Sask. farm family has history of innovation

On the Farm: Vestiges of innovation and experimentation can still be seen on the farm, which was founded in 1924

FOX VALLEY, Sask. — There are two constants at the Lodoen farm: change and innovation.

Since Ben Lodoen homesteaded the land with his brother, establishing their farm in 1924 even before the nearby town of Fox Valley sprang up, there have been all types of enterprises on this land.

Grain, horses, cows, pigs and chickens were the obvious essentials for a homestead.

But there have been fox, mink, coyotes, turkeys, sheep, goats and ostriches, too.

Today, Double L Farms is operated by the second and third generations: Lester, his wife Laura, a registered nurse who works in home care and at the hospital in Maple Creek, and their son, Royce. Royce earned his agriculture business degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 2012.

Their daughter, Elise Coleman, is also a registered nurse and is involved in her own farming operation with her husband.

Known primarily for its sheep now, the farm still carries vestiges of its founder’s ingenuity, such as an irrigation system powered by a tractor and pump that raised water 12 metres to a flume and down into ditches over a quarter section.

He was the first to have a car and was often called upon to drive women in labour to the Maple Creek hospital.

“I think he delivered a few babies on the way,” said Laura.

Ben Lodoen used a wind charger and batteries to power the house he built in the 1940s, and he put up the first telephone line using fence line radios so that people could listen to the radio.

Sheep on the Lodoen farm have access to a large barn that once housed 20,000 turkeys and later held ostriches. | Karen Briere photo

That type of thinking prevailed on the farm.

The Lodoen family still grows grain and raises cattle, but has never shied away from other opportunities.

There were thousands of fox and mink produced on the farm until 1951. Three horses per week were slaughtered to feed them.

But when the market fell, it was time for a change and the turkey business provided income for 25 years.

After Lester obtained his ag diploma at the U of S and joined the family farm, he brought a new element to the farm: purebred Blonde D’Aquitane cattle. A few years later, in 1985, a flock of sheep arrived.

Like many others, Lester and Laura met while exhibiting at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina. Laura’s family was in the swine business.

By 1991, it was time for another adventure. This time, it involved retrofitting the farm to accommodate ostriches.

“I thought people would think I was crazy,” said Lester.

They got out of sheep and put up the high chain link fences needed to keep the ostriches penned in.

“It was a big, big learning curve,” Laura recalled. “We needed specialized equipment, incubators.”

At the time, ostriches were going to be the next big thing. They bought one breeding pair for $65,000, and sold some for $50,000. They even shipped, with partners, three planeloads of live ostriches to Australia and genetics all over the world.

But within nine years the bloom was off the rose.

Lester said the problem was that a meat market never took off.

“I knew if we didn’t get a meat market it wouldn’t last,” he said. “It was an expensive education.”

Meanwhile, Royce and Elise were young and getting into sheep. So in 1997, the flock returned and five years later they added goats.

Today, the goats are gone and Royce concentrates on building the sheep flock. This year they lambed about 450 ewes and kept 150 replacements.

Again, the Lodoens had to try something different. While many tend toward other breeds, Double L brought in purebred Texel eight years ago and North Country Cheviot sheep two years later, to go along with their commercial flock.

“We were founding members of the Canadian Texel Association,” said Lester.

Initially it was hard to drum up interest, but when the higher carcass yields and quality became better known the animals gained more attention.

“Texels have one of the highest carcass cutability (percentages),” Royce said.

While most can expect cutability of 40 to 45 percent, Texels will yield 60 to 63 percent, he said, especially on crosses.

The Lodoens finish the lambs on their farm, shipping the animals mostly to Ontario but also to Alberta.

They use the services of the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board, which seeks bids on behalf of producers and last year had access to 16 buyers.

Lester said marketing used to be a problem. Demand wasn’t strong. But that has changed with immigration and is reflected in the fact that many Hutterite colonies are getting out of chickens or hogs and into the sheep business instead.

They have facilities that allow for early lambing, Lester said, and can fill the demand for lamb in May, June and July.

“Most here start lambing in March and April,” he said.

Strong prices have come along with that demand. A net of $265 per head isn’t unusual.

Still, sheep producers have to suffer through the stigma that comes from being, well, sheep producers.

“You’ve got to like them,” said Lester.

Royce said many people don’t like the labour involved with raising sheep but for small families and families with small children, they are perfect.

“We got them as kids. That was our income,” he said. “They paid for university.”

There are also predator issues, dealt with by guardian dogs and a llama at Double L, and higher death loss than in cattle.

Royce would like to expand the business to include raising replacement stock but needs more pasture.

The family has about 3,600 acres of both deeded and rented land, and seeds 2,000 acres to grain.

This June, they were seeding more to grass and including legumes in the mix to improve the soil and feed quality.

There are still about 60 cows on the farm but future expansion will be of the sheep flock. Royce will be fully taking over the operation within five years.

The decision to retire was the hardest one Lester said he ever had to make, but they have put a good succession plan in place.

Royce is involved in the industry off the farm as a director on the Tompkins sheep pasture, the Saskatchewan Sheep Breeders Association and the All Canada Sheep Classic show. He was also on the Sheep Value Chain Roundtable.

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