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Bruce Witmer recognized for lifetime of Holstein contributions

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 01 April 2016
Bruce and Pat Witmer stay busy and active in their community

He’ll soon be 87, but Bruce Witmer hasn’t taken to a rocking chair yet and shows no signs of doing so in the foreseeable future.

Witmer has been involved in agriculture for most of his life, from early days in 4-H and Junior Farmers through a long and distinguished career as a dairyman. “Guess I was born to be a farmer,” he quips.



As a 4-H’er, he competed at the CNE Judging Competition and did well enough to become part of the 1950 world judging team. This included spending three months in England and Scotland, judging cattle, sheep, horses and pigs.

It also included a spot on the last crossing of the Queen Mary with first-class booking, quite an exciting occurrence for the young man. Witmer says it took a while to get used to different terminology used in England.

He ended up second in every competition. The finale of the trip was a visit to Buckingham Palace for tea with the Queen Mother.

The same year, a new barn was built at the family’s Cambridge, Ontario-area farm – and 10 years later, he and his wife, Joyce, took over Speedside Holsteins, continuing milking cows until 2005. He still owns some cows, but they are now housed at his son Steven’s farm in Oxford County.

Witmer has served as president and director of the Waterloo Holstein Club and as councilor with the Ontario Holstein Branch. He has been involved with the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, Soil and Crop, Advance Registry Yorkshire Club, the Conservation Authority and with the Galt/Cambridge Fall Fair. He has hosted many domestic and international tour groups.


Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his commitment to youth.

Witmer’s 4-H involvement didn’t end as a member; he led 4-H clubs for 56 years and has been a mentor to hundreds of young people, many of whom have gone on to run their own farms.

He describes early years as a leader where club members would bring samples from home of the feeds they were using – hay, haylage, silage, etc. He says he felt comparisons like that stimulated interest in the kids. “Not that much fun anymore,” he says. “It’s all technical.”

He reflects on his years as a leader and tells of how, in early days, clubs were referred to as short courses and of how they were suspended during the Depression. “Nobody had any money for anything,” he recalls, adding, “From the ’40s on, it really bounced [back].” He talks of working with “a lot of interesting kids” and says he feels the “whole thing is a growing experience in 4-H.”

In 2000, Witmer and Joyce sponsored a new junior show, held the first year at Elmira and later moving to Elora. This show was the introduction to showing for juniors, with 107 to 119 youth participating.

In 2002, a second junior show was launched at Woodstock. Both are going strong, and Witmer still enjoys attending, although his involvement is less now. While the first two years were pretty bare-boned, Witmer sees the present shows as being much classier, as now more people and feed companies are sponsoring.


One of the young people mentored by Witmer, Mike Bechtel, now farms on Witmer’s homestead. Steven was already set up at his own location, and Bechtel was able to take over while Witmer was busy caring for Joyce through her illness and passing.

The facility is older now, though, and Bechtel will be moving in the future to his dad’s place. He says he will miss having Witmer’s daily visits to the barn after he moves. He praises Witmer for his ability to make everyone feel welcome. “He’ll talk to anybody … some people at his level don’t make an effort. He’ll make them feel welcome and included,” he asserts.

April 23 of this year will be a special day for Witmer. He will be awarded a Certificate of Recognition from Holstein Canada. This award, last given out in 2008, recognizes a person’s qualities and activities.

Some of the criteria include promoting the breed and association, mentorship and leadership, education, and time and contribution significantly over and above what would be considered part of the job. The award will be presented at Holstein Canada’s annual general meeting, to be held in Banff, Alberta.

Although no longer milking cows, Witmer is not spending his days idly. He and his new wife, Pat, members of the Mennonite church, are also members of an organization called the Cambridge Christian Gleaners.

This group collects fruits and vegetables from stores or directly from farmers – produce considered as “seconds” and unsaleable in the Canadian marketplace. Each day about 60 people gather to trim produce of spoiled or damaged parts, dry it, package it, seal it and send it all over the world where there is need.

The group starts the day with devotions. Almost all of these people are volunteers, which Witmer finds “quite amazing.” He comments the volunteers “come from all walks of life … the rich and the poor” to provide this service.

Considering his reputation in the Holstein community, it’s a pretty sure bet that Witmer is welcoming to all and valued for his contributions in this group as well.  PD

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTO: Bruce and Pat Witmer stay busy and active in their community, just as Bruce has done his entire life in the Holstein industry. Bruce will be honoured with the Certificate of Recognition award at the National Holstein Convention later this month in Alberta. Photo provided by Alice Guthrie.