By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario
(Uxbridge) – Sisters Patricia Taber (30), Jennifer Smith (28) and Sylvia Megens (22) got involved with their local 4-H beef club when they were each 10 years old, and have been around big bovines ever since. Cattle are, indeed, a central part of their lives, and part of a common interest that keeps them together personally as well as professionally.
Together, the three sisters are the owners and operators of Megens’ Cattle Company; it’s a small farm business consisting of approximately 15 purebred Angus and Simmental cattle raised as replacement females, and for competition in livestock shows. With sponsorship from The Regional Municipality of Durham, the three sisters and one of their prize-winning Angus show steers grace the cover of the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. The sisters are also featured in the month of January.
“We started with just two animals and focused on commercial as well as show cattle,” says Jennifer. “We’ve had a lot of luck over the years.”
The three sisters compete in over 20 spring and autumn fairs across Ontario annually. They use the time competing in smaller events, though, to hone both their handling skills and the look of their animals for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which is the largest agricultural event of the year. While many of their animals have performed very well at different times, Jennifer says the first Simmental cow ever purchased by her and her sisters has been particularly successful, winning many awards over the last four years. The steer on the front page of the calendar went on to win the prestigious Queen’s Guineas competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November of 2015, and was shown by Sylvia in the competition.
Right now, Jennifer describes Megens’ Cattle Company as more of a “hobby farm” than a full-time business venture, though that is not to say they don’t plan on developing the business further. The business originated as a small livestock farm run by their parents John and Debbie. John had emigrated from the Netherlands as a young boy and eventually became a livestock drover – a profession he shared with Debbie. After settling down on a small farm and introducing the three sisters to 4-H, Patricia says their herd evolved from a handful of market animals to a mix of purebred Simmental and Angus replacement heifers – young female cattle that have not reproduced.
“Our herd is currently a mix of bought and bred cattle,” says Patricia. “We would like to develop our own breeding program so we can have control over everything in the herd.”
Small though it may be, Megens’ Cattle Company does take up quite a bit of the sisters’ time. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full time too. Sylvia is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, and currently works as a research associate for a company specializing in the research and production of turf grass and forage crops.
Patricia lives and works alongside her husband and his family on their beef feedlot farm, where they raise about 2,500 cattle at a time, and have 1,600 acres of cropland. She also works for Grober Nutrition – a livestock nutrition company – but is currently on maternity leave with Brooke, her infant daughter. Jennifer works as a large animal veterinarian with a mobile practice, and helps her husband on their strawberry farm in between visits.
According to Patricia, Jennifer’s veterinarian background – and her experience working on a number of other livestock farms – is a big asset to their entire family.
“She’s our resident health management professional,” says Patricia.
With cattle weaving such a strong theme through their lives, it’s perhaps no surprise that the three sisters’ hobbies also sport a bit of beef flavour. Sylvia, for instance, is part of Durham West Junior Farmer association, and is a volunteer club leader with her local 4-H group. She also sits on the provincial board for the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, and, more generally, says showing beef cattle is the “passion” which takes up most of her year. Patricia and Jennifer, too, say showing and working with beef cattle is their favorite way to spend spare time.
There’s yet more to it for Jennifer, however. More specifically, she and her husband keep a small flock of sheep, and have been planning on converting about 30 acres into pasture for the animals. On top of that, Jennifer works with Patricia as a leader in the York-region 4-H beef club, and is part of her regional Ploughman’s Association where she helps run the annual “Queen of the Furrow” competition.
When asked why they farm, the sisters are also of one mind. Agriculture, they say, has allowed them to stay close despite busy lives, and enjoy many opportunities in the process.
“We’ve been fortunate that, even as we start our families we are still close; we still get to work together and it’s a great way to raise a family,” says Patricia.
The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org.