Gerrit Schooten came to Canada from Holland in 1955 with $50 in his pocket and a dream of farming. He supported his family by dry walling and finally saved enough to buy a quarter of land near Monarch. Initially, he raised a few cattle and pigs and in 1974, he built a dairy barn and milked 120 spring heifers. In 1978, he sold the cows and the quota to begin feeding cattle.
A year later, he sold the farm to his two sons John and Bill and bought a neighbouring farm. But Gerrit passed away unexpectedly six years later leaving the boys, in their late twenties, to carry on.
“After dad’s passing, Patty and I bought his farm. We slowly built up the feeding operation by adding a few pens every year,” says John Schooten. “Our sons helped out while they were growing up, and we grew the lot to about 6,500 head. Once we saw three of our sons showing interest in staying in the business, we initiated the discussion around estate planning and succession.”
Even though the boys were in their late teens and early twenties, John and Patty felt that their strong work ethic gave them a good grounding to move forward. They began to work on a plan that would eventually give them ownership.
“Because my brother and I were young when we bought our own operations, I was confident that my boys could handle the business, even at such young ages. Even with all of its challenges, I had to let them steer their own ship,” says John.
“Succession planning is not easy but it can be done. We started by listening to each of our sons and what their goals for work and in life were. There were some heated discussions, but we talked things through. We brought in an accountant and a lawyer to put together a fair plan for all of us. Included in the discussion was our fourth son Michael that now has his own business of marketing Agri-related products.”
The Monarch lot would not support more than one family so the Schootens bought another feedlot at Diamond City. The lot had a good design and it was well built and came with some farm land. The family moved there in 2006. The Monarch properties were sold in 2010.
While the Feedyard sign still says John Schooten & Sons Custom Feedyard Ltd., Shane, Cody and Justin officially took over ownership as of January 1, 2011. Their parents, still shareholders, have paved the way for buying them out over time.
The family has invested heavily in time and money to upgrade and expand the Diamond City feed yard. The pen capacity has grown from 8,000 head to 23,000 head of owned and custom cattle between three feedyards.
“We’ve rebuilt all the fences, done a lot of construction work, put in a paved silage pit, upgraded the feedmill and put in new processing and handling facilities. We use a lot of the Daniel’s designed cattle handling equipment with the bud box and the double alley system,” says 30-year old Shane Schooten.
“The Growing Forward and Growing Forward 2 programs helped to purchase software and scanning equipment. We’re wireless. We can see what’s going on at the chute or feed truck in real time from the office. It allows us to be more accountable and efficient for cattle handling and feeding procedures.”
With 25 full time employees and a few extra during harvest, technology has enhanced traceability and efficiencies in all areas of the yard. The brothers credit their hard working employees as being a key part of their success.
With such a wide variety of employees, the Schootens can move them into different areas depending on their interests.
“We farm 2500 acres and grow corn, triticale and barley. We also put up about 80,000 tons of silage for ourselves and our silage customers. We custom feed cattle, but also feed about fifty percent owned cattle. We are able to keep our employees working year round,” says Shane.
The boys have also divided up their own responsibilities according to their interests. While Shane handles the cattle customers and marketing, Cody looks after the animal health and manages the employees. Justin takes care of the HR and IT and runs the farming. Their parents live on acreage nearby and John still lends a hand where needed.
John continues his involvement with many industry organizations including the CCA, Cattle Feeder Council, CBGA and NFAC and serves on the Alberta Cattle Feeders board. He was heavily involved in helping to develop the new cattle code of practice. John still trades his half ton for a horse every chance he gets.
“We have a trucking division of cattle liners and super B’s to truck our cattle and haul grain,” continues Shane. “We prefer to feed a lot of British cross cattle.”
“We’re always looking at efficiencies and rates of gain. We’ve done some work with Quantum Genetics on genomics and gene testing to find the higher performing cattle in order to hit target markets.”
“We do some testing at the feedlot, but the cost isn’t in line yet to do all the cattle. We will pay a premium for the genomic tested calves.”
The Schootens have also done some trials testing some natural feed products such as Bio Mos from Alltech. Bio Mos is a yeast product that helps with gut health in order to get the calves on feed quicker. Shane says that it also helps the antibiotics to work quicker.
“This product has been around for a while, but not highly used. It is not expensive and we use it for incoming calves for 30 days. We top dress it on their feed and have used it for several years. We’ve been able to get away from feeding any Tetracycline. Our mortality and pull rate is has significantly improved,” says Shane.
“We also see a reduced rate of mycoplasma.”
With the high price of barley in 2013, the brothers fed some pellets and a few different combinations to try to reduce ration costs. But Shane says they know how well the cattle perform on barley and realized that feeding a cheaper ingredient doesn’t always result in a cheaper cost of gain. However, they do feed ten percent DDG’s in their ration.
Part of the business plan from day one with their lenders, was to have a zero risk policy. They forward contract most of the owned cattle.
Shane started a custom silage business at the age of 18. His parents co-signed for him and rented the young entrepreneur their harvest equipment. They were also one of his first customers. That custom silage business is still part of the operation under the name of S & C Schooten Farming Ltd.
The brothers also have a composting business which creates 25,000 to 35,000 tons of raw product and 10,000 to 15,000 tons of finished compost. They have a government inspected pad and a turning machine to create a tailored product. The bulk compost is sold to potato and dryland farmers. Much of the rest goes to golf courses and landscapers, with some going to local customers. They feel that public perception is enhanced when they come to the feedlot to pick up a bag of compost.
“Being younger, we’ve had to prove ourselves. Our dad instilled in us that if you do a job for someone – you do it right. We can promise the moon but we have to deliver,” says Shane.
John and Patty showed their sons that there can be a time for work and a time for play. John coached the boys in both hockey and soccer. Patty spent countless weekends driving the four boys across the province to different tournaments and games.
The Schooten family has grown to include three daughter-in-lawsand five grandchildren. These young dads must find a healthy balance between family and business in a fast-paced and ever changing marketplace.
Like Shane says, his supper time may be different than other people, but he makes it up to his family in other ways.
“Honesty, integrity and hard work were the pillars of my father’s life. We’ve built our lives and our business on those same pillars and passed them onto our sons. That is what, in my mind, makes this a success story,” says John.