B.C. island breeders advocate for agriculture

COURTENAY, B.C. — Buying a bull at Regina’s Canadian Western Agribition has been a game changer for Vancouver Island purebred Angus cattle producers Brad and Aleta Chappell.

“He stepped things up,” Aleta said of the purchase of Copenhagen 3Y in 2011 with Alberta’s U2 Ranch.

Brad said it allows them to expand their herd at Heart of the Valley Farms and pass those genetics onto buyers when they participate in events such as U2’s bull sale in High River, Alta., March 24.

The Chappells focus on producing strong production oriented heifers.

“If a customer knows what he’s going to get from you, he will come back,” said Brad.

“One goal with cattle here is to sell, offer for customers, that step up in genetics that puts pounds on their calves.”

Brad said the 230 acre farm near Courtenay is a good fit for their 60 head herd. Angus originally came to Canada from Scotland ,where the soils and climate are similar to Vancouver Island.

“They have the ability to convert 100 lb. of grass to weight,” said Brad.

Half his bulls are sold off the island and the rest go into next year’s production, he said.

“We wean early bull calves and separate culls, and some go to get fed in Alberta,” he said.

“Then we make the decision on which ones go in the sale.”

Raising cattle here is vastly different than on the open rangelands of mainland British Columbia.

“There, it’s one cow to 35 acres. Here, it’s a cow-calf pair to an acre.”

The Chappells grow their own feed, although lack of moisture last year meant they had to buy some. Most years, they get big yields and up to four cuts of hay annually.

Brad handles the social media, marketing, direct mail and recordkeeping part of the business, while Aleta focuses on farm accounts and their quarter horses.

The pair, who have one toddler, Hayes, and are expecting another child, make decisions together.

“I really value and respect Aleta’s opinion,” Brad said.

Aleta said Brad puts his strong social skills to good use in the people-oriented cattle business.

“He likes to talk and is a people person. That’s very important for sales,” she said.

Brad said Aleta has good animal sense. The longtime horse breeder and trainer grew up on the island and can trace her ancestry back to one of the first settlers, George Ford. He married a First Nations woman and brought Angus to the island from his native Scotland in the 1800s.

Brad called Aleta a calming influence on the farm.

“If I’ve been out there for a long time, my wife will come out and get the situation calmed down,” he said.

Cattle numbers steeply declined on the island following the demise of the Crow Rate, but there are signs that is turning around.

Island producers may soon form a chapter within the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, and the B.C. agriculture ministry advisory committee is working on strategies to increase agricultural production provincewide.

In the meantime, the Chappells are eying the Prairies as one way to ex-pand their herd and acreage on a second farm.

Brad said challenges for island farmers include the high cost of farmland and freight to and from the mainland.

Aleta described the Comox Valley climate as a mixed bag of wet, damp and cold. They are sheltered from much of the rain that other regions receive, and their area, which is within eyesight of Mount Washington, often receives cooler temperatures and good snowfall.

The location means constant vigilance with a pack of feisty dogs to keep animals safe from abundant predators such as cougars.

Keeping the family safe is also top of mind. Their yard is fenced off from the nearby river, visitors are asked to park closer to the entrance than to the expansive house and Hayes is never out of sight.

“There’s no access to cattle and equipment without one of us around,” said Brad.

Aleta also knows better than to work with flighty young horses when the yard is busy.

“It’s not a good idea to teach a horse to tie when Brad is roaring by on the tractor,” she said.

Brad tries to slow things down, whether tending to animals in a large airy barn or moving equipment around the yard.

“At 25 or 30, I got injured easier. Now I stop and think a lot,” said Brad.

Aleta said Brad is a strong advocate for agriculture on the island and sits on the local economic de-velopment society board and the Comox Valley Farmers Institute as he helps steer land policies for the Comox Valley.

He knows urban-rural conflicts are increasing but he wants more food animal production on the island.

Brad said improved genetics and advanced technologies can aid the island’s cattle industry, which is better suited to the region than the many wineries that have cropped up.

“If you can elocute reasons why we need to stay the course in agriculture, it will elevate that decision,” he said.

“Ranchers are among the biggest conservationists on the planet. People who own and work the land are the biggest stewards of it.… We’re not given enough credit for that.”

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