Rancher remembered | Donations and farm assistance still coming in 14 months after Jay Fox died
NEEPAWA, Man. — Just before Christmas 2011 Major Jay Fox, a well-known and respected member of Manitoba’s cattle community, died in an accident on his farm near Eddystone, Man.
Over the last 14 months, cattle producers across the province have come together to support Fox’s wife, Angie, and their children, Devon, 15, Charlee, 6, Porter, 5 and Major, 3.
As examples of the support, the Manitoba Livestock Marketing Association raised $20,000 for the Fox family during a golf tournament and auction last summer. The Manitoba Charolais Association raised $7,000 for the Foxes through a heifer auction and at their 2013 annual meeting, while the Manitoba Beef Producers donated half its auction proceeds to Angie.
Despite the outpouring of support and the length of time since Fox passed away, individual cattle producers like Brent Stewart of Russell, Man., are still reaching out to the Fox family.
“We kind of wanted of do something on our own,” said Stewart, who donated a heifer to Devon during the Stewart Cattle Co. and Guests bull sale, held in Neepawa, Man., at the end of February.
“He (Devon) has helped his mom run the farm and he’s a real good kid to be around. He’s worked for us a few times (at sales and shows) and he’s been excellent.”
Born and raised on a ranch near Lloydminster, Sask., Jay and his parents moved to Manitoba in the 1990s to start a new farm close to Eddystone. Angie, who was also raised in Saskatchewan, moved to Manitoba in 2005 and the young couple took over the farm from Jay’s parents, running a cow-calf operation on the west side of Lake Manitoba.
Although he was new to the province, Jay quickly made a name for himself in Manitoba’s cattle industry. He became a director of the Manitoba Beef Producers and in 2009 he was elected president of the organization, serving two years in that role.
Only weeks after stepping down as president, he was trying to detach a front-end loader assembly from a tractor when the hydraulics released and the bucket fell. He later died in a Winnipeg hospital at the age of 32.
While dozens of cattle buyers ate chili, sipped cola and chewed on doughnuts as they waited for Stewart’s bull sale to begin in Neepawa, Angie sat down to talk about Jay, her life since the accident and the incredible response from Manitoba’s cattle community.
“People have been so generous and supported us so many different ways, it’s hard to put into words how grateful we are,” she said while cattle buyers looked at Black Angus bulls on display. “We live in a great community and a great province…. We weren’t raised in Manitoba so we’re just very thankful.”
Angie’s neighbours around Eddystone have been particularly generous with their time and financial support. For instance, there are only seven kids in the 4-H club in Eddystone but the organization raised $2,000 for the Fox family.
As well, fellow ranchers have donated time to help Angie and Devon run their 250 head cow-calf operation.
“When we did our branding I think there were more people than we even knew what to do with,” Angie said with a grin.
The transition from running the farm with a partner to going it alone has, of course, been difficult. Yet, before the accident, Angie frequently worked solo because Jay was away at cattle industry meetings.
“People have said, ‘oh my goodness, it must have been a huge learning curve.’ There were parts of it that were (challenging), the marketing and stuff like that,” she said. “(But) I’m very, very fortunate to have Jay’s mom and dad (who live in Dauphin, Man.) because they are a huge support to us. And my own mom and dad. My dad spent a lot of time out here in the first three or four months.”
Devon, who was already seen as steady and dependable, has taken on new responsibilities, assisting his mom with decision making on the farm.
“He’s going to have to grow up fairly rapidly,” Stewart said.
Nonetheless, Stewart is confident that Devon, who competes in high school rodeo during the summer, is up for the challenge.
“I think he has a big future in the cattle business.”
If Devon wants to become a cattle producer, that’s fine, Angie said. However, she wants him to leave the farm for a while before he commits to a life as a rancher.
“We want them (the kids) to love the farm and part of loving the farm is going out to see what the rest of the world is like…. If he wants to come back (after), then come back.”
Besides running the farm, Angie has stayed involved in Manitoba’s agriculture community, helping run the Outstanding Young Farmer program in Manitoba. In 2008, Jay and Angie were named the Outstanding Young Farmers in the province.
Looking back over the last 14 months, there were times when friends and acquaintances were unsure of what to say and what to ask, Angie said.
Yet, because she is so open about Jay and what happened, the awkwardness has subsided.
“People aren’t scared to talk about (Jay) anymore,” she said. “I don’t get tired of talking about it. It just becomes a part of your life. It’s a part of learning to cope. As long as that memory lives, then it’s right in your heart…. We totally talk about him all the time. For us, any stories about him are good.”