Give and take: respect key to family’s success

Targeting skills | Brothers have individual responsibilities and interests on the mixed farm

CHIN, Alta. — John, George and Mark Lohues are points on the triangle that make up Lohues Farms and Coyote Flats Charolais.

Their homes at the three corners are separated by an expanse of fertile farmland purchased by their late father, Hank, 13 years after he immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1956.

Theirs is a family farm, with the brothers managing their separate areas of expertise in the farming operation that involves grain, pulses, row crops, a feedlot and a purebred cattle business.

Together, they farm about 1,600 acres on property north of Chin in southern Alberta.

John has four children with his wife, Shelley. George and his wife, Angela, have three and Mark and his wife, Trish, also have three. And although the brothers agree it can be difficult for families to work together, they’ve developed a method that works.

“It’s trust and give and take. We trust each other that we’re all going to do the best we can,” said Mark.

George agrees.

“In our younger years, we had a few scraps. Later on, we just realized that we’re not all the same and we just have to accept that.”

John also weighs in.

“I think we figured out pretty quick that the three of us farming together was going to be a way better way to go about it than trying to start out each on their own. So you just sort of swallow your pride and go with it.”

Each brother has his own area of responsibility. A daily morning meeting at the feedlot, where they talk over coffee, sets the pace.

John handles the row crops, Mark runs the cattle side and George, who also serves on various commodity boards and organizations, is mostly involved with crops and marketing.

“I kind of get my nose into everything,” he said.

When their father bought the land, it was considered poor because of its sandy soil, but irrigation proved ideal for potatoes and sugar beets.

Those same advantages have driven up land prices in the region, making expansion difficult. A quarter section of irrigated land in this area recently sold for $1.4 million.

George said feeding some of the crops through the cattle adds value to the operation, and the land base can handle and benefit from the manure.

The family has been in the Char-olais business for 22 years and now has a herd of about 110 purebred cows.

“What we do is, we sell bulls and then with our customers that we sell bulls to, we try to buy back their calves ranch-direct, so it allows us the opportunity to buy calves, get a healthier animal,” said Mark.

“Also it allows our customers to come back throughout the year and see what their cattle do on the finishing end as well. We’ve had good response to it.”

They also run a 3,600 head feedlot, about 40 percent of which is custom feeding. Concentration on Charolais in their own herd is a conscious choice because of flexibility in marketing, said Mark.

“You can market a steer calf at 1,250 pounds or you can take it to 1,400 lb. You have that window where you can market them where they will still yield well.”

On the farming side, the brothers embrace technology, including GPS, RTK and yield mapping.

George said they look forward to the day when variable rate manure application is possible, and he thinks variable rate irrigation will soon be in use on their farm.

The brothers have quiet enthusiasm for the future of farming, but also for its present.

John mentions the autonomy that the farming life provides and the opportunity to be your own boss.

“Not that we get a big rush out of being a boss, but just that we’re able to manage our own time,” he said.

Adds George: “I find after working in the office, I can feel the stress rising up. I can last about half a day and then I have to go outside. If I had a job that was in the office, I’d be a wreck.

“I can just feel the tension leave me as I step outside the door. I take a deep breath of air and I just feel it go away.”

Mark has other things on his list.

“I just love the outdoors. And I like livestock. Probably any variety of livestock, but I still get a kick out of a calf trying to take its first steps or making a sick calf better.”

Despite those benefits, the brothers worry about the future of small farms. High land prices and environmental pressures may lead to more land being rented by farmers but owned by corporations or estates. They’ve seen examples in this region.

“It makes me a little bit sad,” muses George. “I would sooner see farms a little smaller, that you could have pride of ownership, and where people are able to run their own farms rather than work on a farm.

“But maybe that’s pie in sky.”

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