The Schram Farm; built to last

By Megan Walchuk

Slow and steady wins the race, as the old adage says; the same can be said in the farming world.

Jason Schram and his family have seen the ebb and flow of the agriculture sector over the past four decades, and have used those years of experience to build a successful cattle operation.

Jason was born and raised in farming. When he was young, his father Philip ran a small dairy operation, producing cream from 30-40 head of cattle. It was a tough go, with a young family; Philip took a job in the bush to make ends meet.

“We only got a small cheque every couple weeks for the cream, and it was hard to make a go of it,” he said.

When he was still in school, Jason decided to branch into beef. He started a small herd, which he slowly grew year by year. The dairy cows and quota were sold off, and replaced with more beef, and today, Jason, his brother Travis and their dad have a herd of 250 cattle, which swells to 500 after the arrival of calves.

It’s a sweet spot that works for the family.

“Right now, 250 is about our line – you only have so much pasture and hay land. That’s enough,” said Jason.

The calves are sold in the spring, through auction and out to Manitoba farms for finishing. It makes for a life of careful and steady progress.

“The cheque only comes once a year, so you have to make it work and make it last,” he said. “You have to be very careful with your spending.”

That has proven to be a challenge in recent years. The drought two years ago forced the family to sell off a portion of its herd, due to lack of feed. What hay they could grow or buy was cut with straw and protein to make it stretch as far as possible.

“We got through that way. It was tough and we had to sell 30 to 40 cows,” he said. “It was a tough year for sure.”

This year, farmers are caught with high fuel and fertilizer prices; fertilizer prices have tripled, forcing the Schrams to cut back their purchases. But thanks to favourable weather, it has all worked out.

“Where we did put a little fertilizer, it grew really well. We had just the right amount of rain, at the right times, to make things grow,” he said. “It’s high quality as well.”

High sales prices have also helped the operation to recover from the drought, and offset the higher costs.

“Cattle pricing is very strong now. Hard to compare, with the cost of fuel and fertilizer, but it looks really positive. Usually these things don’t last, but it’s good. It’s long overdue. With the cost of everything going up, we really need it,” he said. “We can’t have our cattle just have one or two good years. We need several good years to keep going.

If prices falter, and costs stay high, it could push many producers out of the industry, he said. He’s already seen many young families and grown children heading out of the area for better paying jobs.

“There’s a generation that’s getting to the age of retiring, and no-one to take over,” he said.

For Jason, he’s hopeful one of his three kids has an interest in carrying on. For him, it has been a labour of love, and he’s hopeful they feel the same.

“If you’ve got it in your blood and you want to farm and you enjoy it, you’re going to do it,” he said. “But you’re sticking your neck out, working every day, in all weather. It’s not a picnic. It’ll take your whole savings, and full commitment, but if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it.”

Farming full-time means being adaptable, and making do. Although there’s always many projects and ideas, slow and steady progress and taking care of the limited time and financial resources, has been important to the farm’s long-term success.

“A farmer is like a jack of all trades. A farmer is a welder, a plumber and a carpenter and a mechanic. You’ve got to do a little bit of everything, to put things back together and make it work,” he said. But he can’t imagine his life any other way.

“If you’re going to do something, do what you enjoy, and we’ve always enjoyed the farm.”