Richards farm celebrates its 125th anniversary this summer

The continuous pursuit of better methods and new ideas has long been a trademark of the Richards family farm, which is celebrating two key anniversaries on Saturday.

After 125 years of farming in the Red Deer area the Richards family are celebrating the milestone with a family reunion on their farm just south of the city. Colin Richards

The continuous pursuit of better methods and new ideas has long been a trademark of the Richards family farm, which is celebrating two key anniversaries on Saturday.

First established by William Richards and his four children in 1884, Richards Farm is the oldest dairy farm in Western Canada and has been operated by succeeding generations of the family longer than any other in the Red Deer region, said local historian Michael Dawe.

The farm reaches its 125th anniversary this summer, while its dairy herd marks its 100th anniversary.

Fifth-generation farm operator Matt Richards said his great-great-grandfather left Wales in 1882 after the family’s land was flooded to build a reservoir for the City of Liverpool. William’s wife had died, leaving him with two sons and two daughters, including one who had already married.

The whole crew landed in Halifax and then worked westward, travelling by foot to the land where they first staked their claim in 1884.

The family settled on the side of a hill on property five km south of what is now the Red Deer landfill site.

“When they came, there was nothing surveyed. To say that they farmed from the beginning, it was just subsistence, because there was (no one) here to sell anything to, or anything like that. My (great) grandfather, J. J. Richards, he worked for I.G. Baker, who was out of Fort Benton, Mont., as a freighter. He freighted between Calgary and Edmonton.”

Once the area had been surveyed, William registered a claim on the original quarter and pre-empted the quarter directly east of it.

J.J. eventually quit his job and invested in building up a herd of Hackney horses, bred specifically for pulling carriages.

He had been showing his horses at the Calgary fair in 1909 when he first saw a display of Ayreshire cattle, owned by the Neff family of Quebec. He ordered a boxcar load of them, starting the dairy barn that continues to form the centre of the farm’s operations.

Holsteins replaced the Ayreshires in 1989, said Matt.

“The Holsteins were becoming the predominant breed. It’s easier to sell breeding stock.”

Now totalling 2,000 acres, the farm has added and sold various parcels of land over the years. But those original two quarters still remain at its centre.

While the dairy farm has been a constant over most of its 125 years, various generations of the Richards family have tried other ventures, including a herd of purebred Yorkshire hogs, said Dawe, who remembers buying Richards Farm eggs from Safeway.

These days, Matt and his family are focused on their grain fields and dairy barns, anticipating that a sixth generation of Richards will take over the operation at some point.

“It’s kind of amazing, you know, because there had to be a million different circumstances come together for that many generations to kind of follow through,” he said.

The Richards are inviting family, neighbours and friends to an open house at the farm on Saturday, from 2 to 6 p.m. To RSVP or for more information, call Matt at 403-886-4907, Colin at 403-886-5760 or Bill at 403-356-2919.

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