by George Fullerton
Don and Geraldine Bettle, along with Austin Richard who is mentored by the Bettles, were named New Brunswick’s cattle producers of the year at the Maritime Beef Conference in Moncton in mid-March. The Bettle family’s Point Farm is on the outskirts of Hampton, N.B.
Beef cattle have been part of the Bettle family’s operation since Don and Geraldine bought the farm from Don’s parents in 1976. The Bettles had a dairy operation from the 1970s until 2005 when Don decided his “knees couldn’t take it anymore.”
Early on, they worked with Simmental beef cattle, but were soon attracted to the Angus breed, which prevails on the farm today. The Bettles have both Black Angus and Red Angus, but confess a preference for the black variety. They currently have around 60 cows and 16 replacement heifers ready to breed this summer.
The herd winters on pasture land adjacent to the Bettle home and barns, calving in March and April. The herd is split into two groups in the summer, with one group remaining on the home pastures and the second group moved to a property about 10 kilometres away in Salt Springs.
The Bettles are expanding pastures on their home farm by clearing woodland. “I think cows are a great method to bring cleared land into production,” said Don Bettle. “I clear trees and bulldoze stumps and rocks, then put cows in for winter and feed them some dry hay (as well as balage), and keep moving the bale feeder. The hay sheds seeds and is tramped into the ground and gets some manure fertilizer.”
The home farm pasture totals 60 acres and is divided to allow rotational grazing. The Salt Spring pasture is 100 acres and will be divided into six paddocks when the cattle go on the grass this year.
Through calving season, Bettle checks the cattle a number of times every day and lends birthing assistance if required. He will move a cow requiring extra attention into the barn.
Bettle’s postnatal protocol includes ear-tagging and castrating the male calves with elastic bands. “My cows are continually provided selenium supplement included in their mineral, so we do not inject newborn calves,” said Bettle.
Bettle built a “postnatal pen” because he “had a bad experience with an irate cow who did not like me fooling around with its newborn calf.” After he picked himself up from the bruising the cow gave him, he assembled four steel gates into a rectangle and connected the pen to his front-end loader.
“Now when I want to work with a newborn calf, I drive up and drop the cage over the calf,” said Bettle. “The cow may try to get the calf to move away, but after a short walk the calf tires and lays down, and I drop the cage over it and get to work. The cow might not like it much, but I am safe and I can get my work done quickly and move the cage away and let the cow get back to mothering. Then we are all happy.”
Bettle has also invested in a tub and chute handling system, which is set up next to the barn, pointing out that it makes handling and inoculation chores efficient and safe for both the animals and the producer. “I bought the system over a few years,” said Bettle, adding that he had support from the Growing Forward program.
The Bettles harvest forage on 200 acres, a good deal of which is intervale land. They own some of the land and rent the rest. They typically get two cuts of “triple-mix” forage, which is baled, hauled to the home farmyard, and tube-wrapped. They put up around 1,100 bales of four-foot balage, and 300-400 five-foot bales of dry hay.
IMPORTANCE OF GOOD GENETICS
In addition to selecting replacement heifers from his best cows, Bettle has also purchased Angus herds, including a herd owned by the late Ken Lisson of Apohaqui, N.B., and heifers owned by the late Bill Pryor of Centreville, N.B.
“Bill Pyror was a wise cattleman and had very good Angus cattle,” said Bettle. “He advised me once never to buy a bull that was born in a barn. He said, ‘Buy a bull that was born outdoors and then at least you know he had at least the sense to stand up and live.’”
In the past, the Bettles sourced a good deal of their bull genetics from regional Angus herds, notably from the Higgins family in Quispamsis, N.B. In recent years, they’ve obtained bulls from Don Currie’s Glen Islay herd in Nottawa, Ont.
“Overall, I have been well satisfied with Angus genetics from local herds, but I have some lines with a lot of those local genetics and I want to bring in some new blood,” said Bettle.
Bettle promotes the philosophy that producers should have “working cattle,” with the cow doing the work. He said the producer only has to ensure the cow has what she needs to raise a healthy and productive calf that will bring a respectable price.
Bettle’s cows and calves get a five-way Bovi-Shield Gold vaccination and Ivomec at weaning time. Weaning is handled by separating the calves from their mothers and exposing them to water bowls and dry hay for a number of days. He said that gets the calves accustomed to a new feeding and watering pattern and prepares them for moving into a background or feedlot situation.
In recent years, Bettle has marketed his feeders through the livestock auction in St. Isidore, Que., with consistently good results. He went to the sale with the first load to understand how it operates. The feeder calves are grouped by colour and weight in the sale ring.
MENTORING THE NEXT GENERATION
The Bettles also recently invested in a sheep flock, sharing management responsibilities with grandsons Hudson and Elliot.
Bettle is quick to add that Hudson has also become his number one tube-wrapper operator. “Hudson pays very close attention to the plastic supply and when a roll runs out, he shuts down immediately and helps get the next roll on,” said Bettle. “I have had several adults operate the wrapper and they have not been aware that the plastic wrap is not applying correctly and we end up with poorly covered bales and consequently a lot of forage waste. Hudson keeps his eyes on the machine and does a great job. He is also very conscientious about steering a nice smooth line with the wrapper.”
All the Bettle children and grandchildren keep involved in farming activity.
Bettle established a unique mentorship relationship with his young neighbour, Austin Richard. The mentorship has evolved to where Austin has acquired five cows (including three registered Angus) and is managing them within the Bettle herd.
“Austin lives near my farm in Salt Springs, and he would tag along whenever we were moving cattle, working on fencing, or cutting and moving forages,” said Bettle. “He soon learned how to operate machines and became a very capable farmhand. We eventually developed an agreement where we exchanged heifers for labour, with the cattle remaining in our herd.”
In addition to working on the farm, Austin attends beef meetings and events with Bettle, absorbing production and management knowledge.
“Austin has plans to attend university and he will have built a cattle asset which he can market to help fund his education,” said Bettle. “He is very enthusiastic about agriculture and hopes to make it his career.”
Bettle is optimistic about opportunities in the beef sector. This year’s Maritime Beef Conference had a record attendance and sustained good numbers even after keynote speaker Dr. Temple Grandin completed her presentations.
“I was encouraged to see a good number of youth attending the conference,” said Bettle. “There are a lot of young people looking to get into beef farming. In the Maritimes, we have great cattle, and we can grow grass and produce top-quality beef. I expect to see our regional herd expand substantially in the future.”