The cattle herd at Lonestone Farms was growing, as was the size and number of machines needed to take care of the purebred Red Angus and Simmental stock.
“When my grandfather farmed, we would have had around 50 cows. As we got more cows, we needed more and more equipment to properly feed them and take care of them,” said Nathan Brown, a fourth generation farmer at Lone Stone Farms.
With the increased demand for equipment that’s used daily throughout the winter months, the farm needed a larger shop to maintain its fleet.
When the farm erected a 60 by 120 foot shop in 2008 to support the 350 head cattle operation, as well as the 1,600-acre crop it puts up, Brown knew it would change considerably how the farm operates.
However, he didn’t foresee how well the new shop would help strengthen the farm’s community ties in the Westlock, Alta., area.
“We built it knowing it would change the farm, like having a large indoor area to put equipment in and not having to host our events in our garage. We knew it would change but we didn’t realize by how much,” Brown said.
“It’s kind of turned into an unofficial community hall.”
During the shop’s planning stage, Brown’s family decided that if they we’re going to make such a significant investment into a shop, it should meet as many of the farm’s needs as possible.
For instance, the farm has a bull sale on the last Friday of every February, and they used to haul their bulls to a local auction mart for the sale.
“We thought, ‘what a chance we have to build a facility to have our bulls stay home and be able to have people come to our farm, so they can also be able to see our farm and our cattle instead of having to go to the auction mart,’ ” Brown said.
The original plan was to have the bulls come through the shop, but they decided to go with a video sale so the bulls could stay in their pens.
“We video them about a month before the sale and then we have big TVs in there, and we just haul bleachers in there and we bought numerous tables and chairs over the years just because other events that we’ve hosted,” Brown said.
The chairs and bleachers that are now on hand allow up to 250 people to be seated in the shop for events such as the bull sale.
The family also built a kitchen in the shop so they could feed the people that attend.
“My mom is a very good cook and she likes doing that kind of stuff,” he said.
The kitchen also opened up more possibilities for what the shop could be used for.
“We’ve had dances, we’ve worked with Northlands during Farm Fair and had people who were doing farm tours and stuff like that,” he said.
“So they’ll come out and tour our farm and then we can host a supper because we have the facility.”
He said a positive side-effect of having events in the shop is that it forces them to keep their shop clean.
“Last summer was the first time we ever had a wedding in there, which I thought people were crazy but they wanted to do it,” he said.
“They had the ceremony on the front lawn and they came and cleaned the shop up and decorated it, and we had a reception in our shop. That was probably the cleanest it’s been since we built it.”
Brown said they never charge for the use of their shop because it’s their way of helping their friends and community.
They also host a customer appreciation barbecue every fall in the shop, which attracts 150 to 200 people.
The family also built a one-bedroom suite in the shop with a bed, couch, TV and fireplace.
“When family or friends come out and we just need more beds to stay in, and depending on the time of year, they might be woken up by a tractor starting up,” Brown said.