by Emily Leeson
Elizabeth Heighton isn’t resting on her laurels despite a number of accomplishments at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto this past year for herself and Cornerstone Emma, the Charolais heifer she shows. They placed in the semifinals in intermediate showmanship, achieved second in their heat in the senior Charolais class, and made it into the champion Charolais drive.
One recent wintry Saturday morning, with yet another storm warning in the forecast for Nova Scotia, Heighton was just finishing up in the barn working with her heifer and getting started on the training for what she hopes will be another successful year in the show ring.
Although she didn’t grow up on a farm, the high school senior said that 4-H runs in the family. Her mother participated as a youngster and Heighton joined as soon as she could at age seven. Heighton, who’s a member of the River John 4-H Club, has tried just about everything the organization has to offer during the past 11 years. She’s been involved in projects ranging from photography and fisheries to rabbit and market lamb. For the last few years she’s been involved with the beef project, but she only just started working with Charolais about a year and a half ago. That’s when she met Ken Langille.
“He took me under his wing,” she said. While Heighton hails from River John in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County, the heifer Emma lives at Golden Brook Farms in Malagash, Cumberland County, where she is part of Langille’s growing purebred Charolais herd. The drive takes around a half-hour but it’s one Heighton diligently makes about twice a week.
Heighton said that while some find Charolais difficult, she’s been nothing but impressed. “They are just an overall calm animal,” she said. “They have great personalities.”
NOT SLOWING DOWN
Her fondness for the breed is something she shares with Langille. This year is Langille’s 50th anniversary on his farm. Although he claimed some years ago that he was going to start to slow down, that hasn’t exactly happened yet.
“When I turned 65, I said, ‘I’m going to downsize. Just keep a few,’” he said. “Well, I did do that with my commercial herd but then I got the brainstorm to go to the (Eastern National Charolais Sale) in Quebec and buy a few purebreds, just to sell a few purebreds as breeding stock. Now I’m back up to 70 head again.”
So much for the retirement plans. “My wife said the only thing that has changed is the price of the cows,” said Langille with a laugh.
The purebred herd has been growing and so has the demand. Langille has been topping sales, and he said people are now looking for his cattle. “I brought in a lot of different genetics that weren’t in the Maritimes,” he said. “So I think that’s helping a lot. I’ve always said that if you had something everybody else had, you couldn’t expect to get a good price for it because everybody else has it. But if you have something different, it makes a difference in the sale. We’re starting to get our name out there.”
In fact, getting his name out there was partly why he got involved with the local 4-H club in the first place.
“I wanted to showcase the purebreds, get someone to show them, and get a little better known out there in the beef world,” said Langille. And Elizabeth and Emma certainly achieved that on the exhibition trail last year.
“We did Oxford, Pictou, Truro, Windsor, and Bridgewater last year and she excelled every place she went with Emma,” Langille said of Heighton. “Elizabeth is excellent. She puts her heart and soul into showing. She’s really dedicated.”
FIRST TIME AT ROYAL
Heighton knew the show season was going well, but even still it was a thrill to be chosen for the team headed to the Royal. Heighton and Emma were the first selected for the Nova Scotia team. “It was quite exciting,” said Heighton.
It was her first trip to Toronto and her first time seeing a fair of that size first-hand. Everything, right down to her experience in the ring, was an eye-opening opportunity. “It was really interesting to see how the judge compared to how we get judged around here,” she said.
During the championship drive, the judge picked animals that were best paired. In the end, the top two looked almost identical, said Heighton, “I’ve never seen a judge do it, but he said that’s what he does in his champion rounds. They almost looked like a cow and its calf, but they had no relation.”
However, the Langilles didn’t travel to Toronto and Heighton missed them. A bad cold and a busy season kept Ken and his wife Bonnie from making it to the Royal. Even under perfect circumstances, leaving the farm isn’t easy for them.
“When we’re absent from the farm, nothing much gets done except the grass mowed,” said Langille. Without any family of their own – although they’ve taken to calling Heighton their granddaughter – they haven’t got anyone to take over while they’re away. The trip just wasn’t feasible this year.
“We took in every show that she went to, so she said it just wasn’t the same being there at the Royal without us,” said Langille.
TRAINING A NEW HEIFER
Heighton is hoping that this year she’ll have another chance at the Royal and this time she’s intent on getting Ken and Bonnie to tag along. “I really want him to see the experience,” she said. “The quality of the cattle out there are amazing. He said if I make it next year, he’ll come.”
And signs are already pointing to that chance being a genuine possibility. Although Emma was due to calf in late January, Heighton has a new Charolais heifer to work with. After poring over catalogues, she and Langille picked one they both think has it in her to win.
Although Langille doesn’t like to brag about his abilities to pick a winner, he knew what he was looking for. “I look for, first of all, some muscle, nice backlines, the smooth shoulders, a great disposition, and a performance-type of heifer that would move onto being a good productive female in the herd,” he said.
Fine’n’Dandy, a heifer from Ontario, fit the bill. Langille purchased her and had her shipped to Nova Scotia along with Emma after the Royal.
“They held her back to show at the Royal and she actually placed fourth in her junior class,” said Langille. Now that she’s home in Malagash, Heighton is spending time getting to know her and letting Fine’n’Dandy get to know her. Their time together is spent brushing, walking, a little chitchat, and just generally building up a bond.
“She came from a family who had little girls who trained her,” said Heighton. “They were very small, so for me to take the rope halter, she’s intimidated a little bit.” They still have a long winter to get comfortable. Both Langille and Heighton are hoping for another successful season.
“Elizabeth has just been a blessing to us,” said Langille.