Betty Lou Scott was recognized recently with an award from Farm Credit Canada for her long-standing contribution to agriculture. (MICHAEL GORMAN / Truro Bureau)
MOUNT THOM — Even after all these years, Betty Lou Scott walks to the barn with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. The Black Angus cows that have become the trademark of WindCrest Farm may dwarf her in size, but her enthusiasm for the animals more than makes up for it.
"I’ve always loved animals," she said during an interview on Sunday.
For more years than either of them care to count, Scott and her husband, Bill, have operated this farm atop Mount Thom where the purebred Angus cattle they raise have developed a solid reputation. Bulls from WindCrest have made their way throughout Atlantic Canada and into parts of Quebec and Ontario through the years.
"We’ve sold more breeding stock than people would realize," said Bill. "We’ve turned a lot of cattle black."
They’ve also raised children here, maintained and developed 130 hectares, and been involved with just about every group and association you can think of.
This commitment recently earned Betty Lou the Rosemary Davis Award, which honours five women across Canada who are active leaders in agriculture. Betty Lou said the award is recognition of the growing number of female leaders in the industry, something that wasn’t always the case.
"I used to be very much a minority," she said. "The big ranches out west, a lot of them, now they’re run by women."
In many ways, Betty Lou has come full circle.
This is where she grew up. After leaving home to go to university, where she received an education degree, she headed to Musquodoboit Harbour where she found her first teaching job and a husband. Like his bride-to-be, Bill Scott grew up in a farming family.
When Betty Lou’s parents fell ill and passed away, as the oldest of five siblings, she returned to the family farm in 1975, and along with Bill, carried on with the operation.
"For me it was moving back, for (Bill) it was moving to the Arctic compared to Musquodoboit Harbour," she said.
You don’t just give up farming when it’s in your blood.
Bill worked the land to breathe new life into the farm, while Betty Lou worked in the Pictou County school system (she became a full-time farmer after retiring in 1997).
They decided to take over the farm in part because both of them believed that few things could instil the value of hard work in their young children like working on a farm.
That view extends to Betty Lou’s now 33-year involvement with the Salt Springs 4-H Club.
"I really think it is the best youth program going," she said. "One of the most satisfying things I get out of it is seeing kids who are very shy, very withdrawn . . . develop and blossom."
Programs such as public speaking, showing and judging, things she insisted her own children do, develop skills that remain forever, said Betty Lou. She relishes seeing kids who might struggle in other areas shine.
She remembers one boy, in particular, who struggled with academics but realized great success with 4-H.
"If you had given him a million dollars he wouldn’t have been any happier than (he was) with that champion ribbon."
At one point, the herd at WindCrest was as big as 90 registered purebred animals before the fallout from some cases in Western Canada of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad-cow disease, hit the industry.
But you can’t operate a farm for as long as the Scotts have without bucket loads of perseverance and the couple managed to weather that storm, in part thanks to the growing demand for Angus beef.
They’ve watched the land change around them through the years, as windmills and radio towers have sprouted up, but their commitment to the farm has remained steady.
Now, as beef prices are making a comeback, the Scotts are starting to slow down. Both Bill and Betty Lou agree it’s time. They’re down to 17 cows after a recent string of sales.
But as they approach the end of their own careers as farmers, both of them are heartened by the re-emerging interest in the industry. Startup costs can be difficult, but the Scotts see the same merits in farming today as they did many years ago when they moved back to Mount Thom.