Stuart Lackey’s career in the cattle business started with a Hereford cow named “Gem” when he was 10 years old. She was his first 4-H calf and she left him nine heifer calves in a row. By the time the year letter “G” came around again he had another heifer calf named Gem and she looked exactly like the original.
These days, the Lackey cowherd numbers 130 and Stuart still has some descendants of the “Gem” cow line on his Almonte, Ontario farm – just 20 minutes from where he grew up on a purebred Hereford operation.
Stuart and his wife Cathy bought their home farm in 1986.
“My wife, who grew up on a dairy farm, always says I tricked her,” says Stuart, laughing. “She was never going to marry a farmer. I was a cabinet maker and suddenly we were farming.”
Cathy’s off-farm job as a registered nurse has played a huge role in the operation.
“Nothing we’ve done would have happened without her,” says Stuart. Cathy currently works in the Emergency department at the Ottawa Civic Hospital – a 40-minute commute from home.
The farm is along the Mississippi River, a tributary of the Ottawa River, in eastern Ontario and a much smaller river than its American cousin. Cows can graze part of the swampy land along the river, but in a dry year like 2016 has been in eastern Canada, calves have been going all the way down to the river and Stuart has had to put up extra electric fencing to keep them contained.
Since 1986, the couple has added to their land base, which now includes 1,200 acres of cash crop land on which they grow corn and soybeans. In addition to farming his own land, Stuart also does complete custom work on a further 400 acres as well as some custom spraying.
The demands of crop farming have meant that the cowherd had to be divided into two calving seasons – spring and fall – in order to spread out the workload. At one point, they were also calving another group in the winter but have since amalgamated the winter calving cows with the spring calving group. Right now, the split is about even, in terms of numbers. One advantage to this has been the need for fewer bulls.
“I can actually run a couple less bulls than some people because we can use the bulls twice a year.”
Stuart maintains part of his herd as a purebred Hereford operation and rents out a couple bulls to some people. His Dad started a business a long time ago of renting out bulls and at one point had 40 bulls rented out around the country.
“I don’t have the time to do the purebred bit too much,” he said. The commercial herd includes Hereford, Charolais and Angus cows. But Stuart is a staunch supporter of the Hereford breed. He likes the colour (the darker red the better) and finds them nice and quiet to work with. “They are a very well-made animal and you can breed them either black or white – whatever you want – and the calves are in demand,” he points out.
He also finds that Herefords eat a little less that some of the other breeds do. Stuart has purchased many of his Hereford females from Polled Hereford operations in Saskatchewan.
His selection criteria always include EPDs.
“If the bull does not have good EPDs, I’m not buying him,” he says. But by the same token, Stuart believes that some people have gone overboard looking for calving ease.
“The biggest thing I look for is moderate calving ease and I really want to see the weaning weight and yearling weight,” he says. Weaning weight is particularly important to Stuart because he sells all his calves shortly after they are weaned.
Replacement heifers are sourced from his own calf crop so Stuart also likes to see good milk numbers.
“If you don’t have the milk factor you’re not going to have weaning weights,” he adds.
An ideal cow, for Stuart, would be dark red with some white on her neck and pigment around her eyes.
“I want a nice, medium-sized cow; definitely with a nice square udder and smaller teat size but not too small, because if they are 1 inch long, a calf can’t get on them either so they’re almost as bad as the ones that are 8 inches long.”
The right mature cow weight for their operation is between 1,500 and 1,600 pounds, though Stuart admits that they have some Herefords that weigh a couple hundred pounds more than that.
Temperament is important. Stuart likes to be able to walk in amongst his cows. Feeding his cows stale bread ensures they always come when called.
“No matter where they are, as long as you have a white pail or white bag – even if nothing is in it – if they hear you, they are coming,” he says. The stale bread comes from a local company. The Lackeys pick it up themselves and have to remove it from the plastic wrappers.
Calves are weaned and vaccinated with live vaccine before being shipped to auction.
“That really pays at the auction barn,” says Stuart. “It’s easily worth 10 cents a pound.” Calves have been shipped to the Ontario Stockyards, which used to be in downtown Toronto and is now located an hour or so north of the big city at Cookstown. A local cattle dealer arranges trucking and takes care of all the details surrounding the sales.
This year, Stuart is considering sending his steers to a feedlot that has just started up in his area just a half hour away.
The cowherd winters in the bush and will be bedded with straw that is run through a chopper.
“We bale quite a bit of soybean straw and run it through the bedding chopper,” explains Stuart. “Soybean straw is useless without a bedding chopper.” This year, the plan it to cut some corn after combining and try that for bedding as well.
Sourcing winter feed this year has been a challenge due to the hot, dry summer experienced in the Almonte area. They will be switching to a total mixed ration (TMR) for the cows this winter and have recently purchased a used TMR Mixer.
“We are switching, this year, to a TMR for the cows just because we don’t have the hay we would like to have,” he says. “We’ll feed more corn silage than normal and will end up buying distiller’s grain. The distiller’s grain will add extra protein to the mixed ration.” Stuart is also creep feeding his calves, for the first time ever, in response to the drought conditions.
The Lackeys currently employ two part-time farm workers and hope that one of them will be able to start full-time this fall. He also trades help and some equipment with a neighbor.
“You can’t replace good neighbors, no matter where you are,” he adds.
Stuart and Cathy have two children – Patricia and Steven. Patricia and her husband have a dairy farm at Alliston and have four children. It’s a five-hour drive to Alliston from the home farm or as Stuart points out, “maybe 4 ½ hours if Cathy is driving!” Their son Steven lives in a house on one of the farms they bought near Almonte. After helping out on the farm for a few years, he is back working full-time as a car mechanic.
On September 7th, 2016, the Ontario Hereford Association presented Stuart and Cathy Lackey with the Ron and Nadine Wells Commercial Breeder of the Year award.
Well once again Rainy River District is living up to its name. We started off with a nice dry spring and it made is all feel so optimistic. We were due for a dry year. Things were good until June rolled around. We ended up with over 6” of rain in June and to date over 2” in July. Though the dairy guys struggled to make good quality 1st cut in early June they did manage to finish but there are many beef guys that have yet to make a bale of hay. Many have tried wrapping but even that is a struggle this year. We keep checking the forecast looking for the window to perhaps really make things happen but it still hasn’t appeared. Recently I seen a study released stating farmers recognize they need mental health help and I can certainly understand this. It is a struggle and hard to let it not bother you.
I read reports from the South/ East part of our province stating how critical it is for their crops to receive rainfall over the next little while and I think it is critical that our crops stop receiving rain for the next month or more. We have some great looking crops (other than barley) but they are all reaching their limits. You know it is bad when fields that are tiled are showing water stress signs.
Many ask about normal weather and truthfully we are unsure of normal any more. It seems we all have extremes and perhaps this is the new normal – but if that is the case, I will be signing up for mental health help.
Wet years are not always so great for our cattle either – grass is wet and the bug crops are excellent and there is plenty access to water. Our local Hereford Association is once again selling tickets on a $500 Beef Package and has scheduled in the Annual Guess the Weight at the Emo Fall Fair. We likely many organizations tend to have the same people working and volunteering on many boards and struggle to have enough time to spread ourselves around. We continue to support the local 4-H Association and pleased to honor the top showman and now the Hereford / Hereford Influenced carcass award. We thought it was a good idea to stress a bit more to our local 4-H members how important the carcass is. We are seeing more and more members out to view their carcasses and increase their interest in raising a top grade steer.
We continue to have interest from others in moving to the North to farm. Rainy River District has land available and at reasonable prices. The Hereford Breed still has a strong influence in the District both in purebred and commercial herds. We welcome visitors anytime and are happy to talk about all that is happening in this great part of Ontario.
Kim Jo Bliss
Ontario Hereford Association | Dave Cavanagh– Secretary Manager
200 Edenderry Line, Ennismore, K0L 1T0