Stories from a city girl gone mad over cows, farms, dairies, a certain guy who would become her husband and just about all things rural.
By Jodi Helmer | Photos By Jessica Deeks
Connie Tabbert was working as a newspaper reporter when mad cow disease broke out in 2003. The term was unfamiliar and she had no idea what to expect when she went out on assignment. “I thought there might be insane cows running through the streets,” she explains. It wasn’t the first time Connie showed her city roots while reporting on agriculture issues for rural newspapers.
After moving from Windsor to Cobden, Ontario, for a job at the Cobden Sun in 2003, she took an assignment to cover a livestock-judging competition. Connie, who had little exposure to livestock growing up in the city, referred to all the winners as “cows” because she didn’t know the difference between heifers and steers. When she was assigned to cover a horse draw, she assumed the event—which some call a horse pull—was a raffle, and tried purchasing tickets to win a horse. Connie learned a lot on the job—and endured a lot of good-natured teasing—but her real rural education came after she fell in love with a farmer.
Connie and Tim Tabbert first met at a winter carnival. In the months after their initial introduction—where Connie flirted and Tim ignored her—Connie thought about leaving rural life behind because it was so hard to meet someone.
Before packing her bags, however, she joined an online dating site; Tim was also a member. The minute Connie saw Tim’s photo online, she sent him a message—and, this time, sparks flew. It didn’t take long for the newspaper reporter and the farmer to fall for each other. They were married in 2008. “We’ve almost never been apart since,” says Connie.
Although she was head over heels for Tim, Connie wasn’t sure about life on the farm. Tim operates a small feedlot with up to 120 head of cattle on 115 acres, grows feed crops and runs a manure-spreading business. A farmer through and through, his agricultural roots in rural Ontario can be traced back to the 1800s; Tim and Connie live in the house his great-grandparents built.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Connie stepped into the role of farm wife—often with hilarious results. One evening, Connie went out to work in the barn while Tim was out on the manure truck. Before she realized, it had gotten dark outside.
Too scared to cross the feedlot at night, Connie curled up in a corn bin and waited for Tim to come home. “The first year on the farm, I’d go out and lose track of time, not because I was busy with chores but because I was getting to know the cows,” she says.
Although Tim teases his wife about her big-city roots, he confesses to finding her love affair with their livestock charming, if not a bit perplexing. “She gave me a list of cattle I couldn’t sell,” he recalls. “I was loading cows and she came out saying, ‘Not that one! That’s Princess. You can’t take her.’ She cried all afternoon.”
Connie still names the cattle. One group was named after her favorite characters on the soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” She christened a pair of unexpected calves “Oops” and “Surprise.” “Whenever I ship some, she still comes out to say goodbye,” says Tim.
Over time, she’s adjusted to the fact that there is no sidewalk from the house to the barn; she understands that doing chores means walking through manure; and, after a night in the corn bin, she never goes to the barn without a flashlight.
Connie grew so enchanted with life on the farm, especially the cattle, that she took a part-time job milking at a neighboring dairy farm. “I’d never seen cows milked before, but I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’” she recalls.
Connie loved going to the barn in the mornings and afternoons, but her editor worried the part-time job would interfere with Connie’s availability to be on the scene for breaking news and offered an ultimatum: the newspaper or the cows. Connie chose the cows.
“I didn’t have to rush out if there was an accident or a fire,” she recalls. “It was calming in the barn; the cattle are so soothing to me, and I felt like life was on an even keel again.”
Connie milked for the neighbor until he sold his herd in 2012. At the same time, the newspaper she used to work for ceased publication, leaving the Whitewater Region—an amalgamation of six townships with a total population of 6,000 an hour north of Ottawa—without a local news source.
“It’s very important for a small town to have a paper,” says Connie. “You hear gossip and rumors, and you need a source to find out the truth.”
In 2014, a local entrepreneur stepped in to fill the void: He wanted to start The Whitewater News and offered Connie a position as editor. She’s been at the helm of the weekly paper ever since, helping increase page count, grow circulation and draw online subscribers.
The Whitewater News covers everything from council happenings and local sports to community events and obituaries. For Connie, the role is an important part of her involvement in the community. “In a small town, a newspaper connects the community,” she says. “It’s helped me get to know the region and the people who live here.”
The combination of cattle and covering local news led Connie to fall in love with a farmer and life on the farm. “I thoroughly enjoy living in the country,” she says. “This is where I’m meant to be.”