Timing was right for couple to join farm and grow herd

Stuart family shares land, machinery and pasture with parents and have expanded the herd to 360

EDAM, Sask. — The satisfaction and privilege that comes from toiling together on the farm are special, said Melissa Stuart.

“At the end of the day, you still go home and you’re still a family. I don’t know if a lot of kids see that anymore,” she said.

Melissa and her husband, Mitch, operate Stuart Cattle Station, a Red and Black Angus purebred and commercial herd east of Edam, Sask.

The couple, along with daughters Amy, 7 and Haley, 5, lives a stone’s throw from the farmyard of Mitch’s parents, David and Alice Stuart.

Together, they still farm the half section first homesteaded by Mitch’s great-grandfather, a professional banker who left Toronto in 1924 to build a farm.

The couple first met at the University of Saskatchewan, where they received degrees in agriculture (animal science) in 2004.

They lived in Saskatoon for more than two years but the lure of the land tugged at them.

The leap of faith to move home, build a modest abode and eventually leave their day jobs followed the births of both children.

“We had a long talk about it and we decided we didn’t want other people raising our kids,” said Mitch.

Added Melissa, “Our parents both said you only get to raise kids once. They only grow up once.”

In 2012, Mitch discontinued his daily two to three hour commute into Saskatoon.

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“That was the year, we had 70 percent heifers though so we had a lot of heifers coming up along the line, so our herd was going to be more,” said Melissa.

Good timing coincided with their growing herd.

“(A friend) said you built your herd during cheap years and you can live off of it now that cattle prices are high. It’s going to contribute better to your income,” said Mitch. “We’re reaping the rewards of the cattle market the way that it is.”

They took out loans on cattle and received help from Mitch’s parents.

“If they weren’t around and if they weren’t supporting us, there’s no possible way that we would ever be able to do what we’re doing,” said Mitch.

They describe their two operations as intertwined, borrowing and sharing land, machinery and rented pastures.

“The biggest thing and Dad has said this thousands of times is we’re building sweat equity,” said Mitch. “It is helping out Mom and Dad because their herd is a lot bigger than it ever has been, which will be their retirement.”

The Stuarts have a goal of building a sustainable farm, both financially and environmentally.

They turned 360 head out to breed this past spring and retained about 120 heifers. They background 40 steers and feed 50 yearling bulls.

Their operation is manageable. They realize the tough part is balancing the work of herd expansion while continuing to focus on raising a young family.

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“We’re not the type of people that want to be a mega farm. We have no aspirations to run a thousand cows. There’s a lot of competition for land, for rent, for bales, for grain,” said Mitch. “Everybody has a different measurement of happiness. The big one’s financial.”

Despite a strong cattle market, economic stress is still also a factor.

“I’ve always said that farming is the most rewarding and the most frustrating occupation that there is on the planet,” said Mitch.

He said the same week they sold calves for a good price, their tractor needed some expensive mechanical work.

“We stimulated the economy.”

The Stuarts said their daughters are already an active part of the daily farm activities.

“If we’re processing cattle, they’re out there with us. Just this last year they’ve been starting to work on the chutes and learning flight zones,” said Melissa.

Walking through the cattle stalls at this year’s Edam Fall Fair, Amy noted the manure odours.

“That’s what I love. It smells like home,” she said.

Contact william.dekay@producer.com

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