The Right Tools, Teamwork Help Beginning Farmers Get Their Start
First-generation farmers, Bryan Bonney and Dana Cadman of Tillsonburg, Ontario, were drawn to the cattle business by a love of the farming lifestyle and a desire to raise their children in a rural setting. They received their first shipment of cattle on their farm, known simply as Norfolk Cattle, in the early fall of 2013.
The couple took a gradual approach getting started and meticulously chose the cattle they purchased concentrating on sourcing the best, lowest maintenance cows possible for their breeding program.
"We decided just to start slow and try to get a feel for the industry with some commercial cows, instead of coming in at first with too many purebreds," says Bonney.
In a little less than two years, Bonney and Cadman have been able to grow the Norfolk herd to approximately 50 commercial cows, as well as a small purebred Limousin herd of a dozen cows and a few bulls. Their commercial program focuses on "Lim-Flex" genetics which incorporate a combination of Limousin and Angus breeding to produce well-muscled, efficient, and adaptable cattle. Calves are marketed both privately and at auction around eight to nine months of age.
While still rather new to the beef cattle scene, Bonney's background in horses, excavation, and machinery and Cadman's business and accounting savvy have given the pair a slight advantage coming into the industry. Playing off these strengths has helped them to make a successful go of what might otherwise be a risky venture.
"It is really tricky to be first generation and have no background with beef cattle," says Bonney about getting started. "We found that learning quick is an important thing."
To help cut start-up costs, Cadman used her keen business sense to look into cost-share programs available to beginning farmers in the province. She and Bonney were able to take advantage of Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association's (OSCIA) Growing Forward 2 (GF2) program for producers. In addition, the presence of American badgers, bald eagles, and bobolinks on their property made their farm eligible to apply for OSCIA's Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program grants.
These two provincial cost-share programs allowed Norfolk Cattle to cover a significant portion of the installation and material costs for fencing across their property. Bonney and Cadman chose five-strand Gallagher high-tensile wire fencing to enclose the perimeter and seven main paddocks of their 75-acres of pastures. They further downsized the area into smaller paddocks using Gallagher's turbo wire temporary fencing as part of the farm's rotational grazing system.
Sandy soil requires Bonney to carefully manage his cattle's grazing and at times, such as drought, utilize a sacrifice area to ensure pasture health.
"We try to keep stock density high and move cows a minimum of once a day and if we have more time, multiple times a day," says Bonney. "We have really seen a big improvement in our pasture that way."
As well as fencing, the GF2 program covered partial costs to place automatic waterers throughout Bonney and Cadman's pastures.
"When we first started we took possession of maybe a dozen cattle and were trying to water them by taking water out to a stock tank every day," says Bonney. "That got old really fast so we decided on the long term every pasture should have its own automatic waterer."
Bonney's prior experience in excavation allowed him to personally install the nine Miraco Automatic Waterers further saving the fledgling operation some cash. While he notes it was initially a lot of work to install the waterers, the benefits have been well worth it and he and Cadman are pleased with the results.
Having water available readily in every pasture has helped Norfolk Cattle to more effectively utilize the forage in their pastures. Cattle only travel a max of 1000 feet to get to water. This means more time grazing and less time walking to water, Bonney notes, which in turn translates to better animal performance, improved forage utilization, and more uniform grazing.
While not every beginning farmer may find their way into the cattle industry quite like Norfolk Cattle did, hard work, patience, and ingenuity will always be necessary. With the help of quality tools from Gallagher, sound management, a lot of teamwork, and due diligence, Bonney and Cadman have proven themselves to be a formidable farm-building team.
Follow Bryan Bonney and Dana Cadman Journey on Twitter @Canadian Bones
Authored by Jesse Bussard a agricultural writer based in Bozeman, Montana.