LACOMBE, Alta. — Zuidhof Feeders sprawls over the rise of a hill in the rolling parkland of central Alberta. Its towering feed mill can be seen for miles. Pens of feeder cattle are squared off over the hillside. Hundreds of bales are stacked in rows nearby. Adjacent to the farm site, cattle dot the landscape.
The Zuidhofs run a 6,000 head feedlot, a 500 head cow-calf operation and a 3,500 acre grain farm. They grow barley for silage as well as for cattle feed, but most of their feed barley is purchased. They plant canola, peas, and wheat for cash crops.
This diversified enterprise had humble beginnings. Martin Zuidhof, whose father started the feedlot in 1969 with 500 head, says his parents came to Canada in 1949 for their honeymoon with plans to stay.
“They saw more of a future here.”
Martin remembers his father, Bill, as a young man. “He had a dream to farm but never had any money”.
But eventually, Bill and his brother found enough to rent a farm north of Lacombe for five years. Martin was born there in 1957.
Three years later a farm came up for sale south east of Lacombe, near where Martin and his wife, Annette, live today. Bill and his brother bought it, partnering until the late 1960s, when Bill bought their present location.
Martin and his older brother worked here with their dad, gradually expanding the feedlot and grain operation.
Eventually Martin and Annette took over. Bill passed away suddenly in 1998 and Hilda, Bill’s wife of 49 years, passed away in 2011.
Annette was raised nearby at Gull Lake, Alta., where her parents ran a farrow to finish hog farm. She works part-time in Blackfalds for Alberta Health Service, but she is also integral to the farm.
“I do the books and the banking; all the paper stuff.”
Annette feeds the crews at harvest and like farm wives everywhere, has a long list of other tasks as required.
Martin and Annette have five children. The four younger siblings are involved in the farm. Victor, 28, and Jeffrey, 21, each have their own quarter sections adjoining their parent’s land. Allison, 27, is married and raises cattle with her husband 20 minutes west at Bentley. She’s an agrologist at Richardson Pioneer, just a few kilometres from her parent’s farm. Ashley, 25, is a registered nurse in Red Deer and lives in Blackfalds.
The eldest of the siblings, Jessica, 30, is a music teacher in Edmonton.
Martin said his dad never had beef cows.
“It’s the kids who got into that” as members of the East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club
“The first legitimate bovine birth on our farm was Victor’s heifer, around 2000.”
Each of the kids started 4-H with heifer projects, who in turn had calves and so on.
“It wasn’t long and they had 30 or 40 cows.”
Victor later bought another 30 head when he was enrolled in agricultural business at Olds College. Jeffrey completed the same program more recently. The brothers manage the cow-calf operation.
Victor recalls the evolution of that.
“I saw lots of animals come and go in the feedlot but there were never any calves.”
His nine years in 4-H got him thinking about raising cattle from birth rather than from when they were half grown.
“I learned as I went”, he says, “and it gave me something that integrated into the business but was my own thing.”
There was never a question as to Victor’s career choice.
“I knew from the time I was five years old. People would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer was always the same: ‘I want to be a farmer.’ ”
Jeffrey feels the same.
“When we were younger, we always rode around with Dad. We were probably in the way but he never seemed to mind. Later, I saw Victor working in 4-H with the cattle. I just always wanted to do the same thing,” Jeffrey says.
Allison and Ashley have their own jobs and lives but have strong ties to the farm.
“Whether it’s during harvest or calving, times of the year when you can never have enough people, we can call the girls and they’ll be there at a moment’s notice,” Victor says.
Martin attributes the farm’s growth and success in part to the good relationships within the family.
“The kids get along really well. If you like and are enthused about what you do, it spreads”.
He marvels at the advancements in farming he’s seen.
“The efficiencies in raising cattle, the feed conversions, the genetics, the knowledge about weeds and crop disease. It’s amazing how things have changed. But also the financial part of it. The money required is so incredibly much these days. If we can partner together, it helps them grow and in time we can step back.”
When asked how Bill would feel about the legacy he started, Martin says, “He’d be proud.”