To long-time fair-goers, the Bradley family and in particular–Gary Bradley–is a fixture at both the Riceville Fair and the Vankleek Hill Fair.
Bradley has been raising Hereford beef cattle for about 40 years and showing them at local fairs is important to him and to his family.
It might not be evident to all, but transporting, grooming and preparing to show cattle or any livestock is more a labour of love than about winning prize money.
While Bradley used to have more beef cattle, the family herd numbers about 20 these days. He says his son and grandchildren have become interested in the beef shows at the local fairs.
“It’s really about a sense of belonging and showing support for people we know,” says Bradley, who adds that they might show three to five animals at local fairs.
Acknowledging that Eastern Ontario has always been ‘tough’ for beef producers, he says that for his family at least, showing beef cattle has become more of a hobby.
“It takes time to show livestock,” according to Bradley. And time is something that many don’t have these days. “Agriculture is a funny master; producers don’t have the time to attend fairs the way they used to. There were the days when it was your fair and you had to be there.”
Gary Bradley’s foray into the world of beef started with a lucky draw ticket.
“Many years ago, my ticket was the winner and I won a beef heifer in a draw. That heifer was from (local beef producers) Marge and Roy w. They had a lot of values that people simply don’t have any more,” Bradley recalls. “And that’s what got me started.”
Gary’s son Jay says he and other young people learned a lot from the Cartwrights and from beef enthusiasts Mac and Chick MacCaskill.
“It was my first time showing when my Dad had the lucky ticket and won a heifer,” recalls Jay, who says he has been showing cattle at the Vankleek Hill Fair since 1988, for as long as he can remember.
Jay’s two sons–Gavin (12) and Callum (8) do most of the chores these days with the Hereford livestock and when The Review visited the Bradley farm, the boys had just returned from Lindsay, Ontario, where they competed with 150 other young people between the ages of five and 21 from across Canada.
The young people are completely responsible for their livestock at the competition; adults are not permitted to help. The Bonanza competition is a well-rounded competition which includes showing livestock, art, literature, public speaking, grooming and judging.
“It prepares them for life,” said Jay’s mother, Faye, describing the event.
Jay has been judging beef classes since he was 18 years of age and both he and his father point out that there are no qualification requirements for beef judges while there are qualifications required to become a dairy judge. He acknowledges that showing livestock is a lot of work. People don’t see the 90 per cent that takes place behind the scenes to prepare the cattle.
Experience, fairness and livestock knowledge are expected from good judges, according to the Bradleys, who say it is important to maintain objectivity.
When it comes to showing, Gary says that as a good showman, “You do your best to hide the faults — and they all have faults — and you avoid making corrections when the judge is looking,” he says with a smile.
You will be able to see some of the Bradley family’s beef cattle in the Hereford Beef Show at the Vankleek Hill Fair on Sunday, August 21, 2022 and again at the Riceville Fair on Sunday, August 28.