Of all the families who moved to Belize from Chihuahua, Mexico in 1958 one of the largest families was the Peter Friesen family. Joe, who is the second oldest of 11 children was 6 years old when his family moved from Manitoba, Canada to Mexico and 16 when they moved to Spanish Lookout.As a pioneer in the developing country Joe’s father, Peter Friesen,did lathe work and made his own machinery for whatever he needed.

They settled in Spanish Lookout on lands along the Belize River. At the time, it was in bush with many cohune trees and much bamboo. Rather than bring cattle from the 7,000 ft elevation area they left in Mexico, they purchased Brahman-type cattle from local sources, such as Eduardo Juan, Trinidad Juan, Negroman {Ranch} and the Delafuentes.

Beginning in 1964, Joe began marketing cattle, a trade he would carry on for over 40 years until 2004, when he would turn things over to his sons. In the mid 60’s, Joe sold 2 head per week, from his farm and from others in Spanish Lookout, for which the farmers received 11 cents/lb live wt for good cows, and 14 cents/lb live wt for the best steers – all local type Brahman. As the country was trying to increase the national herd, every heifer and cow had to be pregnancy-checked and receive a permit from the veterinary section before slaughter. In those days, with often muddy roads, Joe took them to Guy Nord’s ferry at Barton Ramy to cross the Belize River. Hauling cattle to the river was done with a mule leading the way, with a cow tied to it, then Joe behind. On the South bank a waiting truck took them to Belize City for slaughter.

Some Mennonites from PA in the US established the Mennonite Center in Belize City. The Mennonite Center purchased the cattle, slaughtered them and sold the meat. Eventually, when this PA group felt that the Spanish Lookout community could ‘stand on its own’, they returned to the US. The agriculture business at that location in Belize City is now the Belize Farm Center. After Hurricane Hattie in 1961, a NY Mennonite community helped Spanish Lookout’s cattle industry by sending them 30 head of Holstein cattle – heifers and bulls. Joe purchased a few and began his dairy breeding program crossing the purebred Holsteins with the local Brahman, to eventually reach a 1/8th Brahman – 7/8ths Holstein, a bovine with black and white coloring and big ears. The cows, reaching up to 1500 lbs, gave higher production than the pure Holsteins here.

Joe was one of the founders of Western Dairies and manager there from 1978 to 1989; being on the board of directors in those early days meant being called in the middle of the night to go fix some malfunctioning equipment and being the first delivery driver to Belmopan, Belize City, Corozal and Orange Walk in a one-ton truck. He said he just wanted to get the dairy business going. Joe sold his Holstein/Brahman dairy cattle in 2009. Now many of the dairy farmers in Spanish Lookout have purebred Holstein; raising dairy cattle is quite different now. Special bulls were brought in from NY or El Salvador, and nowmany use Artificial Insemination (A.I.) to improve both dairy and beef herds.

Meanwhile, Joe continued with a beef line in addition to the dairy herd. Eventually he advanced to selling dressed meat; the first 20 yrs having been only live cattle sales. By 1975 he was marketing close to 30 head per week. In the mid-80’s, they used the slaughter services of several, including: Winston Smiling, the August family, Running W, and eventually Spanish Lookout’s own Country Meats. In his last 15 yrs in the business, he sold between 5-10 head, 3 times per week, all as dressed meat. In the early 80’s Joe began attending the Yucatan State Fair at X’matkuil, outside of Merida, Mexico, and began purchasing Brahman bulls from the region. He is justly proud of his 1,800 lb Brahman cows and his breeding herd. The grand champion bulls at both the 2014 and 2015 National Agriculture and Trade Show (NATS) were JF Brahmans shown by son Cornie. They now have a waiting list for breeding bulls and heifers, and had their first production auction in September of this year.

Another need that Joe realized and acted upon, was the local need for imported livestock scales. In the mid-80’s they began importing and distributing Oklahoma-made Paul Scales. These were first mechanical cable scales. Now many prefer the digital scales, as they are cheaper. The family still operates the scale sales and also distributes Filson chutes and squeezes.

Joe often assisted the community with veterinary issues. He studied vet medicine practices on his own as well as being taught much by an English veterinarian at Central Farm in the early 60’s. He also served as a Director for the Belize Livestock Association (BLPA), although Joe admits “in those first years, it felt strange to be on a committee outside of Spanish Lookout”.

Having adequate pasture all year long by not exceeding one acre per head of cattle Joe feels is essential good management. They run between 110 -120 head now on their 120 acres. In 1967 they hired a D-6 to clear and plow some of the land now in pasture. Joe selected a type of Bermuda grass known as blue-stem, from Eastern Texas, to plant. They have never re-plowed or planted it again in 57 years. They graze the cattle and also cut and bale hay from it in June or July annually, which enables good herd nutrition year round. Joe notes that the blue-stem actually does better in the warmer season, as it is not particularly suited to the cool wet season. It needs fertile soil, will tolerate a little flooding but not swamp. They also maintain in these same pastures, a native grass known as cable grass. This has a thick stem, does very well during the dry and is a favorite with the horses. They have to control the cable so it will not overwhelm the blue-stem. They graze some Brizantha and Mombasa grass for variety.

As Joe’s 5 sons grew up, Joe Jr. and Cornie were the ones with the strongest interest in working cattle. Joe Jr created his own farm in the Iguana Creek area of Spanish Lookout, and Cornie manages the original Riverside Road home farm. Joe has turned more of daily operations over to Cornie, especially following a 2009 accident in his corral, breaking both his hip and arm. Joe believes in allowing young people to take over responsibility and learn by making decisions, including mistakes sometimes; his sons assisted and made farm management decisions since they were 15 yrs old, so they are well experienced for taking the reins on the farms. As for working with cattle, Joe says “you have to have a relationship with your cattle… you have to talk to them”, while realizing that “you can’t sell the love for your cattle”. Industries are built on the shoulders of their pioneers. The Belize cattle industry appreciates Joe Friesen Sr.’s contributions.

by Dottie Feucht for the Belize Ag Report