Teamwork is key for Ont. cattle producers

On the Farm: Three brothers learn to work together as they help their family focus on building Limousin herd

GLENCOE, Ont. — There is strength in numbers and the Zwambag family has proven that since they got into the purebred Limousin business in 1989.

While holding down off-farm jobs, they built up their BeeZee Acres farm at Glencoe in southwestern Ontario and grew a family where all the members work together.

“I’m proud of my boys,” said Bill, whose three sons are all involved in the operation.

Bill and his wife, Mary Anne, are starting the process of passing on the farm to the next generation.

Bill works for Mutual Insurance, but for 25 years he worked in the swine business and his family once grew tomatoes for Heinz and cucumbers for Bicks.

Their son, Andrew, and his wife, Katherine, are large animal veterinarians with their own practice but look after the vet needs on the farm.

Nick and his wife, Tanya, manage the 450 acres of cash crops where they grow soybeans, corn, wheat and oats under-seeded with alfalfa, but he also works as an agronomist.

Matthew is a teacher but he and his wife, Kali, are responsible for the livestock side.

Matthew earned his education degree from the University of Lethbridge and during his five years of study, he made long-distance breeding and management decisions for the cow herd.

As the family grew, so did the Limousin herd, which comprises 75 purebreds and some commercial cows.

They schedule farm work around their jobs.

The cattle have been selected for docility because people are not usually around during the day.

The Zwambags have used the quiet-wean system for most of the last 10 years, so calves can slowly separate themselves from their mothers.

Donkeys guard the cattle from a persistent coyote problem. They also breed donkeys to sell as guards.

“The coyote population is insane,” Matthew told a tour group from the Canadian Beef Industry conference held Aug. 14-16 in London.

“We have never lost a calf to coyotes because of the donkeys but we also calve in a barn,” he said.

Unlike Western Canada where cattle live outdoors, eastern producers must move their animals indoors during winters of wet, deep snow.

When the Zwambags started with Limousin, the family agreed their herd needed improvements.

They wanted quiet cattle that were good mothers and were capable of producing calves with good quality carcasses. Feed efficiency on grass is also desirable.

“We have really improved the soundness and docility of our cattle,” Matt said.

Improvements were introduced with better bulls and they have an active artificial insemination program that fits around their time away from the farm. Fifteen cows are synchronized every Saturday starting the first week of April and then are exposed to a bull at a later point. Calving takes place during the first three weeks of January and a second batch arrives in March.

Recently, the family installed six cameras in the barns to monitor calving and ensure each newborn nurses.

They over-winter about 300 head. Cattle that didn’t make the grade as purebreds are finished for Norwich Packers, which handles Limousin.

The Zwambags also started an open house and production sale every Easter weekend and everybody helps with the sale offering of yearling bulls and heifers. They have sold cattle to farms from Nova Scotia to Alberta.

Starting with 4-H membership, the family became active show people.

For Bill, a highlight was standing in the ring at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina as a contender for supreme champion.

“Just to be in the ring was a beautiful thing,” said Bill, who is in his last year as a director for the Canadian Limousin Association.

The family has also won championships and premier breeder awards at prestigious events like the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

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