Angus breeders evolve, improve, promote sector

PEEBLES, Sask. — It took a STARS helicopter landing in the yard to bring home the farm safety message to the Johnsons this year.

Brielle, the teenaged daughter of Andrew and Laurie Johnson, was driving an all-terrain vehicle when it collided with a silage truck at a treed intersection in the family’s farmyard near Peebles.

She suffered a concussion and was airlifted to hospital, while her riding companion had a ruptured spleen.

“Having an accident makes you more conscious of how quickly an accident can happen,” said Brielle’s grandfather, David, who helps Andrew and Laurie operate the family farm with his wife, Anne.

He quoted the often used phrase: “Safety, don’t learn it by accident.”

Andrew agreed.

“It’s something you’ve got to talk about every day,” he said.

The Johnson kids: Maya, 12, Desta, 10, : The Johnson children, Maya, left, 12, Desta, 10, Brielle, 15 and Indy, 1, are involved with day-to-day work on the farm. | Karen Morrison photo

The Johnson kids: Maya, 12, Desta, 10, : The Johnson children, Maya, left, 12, Desta, 10, Brielle, 15 and Indy, 1, are involved with day-to-day work on the farm. | Karen Morrison photo

Anne said the family recently developed farm safety protocols for themselves and their farm workers to help avoid accidents stemming from construction of a new house for Andrew and Laurie and their four girls and a new barn for their annual bull and female sale.

“If the family sees something not safe, tell others,” she said.

Laurie said the goal is to keep children safe while enjoying the farm work and lifestyle.

“We don’t want to wrap them in bubble wrap,” she said, noting how Brielle, Maya, Desta and Indy are an integral part of their purebred Angus operation.

Norwegian immigrants Yorgen and Anna Yonson (original spelling) homesteaded here at the beginning of the 20th century, lured by the promise of good winters and free land. They had eight children, including Henry, David’s father.

David and Anne raised four children here and operated a dairy operation and later a feedlot before realizing upgrades were needed.

“We needed to make a commitment for the children, not just ourselves,” said Anne, who noted her other children are not involved in the farm.

Today, the operation includes 5,000 acres of hayland, cereals and pasture and 600 head of purebred Black Angus cattle, which calve in January, April and September.

They began buying and breeding after the BSE crisis hit, building a herd strong on eye appeal, temperament, production, fertility and frame.

Their work has been rewarded with accolades such as the Sask-atchewan Angus Association’s purebred breeder of the year in 2012.

This year, good moisture reserves carried them through the growing season, producing yields that were 80 percent of normal. More rain in late summer made a third cut of hay possible.

They normally leave a field in hay for four to five years, feeling it gives them more production. They will grow grass for two years and then put it back to hay.

The family puts alfalfa into silage in July.

They keep smaller groups of animals together to minimize disease transfer and allow for a better pecking order in the herd.

The animals are medicated from afar using rifles.

“You can do 10 animals in 10 minutes,” said Andrew.

Good cattle prices make it a good time to invest in the operation.

All agree it’s important to keep evolving and upgrading. Andrew looks to the future and dreams of technologies such as drones and GPS chips in ear tags to locate animals.

“From my computer, I’ll know where every animal is,” he said.

“If you’re not constantly improving or working on what’s working, it’ll be a short time and you’re out,” said Andrew.

“On the farm, unless you’re improving every year, you probably will be left behind.”

He and Laurie handle cattle registration, bookkeeping and marketing for Johnson Livestock.

They also promote the industry and Laurie’s photography business through their blogs at www.johnson-livestock.com and www. laurieannphotography.com.

David does field work and night checks at calving and ensures that the cow-calf pairs stay together, while Anne oversees hospitality for the sale.

The children help sort the animals at sales and during processing.

The youngest Johnson in cowboy boots rides along with the family this day to check cows, something Andrew said is important.

“I would love to farm with one or all my children. Unless they’re involved today, they probably will not be there later,” he said.

Laurie and Andrew, who met at a Christian convention and married in their late teens, take family trips and enjoy their horses and slough-side zip line.

Family and full and part-time workers allow David to get away for duties as a director with the Sask-atchewan and Canadian Angus associations.

They also enabled Laurie and Andrew to travel to Ethiopia to adopt Desta when she was a toddler.

David and Anne have not yet started succession planing for the farm but want to lessen their involvement in the near future.

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