Lezlee Byers still ‘calling the shots’ after four decades in business

Lezlee Byers. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

CHESTERVILLE — At age 21, Lezlee Byers was already “calling the shots” and “Making it big in a Man’s World,” according to the headline on a late 1970s Ottawa Citizen article celebrating the atypically female agribusiness owner unfazed at being “ankle deep” in the “liquid gold” of a prospective customer’s hog barn.

Today the framed newsprint piece adorns the wall near the front counter at Byers’ Farm Equipment, where the local entrepreneur still sells materials-handling equipment among other staple items at her respected enterprise on the outskirts of Chesterville.

“This industry is very different from when I started,” says Byers, now in her 41st year of business at Stuart Byers Ltd., Byers Farm Equipment, named after her late father, who had branched out from the family construction firm to start the Jamesway dealership in 1970.

Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

“The equipment today is so much different from back then, and it’s going to continue to change and evolve,” predicts the married mother of two adult children, seated in her office while surrounded by modern barn blueprints.

Byers joined the family enterprise in 1978, just three years after graduating North Dundas District High School and landing a job in the city. She worked three years in the payroll department at the CBC when her father — who had earlier built the arenas in Chesterville, Richmond and Stittsville, among other projects — invited her to work in the parts department of the dealership.

His daughter soon found herself in charge as another business interest took him to Toronto.

“I knew nothing of any of the products, and for the first year, Dad would come down on a regular basis, and keep sales and everything going that way,” Byers recounts.

The early product line also included a brand of milking equipment as well as barn cleaners, feeding equipment and silo unloaders — all early examples of the automation trend taking hold in the farming and dairy industry.

Much of Byers’ work now involves the supply of equipment to outfit brand new, free-stall barns — the type of facility where robots do the milking. She doesn’t handle the actual robots or milking equipment, but instead focuses on the stabling (stalls), side curtains, as well as automated manure scrapers and feed mixers.

“Today I have about five main brands of equipment, very good makes and names, high quality equipment, and I’ve stuck with them over the years. That’s what I’m known for.”

Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

She stays on site to supervise each project through completion, overseeing the work whether performed by a contractor or the actual farmer. “I’m there for when it gets placed in the concrete, and I’m there when the equipment gets installed for the finished product. I’m the one that actually … tells the farmer how to do it.”

Occupying a specialist niche, the business employs two people — the owner and Patty Duke-Daines.

“I take pride in what we do,” she notes, “and people have gotten to know that. We look after our customers.”

She remains busy with a procession of new barn projects and acknowledges she “does well.”

In one particularly innovative new barn, she’s taking special care to ensure a new type of robot — one that vacuums up manure — is able to move around freely, unimpeded by the stalls she’s been commissioned to install.  “It’s so interesting. I love doing this, mapping everything out in a barn” and seeing it completed, she says.

“It’s a business, but it’s personal. You just don’t treat them as clients. It’s a very social friendly environment.”

Despite the “quick” passage of 41 years, this innovative agribusiness entrepreneur isn’t thinking about retirement just yet, either. “I’m not sure, everybody has their days. But most of all, I enjoy what I’m doing, and I like being involved in new projects.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the township’s 2019 Explore North Dundas Spring/Summer Resource Guide. The involved interviews took place in the first quarter of 2019.

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