Life is calm chaos with farm, off-farm business, family

Organizational skills vital | Multi-family operation stays on track 
with diligent bookkeeping, scheduling and family chores

BLADWORTH, Sask. — Halle Herback had to live in Davidson, Sask., while a sprawling two-storey dream home was built on her central Sask-atchewan farm.

“It’s noisy in town. It’s quiet here,” the nine-year-old said of her family’s Palmer Charolais operation and grain farm.

Now back on the farm, Halle likes to jump on straw bales, gaze at the cows and feed the never ending supply of cats, while her brother, Hunter, 11, enjoys helping at harvest and playing on the growing piles of snow.

They, with younger siblings Hayla and Hinton and parents Velon and Leah, operate a multi-family farm, growing peas, lentils, barley, wheat and canola on 9,500 acres.

They started calving 300 cows last month, half of which are purebred, and keep track of the birthing progress with video monitors.

“It gives you a different income at a different time of year,” Velon said about winter calving.

The family chose Charolais for their meat production.

“Every breed has its own purpose. Bulls are known for their performance in the feedlot.”

Velon farms with his two uncles, three cousins and hired help.

“Five of us buying keeps grain equipment updated,” said Velon.

He credits his aunt and uncle, Bob and Monette Palmer, with helping him get started. Velon’s mother was a Palmer so he spent his summers here while growing up around Regina.

“Without the help, there’s no way I would have got started,” he said.

His grandmother gave him a pig as a boy, which he sold to buy a cow and sold again to buy two cows.

“Then I bought purebreds at age 12 and it snowballed from there,” Velon said. “As long as I can remember, I was always here.”

He moved here 20 years ago and met Leah, who grew up nearby as one of five sisters on a grain farm.

All families pitch in during busy times, with each person responsible for specific roles: spraying, topping up tanks of chemicals, operating air seeders and combines and getting trucks to the field.

Even the youngsters have jobs to do. Velon said Halle has filled 300 syringes for processing cattle and Hunter has spent 150 hours driving the combine.

“Most of our family time is when we are working,” said Velon.

Halle prefers inside tasks to the outside work that Hunter enjoys alongside his father.

“I like feeding the bulls, feeding the new babies, processing cattle, sorting cows, chasing them up in the chute,” Hunter said.

Leah said the wives create cooking schedules to ensure everyone is fed at seeding and harvest.

She has an accounting business in Davidson, so spends days off planning family meals.

“I spend my weekends cooking for the guys so there’s food for the guys when I’m not home,” she said.

Leah keeps everyone organized with a colour coded calendar in the pantry that lists activities from hockey to dance to piano lessons.

“I have to write everything down or something gets missed,” said Leah.

A full schedule leaves little time for breaks from the farm.

“We didn’t even take a honeymoon,” said Velon.

He credits Leah’s organizational skills with balancing farm, work and family life.

“My wife’s a neat freak,” he said of their immaculate home.

Leah said her mother in Davidson watches children after school when needed and Halle helps with household chores.

Velon said their workload goes “right from calving to bull sale to seeding, haying and harvest.”

Palmer Charolais and the Nielson Land and Cattle Company of Craik, Sask., host the annual Charolais, Black and Red Angus bull sale, slated this year for March 3.

They chose to organize a bull sale in a heated shed with video monitors to provide one stop shopping for buyers and delivery of bulls later in the year.

“A lot of people don’t want bulls in March,” Velon said. “We provide free wintering and delivery.”

Leah sells hail and livestock insurance during the sale, which receives sponsorships and includes a meal.

“Before, guys would be coming over a couple of months. We’d lose half a day at a time. This way, it’s all at once,” said Leah.

Velon said good cattle prices this year because of an abundance of cheap feed grain mean it’s a good time to fatten cattle. Early calving means bigger rewards for the Herbacks.

“Bigger calves are worth more in the fall,” he said. “To get that extra bit of dollar, it takes work.”

The couple agreed that Velon’s welding skills combined with Leah’s job and expertise in bookkeeping, interest rates, terms of loans and debt equity ratios are assets in their business.

“If I wasn’t working, we wouldn’t have built a new house,” said Leah.

Both the farm and her accounting business are incorporated, with farm income reinvested into the farm business. It’s a busy life, but Velon likes the cattle business and cattle people and has no regrets about his career choice.

“I never even thought twice about it,” he said.