by Steven E Smith
Some of the richest history in the American Aberdeen Angus breed was written in the Hudson Valley during the twentieth century. This year’s National Angus Tour brought Angus breeders from across the country to Eastern New York for a tour of some of the Angus herds that helped drive the breed to a place of dominance in the beef industry today.
The first farm on the tour was in Hillsdale, NY, at the Garret Farm. Owner Garret Matteo, who started his operation in 1976, stated he enjoyed the privilege of hosting the event. He told guests how they raise cattle in northern Columbia County. “We have a phenotype focus tempered with weigh gain performance and fertility. We are managing our pairs on about 1.5 acres each. For the winter months, we feed our own haylage, baleage and winter barley silage. By using barley in the rotation, we can harvest in the boot stage and turn around and plant short day corn or soybeans. Ultimately, corn silage though is key to high performance. With our calves born from January to March, we have cattle on forages and calves who are creep fed to get our animals off to a good start,” said Matteo.
Guests on the tour learned about the farm and their emphasis local marketing focus. “Our beef is merchandized within 200 miles through a third party that takes orders to meat markets and restaurants.” In addition to meeting the expectations of our end users, Matteo said their clientele are pleased with the fact that Garret animals spend their whole life in that valley and are fed by home grown forage and grains.
The National Angus Tour included the opportunity attend the Garret Farms Production Sale consisting of a great set of bred heifers, outstanding spring heifer pairs and a exemplar set of fall bred cows. Live Auctions TV was used to allow real time bidding via the internet.
Heathcote Farm is a story of old and new coming together. Heathcote Angus began in 1990 by John Colgate Jr. The farm sourced the original herd with bred heifers purchased from Fairfield Farms owned by Jack Blum of Lakeville CT. Through study and participation in consignment purchases, embryo purchases and private treaty, Heathcote Angus realized a progressive advancement in the herd.
When Colgate decided to leave the Angus cattle business the purchaser of the farm and herd was the neighboring Thorne family. The purchase was made by the great grandson of Oakleigh Thorne, who had been world famous for his Briarcliff herd.
Today, like his great grandfather, this Thorne is excited about the Angus cattle he is developing at Heathcote with Farm manager Dave Richmond.
According to Richmond, Heathcote cattle calve inside to get calves started then turn the pairs out once they are on their feet. “Those January calves are the most healthy. They rarely have respiratory issues and they just get going. Later calves are exposed to mud and just don’t do as well. To accomplish our genetic progress goals, our breeding program has been refined to some A.I. with some bulls backed by the use of some clean up bulls to maintain the calving interval.
During the visit, Angus breeders started to reminisce about some of the impactful herds that called this area home. While some are no longer actively breeding Angus, others are still going strong. According to Tom Burke, in his piece titled New York – The Mother church of Angus History, some of the key import activities at the start of the American Angus Association were undertaken by Frank B Redfield of New York in the early 1880s. Later in 1918, Dutchess and Columbia counties become hot beds for Angus cattle genetics. Through the years, New York has had numerous national and international champions for heifer, bull and steer classes. New York State is considered by many to be the seedstock capitol of the world for Angus Genetics as pointed out by NY State Angus Association president Mike Shanahan. “It is an exciting time in the NY Angus community. We are seeing new interest in the breed and increased activity as seen in the more than 100 animals recently shown at the NY State Fair,” concluded Shanahan.
Millbrook, NY is also the home of the 105 registered Angus herd at Rally Farm. “My father Frederick Bontecou started Rally Farms in 1926,” said Jesse Bontecou. “When my father started to work with Angus cattle in 1928, he developed the herd with cattle he purchased from the famed Briarcliff herd.” Through the years, Rally Farms has experienced the successes of tan bark and breed sale recognition during their more than 80 years in the Angus breed. As exhibitors that have traveled through the country, Rally Farms produced the 1981 Supreme Champion at the All-American Breeder’s Futurity. The next year, Rally Farms had the National Western Grand Champion Bull. Additionally Rally Farms has exhibited and sold champion pens of bulls while at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO.
Today Rally Farms is owned by the Jesse Bontecou family and is staffed by Chris Howard, herd manager, Tom Dahoney crop foreman and staff members Chris Hawks, Jerry Brown, Marva Dahoney and Benadetta Dooney.
“When pastures decline in the late fall, we feed corn silage and baleage to brood cow herd. Our heifers are fed ear corn and oats blend as a topdress to the heifers during the winter season as well,” stated Chris Howard. “We have worked with the Cole Creek herd of Montana to source our breeding bulls. We are currently using the bull Revival as well as a 10 percent interest in the breeding sire, Full Bore. In our replacement heifers program, we used Conleye Confidence through artificial insemination before putting in a clean-up bull. In our program we are now calving 40 head in the spring and 40 head in the fall. This works well for our marketing plan including our involvement as founding members in the Cow Power sale,” stated Howard.
“It is a great privilege to be a part of the National Angus Tour. This area played an important role that had an impact on the international Angus community as well. The Hudson Valley region was one of the most important angus areas in the world with a prominent role in Angus cattle history from the late 1920’s to the mid 1980’s. For a while, it kind of died back but we have had a building back up here,” stated Bontecou.
Bontecou, who has been breeding Angus cattle for 60 years has been dedicated to breed development as evidence in his time as president of the New York Angus Association and service for two terms as a director of the American Angus Association. Bontecou was a 2006 inductee into the American Angus Foundation for his contributions. When asked simply “Why breed Angus cattle,” he frankly stated, “Well it’s the only breed.” When asked what he would want people to walk away with, Bontecou’s advice was to seed a happy cheerful feeling. “You should walk around and enjoy this beauty in life because ultimately that is so very important.”
During the entire National Angus Tour, guests did just that by reconnecting with old friends and making new friends as they visited the heart of the seed stock capitol of the world in Eastern New York. There were countless comments about the spectacular rolling hills and river valley nestled between the Berkshires and Catskill mountains; home to fantastic Angus cattle and some of the leaders in the Angus community made the “Angus Along the Hudson” tour a big success.
by Steven E Smith