Obituary: William Walter “Ralph” Moggy, October 30, 1928 – January 3, 2022

Cattleman Ralph Moggy’s Island herds reached as large as 1,000 head.

Manitoulin Island’s largest cattleman’s like will probably never be seen again

William Walter Moggy was better known to all as “Ralph.” In his day, Mr. Moggy grew his farming operations from his first couple of cows bought at a Saturday cattle sale “up the road” in the 1960s, and a single 100-acre parcel of land, to an operation boasting 1,000 head of cattle and thousands of acres.

The Expositor sat down with Mr. Moggy’s son Larry to chat about his father’s life and times and how he sees the future of cattle operation on Manitoulin going forward.

Ralph Moggy was born and raised on the family farm in Bidwell by parents Reid and Nina (and later stepmother Ruth), along with siblings Leona (Herb Reid) (both predeceased), Eileen (Earl Leeson predeceased), Caryl (predeceased) (Barb), Melvin (Linda) and Bruce (Joanne). 

He attended school in Bidwell and could often be found on the ball diamond during the summer. He assisted his father in cutting lumber through the winter months.

Mr. Moggy was a farmer his entire life, although he did spend a brief stint with hydro, an opportunity for some steady cash it was hard to pass up when the lines came through the Manitowaning area in 1949, noted his son. Farming is a tough business, after all, and farmers are nothing if not practical individuals.

Mr. Moggy’s passion was farming, however, and he focussed his entire career on becoming the best at his vocation—a true steward of the land.

Hauling feed is always an important part of the daily routine for Manitoulin’s hard-working cattlemen.

It was not a life for the timid. Those first two cows he purchased were both killed in a lightning strike. “There was no insurance,” noted his son. But Mr. Moggy remained undaunted. He cut pulpwood in the winter during the 1950s, wielding his trusty Homelight chainsaw to cut 181 cords of wood a season. The wood would be hauled out of the bush with a team of horses. That’s 181 piles of wood measuring four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long.

In the winter, it was out on the lakes, cutting blocks of ice. “Each of the 10 or 15 resorts around here had their own ice houses in those days,” explains Mr. Moggy’s son. “The blocks were usually two feet square.” Supplying ice was an integral part of the Moggy farm’s cash flow. Between farming, the winter wood and the ice harvesting, money was poured back into the farm operations and herd expansion.

“By the 1980s we were starting to get into numbers,” shared Larry Moggy. “We maxed out at around 1,000 head. We kept that up for about four years, but then we dropped back to about 800, where we kept going for years.” The issues limiting continued growth were those of sufficient feed and suitable pasture.

The family pastures and leased lands ranged at one time from Little Current to South Baymouth. “We had as much as 10,000 acres rented out at one time,” said Mr. Moggy. But sources of land began to dry up. “Hunters started buying up land and they were not keen on having cattle on the land,” said Mr. Moggy. “Other folks started coming to the Island and buying up land and they had other interests than farming.”

In a strange way, it was the number of farmers leaving the industry that gave the Moggy operation a huge boost, as land on Manitoulin was both plentiful and relatively cheap. As any farmer will tell you, these days agricultural land has skyrocketed in price.

The advent of large round bales was another factor that came along to help make maintaining large herds sustainable. Those of an age can recall the brutal labour of tossing square bales up to the wagon on a hot summer day, so the more automated process of round bales was literally a godsend.

Added to the round bales were the implementation of plastic wrap for the bales. “That allowed harvesting the hay sooner,” said Mr. Moggy. “You could start on the 10th of June and at 50 percent.” That ensured the hay had a higher protein content, not needing to stay in the sun longer and losing potency.

An arial photograph of the Moggy homestead. At one time the family operation extended over 10,000 acres.

Larry Moggy said he does not think large cattle operations like those of his and his father’s will ever come again on Manitoulin, not because of a lack of will, but too many factors play against it. He cites the closure of two huge First Nation pastures, one in Sheguiandah and the other in Wiikwemkoong on one hand, but the current state of many pastures on the Island, overgrown with non-grazable weeds and scrub trees makes much of it unusable.

To meet feed needs for their huge cattle herds, the Moggy farm would truck in two loads a month, that’s 35 to 38 tons. For a time that would be coming from Thunder Bay, then started to be hauled from Goderich.

“Dad worked every day for over 50 years,” shared Mr. Moggy. “People would remark on how he was still going strong at his age.”

“I don’t ever remember him being in a fight,” said his son. “He might have disagreements over business, but he told me ‘don’t take a pasture away another farmer. They are trying to keep their own farm going.’”

Mr. Moggy might have been focussed on his farm, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t abreast of the times. “He knew what was going on,” said his son. “He wasn’t one to buy a big ticket item figuring that future sales would pay for it. When you sell all of your product in one day, you can’t afford to make a mistake.”

Whenever the younger Moggy would propose purchasing an expensive piece of equipment, he knew he had to have his ducks in order to prove to his father that the equipment was both necessary and a positive impact on the farm’s bottom line. “He wasn’t against it, per se, just cautious,” said Larry Moggy. 

Mr. Moggy and his son were not just into cattle, either, at one time the family farm hosted 100 ewes (sheep) as well. They also expanded into exotic breeds of cattle as well, including Charolais and Limousin beef cattle.

Other challenges to cattle ranching on the Island include depredation from predators (it isn’t always possible to prove how an animal was lost), the increasing flocks of Sandhill cranes and other birds who feast on the feed crops as well as deer, raccoons and bears (the latter take both calves and corn).

There was a time in the not so distant past when a farmer could move his cattle from one pasture to another, herding 200 head down Highway 6 between Little Current and Manitowaning. “With the traffic coming off the ferry these days, you wouldn’t dare to that today,” said Larry Moggy.

There was also time, as late as the mid-60s, when his father would take his cattle down to the docks in Little Current at midnight to be loaded onto the boats,” he shared. Little Current was a full-on cattle town. The cattle would be herded down to Sheguiandah on the first leg and then on to Little Current for the sale. “It was no problem, everybody did it back then.” 

Today the Moggy farm is down to 400 head, a number Larry Moggy said was more sustainable given the many limitations present in raising cattle on Manitoulin, half of what they had when his father finally stopped working.

Ralph Moggy was also a staunch community member. He served for many years as a coach for both hockey and his beloved baseball. He enjoyed travel and explored Canada from coast to coast over the years. Saturday night would invariably find him in front of the television cheering on his team during Hockey Night in Canada.

“My father was a fearless man,” shared Larry Moggy. “It didn’t bother him to do anything.” He was also known as a quiet, hard-working and honest man who, upon meeting friend or stranger, would offer his trademark “how are you today?”

Ralph Moggy passed away at the Wiikwemkoong Nursing Home on January 3 at the age of 93. He married Audrey Lewis (predeceased) and together they raised six sons, Larry (Sue), Dallas (predeceased) (Noella), Blaine (Fran), Royce (predeceased), Marvin and Terry (Joyce). Mr. Moggy is also fondly remembered by sister-in-law Jeannine Lewis (Jim predeceased), his grandchildren Devin, Derrick, Angie, Darcie, Andrew, Amanda, Geoffrey, Melissa, Matthew, Kendra and Dylan, as well as great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.