Big acres, big animals, big workload

CARNDUFF, Sask. — A strong work ethic is what it’s all about for the Patons.

They have 450 head of commercial Charolais cattle, 200 purebred Belgian horses and 11,000 total acres of owned and rented land.

“You get up every morning at 6 a.m. and you work until everything is done,” said Melvin Paton, the 81-year-old patriarch at MM Ranch and Paton Bros. farm.

Mel’s adult sons, Curt and Clint, ascribe to the same philosophy. They separate their work into two areas, with Curt taking care of the livestock and Clint heading up the grain farming and accounting.

They agree that maintaining a successful farm operation is all about time management and commitment.

“Every day is different and every day is a challenge,” said Clint.“I never know what’s going to come up each morning so I don’t plan for anything. That keeps it interesting.”

The division of labour finds Curt dealing with all horse-related duties, including managing the PMU herd of 200 purebred Belgians. The herd has been in the family since 1966, with the Patons developing a breeding program that sees horses go to the U.S. as Amish work teams, as well as throughout Canada and the U.S. for the show ring, pulling teams and recreation.

The prized Paton Belgians come with price tags from $2,000 to $20,000 but Curt says that the payoff requires a great deal of commitment.

“There were times last year when I was up for nine straight nights during foaling time,” said Curt.

Due to the high heads and long legs of the Patons’ Belgian foals, deliveries often require assistance.

With an expanded PMU quota and 90 new foals expected this spring, Curt will be busy ensuring that the Belgians not only deliver their foals safely, but that the horses are broken and marketed and that veterinary care and breeding records are maintained.

Curt has four children, some of whom are involved in rodeo and some who have other off-farm activities, and a wife who works as a kindergarten teacher.

Clint has six children and is Carnduff’s fire chief. The many off-farm commitments make for busy schedules, but Clint said the farm is the priority.

“Sometimes when there’s choices to make like do you go to the hockey game or stay home, you have to stay home and work,” he said.

Curt agreed.

“You have to be able to put the farm first for the good of everyone. That’s the main thing,” he said.

Many of the adult Paton children work on the farm when needed. However, Clinton and Curt have encouraged their kids to get training and establish careers outside of farming.

They believe it’s important to get an education or a trade because not all 10 grandchildren can become part of the farm operation.

Curt said that succession planning is currently underway to ensure that the economic health of the overall operation is maintained. Planning and open communication are the keys to success.

“You have to be willing to communicate and lay it on the line every once in a while just to know where everybody stands,” said Curt, who maintains one of the family’s three separate farmyards.

Patriarch Mel, who took over the farm from his dad and uncle in 1949, said the division of labour is one of the reasons for the farm’s success.

“If you want to know about horses, you ask Curt. If you want to know about machinery or books, ask Clint. If you want to know what’s for dinner, ask Grandma,” said Melvin, adding that if anyone wants to know about the cows, they ask him.

Paton matriarch Donalee keeps the home fires burning.

“Having everyone around this much, you really get to know your grandchildren and you know they’re doing well,” she said.

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