifer and daughters Lauren, Audrina, and Juliette reside in the brick house. They are proud of the house, the farm, and the family.

The house story begins with another pioneer family, the Terrills. Many Terrills rest in the secluded cemetery behind the 1896 Wooler Friends Meeting House. The house tells their story, too. Simon Terrill, grandson of United Empire Loyalist Anthony Terrill who migrated from New York City to New Brunswick in 1783, and later to Prince Edward County, bought this fertile land from the Crown in 1837. He built the brick house 20 years later.

Bob Peister, retired history teacher and first cousin to Justin’s father Bill, is the family historian. He displays a Terrill family Bible – a lucky purchase at a farm auction. The book was brought from England in the late 1700s; it is bound in linen, its pages fragile and browning. Bob points out Anthony Terrill’s handwriting.

In 1928 two pioneer families joined hands, when Terrill daughter Mary Frances Victoria, fourth generation on the farm, married Lloyd Dorland. Lloyd had long coveted the fine farm, and purchased it from his father-in-law Clinton. Lloyd’s son Jack was hoping to attend agricultural college, but at age 16 he was told it was time to farm. And farm they did. The farm passed from Dorland father to Dorland son – Lloyd to Jack, Jack to Bill, Bill to Justin.

Great-grandfather Lloyd would be proud. There’s lots he’d recognize, lots he wouldn’t.

He would know the farm right away. The original land grant was 400 acres; over time the farm was subdivided. Over 20 years of expansion, Justin and his father have bought back property and currently farm 390 acres. Fence lines and rows of trees have been removed to create large, efficient, tile-drained fields.

Modern farming is a scientific business; Justin’s University of Guelph Bachelor of Science degree (major in Agronomy) prepared him well for the job. He had once considered a career in hockey or engineering. Fortunately, he chose to bring his smarts to farming.

The Dorlands also sustainably manage 40 acres of woodlot, logging strategically every 15 years. A few years ago, they shipped a load of cherry wood from the farm to Japan. They don’t tap their sugar maples, as the spiles scar the heart of the wood, ruining it for lumber.

Great-grandfather Dorland would understand the uncertainty of farming. This past summer’s drought had a big impact. By November, Justin and Bill had already bought five transport loads of hay. They harvested half their expected yield of corn, and two-thirds the normal output of soybeans – their two cash crops.

The barns would be a surprise to Lloyd Dorland. The iconic red gambrel-roofed barns in family photos were constructed in 1900 but burned in 2003, a huge financial and sentimental loss. A bad time, survived. Today low modern steel barns and outbuildings house livestock and equipment.

Modern milk production would astound the ancestor. He would have milked by hand, perched on a stool, his head resting against a cow’s warm flank. Since the early 1960s, increasing market regulation and technology have revolutionized the dairy industry.

In 1965, Justin’s grandfather Jack invested, “$2000 he didn’t have,” to install the modern milking system; it was featured in the trade journal Ontario Milk Producer. Dorland Farms were on the second bulk pick-up route created for the Toronto Milk Marketing Board. This innovation, added to the new free stall system for housing the cattle, put the farm well ahead of the curve.

When Justin enters the building, heads turn – 165 heads, precisely. Almost 200 black and white Doralea registered Holstein milk cows lounge about the open barn. They approach for head rubs, crane their necks to check out the visitor, or grab another mouthful of the always-available farm-blended feed mix, smelling of molasses and summer pasture.

The cows on this side of the bright, well-ventilated steel building are waiting for their turn to enter the adjoining milking parlour; a group is already ahead in line. The cows enter the parlour unit in groups of eight and file into their places. Their people sanitize teats and attach suction cups. Rich milk travels by pipeline to a 12,000-litre bulk cooler in an adjoining room. Alternate mornings, milk is picked up by refrigerated tankers and transported to processors – Saputo Foods in Trenton or Parmalat Canada in Winchester.


Milking time at Dorland Farms gives new meaning to the term family farm. In one room, Justin’s mother Arlene mixes baby food – scientifically mixed calf rations – and heads out with a trolley of bottles and pails to the farm’s 40 calves. Justin, his dad Bill, and hired man Dale hold an informal conference outside as one group of cows is being milked – a rural meeting of the board.

Milking a cow takes five to eight minutes; each cow produces 35 litres of milk per day. A metering system at each unit measures the cow’s milk production; any deviation from an animal’s seven-day average triggers scrutiny.

When the job is this big, you need a team: Justin, his mom and dad, sister Melissa, two hired men, and two part-time students. By 5 a.m., milkers are on the cows; staff on the morning shift completes milking by 7:30 a.m. The process repeats at 4 p.m.

Like Formula 1 race cars, these purebreds have telemetry. In the office adjoining the milking parlour, Justin checks herd management computer data collected on several functions. Each cow wears an electronic ear-tag, a Fitbit for cows. Justin explains the dairy industry had the technology 10 years before it hit the fitness market. The tag collects data such as activity level indicating general health; Justin receives notifications on his phone should something unusual pop up. This technology results in data-based decision-making, enabling a dairy farmer to manage more animals with fewer people.

In two domed fabric barns nearby, 64 heifers – females who haven’t yet calved – occupy free range quarters. Calves (around 200 are born each year,) either females waiting to join the herd or males destined for market, are housed in group pens or calf huts – small white PVC igloos. Dorland Farms beef is a popular attraction at the Codrington Farmers’ Market.

“No generation will see the changes my grandfather saw,” Justin observes – the evolution from farming with horses to today’s computerized dairy herd management. True, there’s lots he would find strange and new. But he would recognize the Holstein cattle, the crops, the character, and hard work that goes into farming – and the house.

The double red brick house has real presence. The main two storey, three-bay section has verandas around two sides, a hip roof, deep eaves with brackets, and a centre gable. A one-and-a-half storey wing, dated around 1880, was built to match. The main front door features side-lights and transom. The second storey is distinguished by a balcony, and glass doors with rounded fanlight, surrounded by a red and white brick arch. A matching round-headed window graces the gable of the addition.

Since Justin and his family moved into the main house in 2015, they have removed original lathe and plaster, installed just enough insulation to fit the heritage mouldings, then dry-walled. Their contractor commented that the well-built triple brick house is amazingly sound; it hasn’t moved since it was built.

Justin takes seriously his role as steward of the historic house. He is determined to maintain and restore it to original, “The way it’s meant to be.” He opens a bulging file of farm and house history photos and newspaper clippings, and displays a tiny fading photo of a doorway, now blocked, which once led into the summer kitchen.

The house has double parlours – one is the girls’ domain. Justin located the double doors to the morning room in the attic. Justin and Jennifer have maximized the impact of the deep mouldings, baseboards, door and window surrounds, and stair railings with bright white paint; walls are painted a rich deep blue. Were there time, the upstairs hall with its view over the countryside would make a great spot to dream.

An old photo shows the exterior: the veranda with the Regency style bell-cast roof, orchards, a fenced kitchen garden, massive walnut tree, and black locust trees along the fence line. Bob recalls his parents were married at Maple Lane Farm in 1928, 400 guests on the lawn, food catered from house. Justin and Jennifer have done a lot of work on the exterior in recent years. There’s more to come.

It’s true. There’s lots grandfather wouldn’t recognize at the old farm: wide open fields, modern buildings, technology. But what he would spot right away are the values of hard work, determination, and rock-steady dedication to the farm. These are values that grow as deep as the esker soil of Dorland Farms.