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Johnson Livestock — A true family business

Saskatchewan Angus operation is run by young couple, four daughters and his parents

Every bull and nearly every cow bought from Johnson Livestock is delivered in person to the customer. The personalized service is part of a two-pronged approach at this purebred Angus operation — old-fashioned customer service coupled with new-school dedication to keeping a finger on the pulse of the market.

“We truly care about our cattle working out for the next guy and the great thing about being in about 80 customer yards once a year is that I learn so much and I’m inspired by what others are doing,” said Andrew Johnson, 38, who operates Johnson Livestock with his parents, David and Anne Johnson, and his wife Laurie and their four children.

Even though hundreds of bred cows and bulls are sold from this large 700-head operation annually, Laurie, 37, said her goal is to keep the contact with customers as personal as possible.

“People relate to you when you have the personal touch,” said Laurie, pointing to the fact that all four of her daughters are part of the operation and that Johnson Livestock is focused on being a family business.

“This is our family, this is our lifestyle and this is why we do what we do,” said Laurie.

Growing up on what was originally a dairy farm, Andrew knew early on that his passion for livestock would become a career. When the dairy was sold in 1993, Andrew and his dad began amassing both land and cattle to coincide with Andrew’s growing interest in becoming a purebred Angus cattle farmer.

“Dad allowed me to make decisions and make mistakes that taught me to be really interested in raising the best cattle,” said Andrew, who was the only one of his three siblings to stay on the farm.

While David and Anne are still part of the operation, living in the same yard as their son and daughter-in-law, Andrew said his goal is to make the farming experience for his parents less physical and more retirement focused. Hence the building of an 8,500-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art sale barn and storage shed, complete with a heated sale ring, seating areas and kitchen facility.

Andrew said the new building was not so much out of necessity as it was a nice perk for his mom and dad who spent many years in colder and humbler conditions getting the Angus breeding business off the ground. The former sale building has now been converted into an indoor cattle chute area where Andrew and his older three daughters administer shots, dewormer and general cattle care to as many as 70 or so cattle a day during the busy season.

Andrew focuses his time and energy working directly with the cattle, taking care of pregnancy checks, insemination and breeding while his full-time hired hand handles the day-to-day feeding and some of the field work.

A large land base allows the Johnsons to grow all of their own feed, which includes corn, alfalfa and barley silage as well as grain and hay. On any given day 17-year-old Brielle can be found baling or putting up silage; 14-year-old Maya might be bottle feeding an orphaned calf and 12-year-old Desta could be administering dewormer or halter breaking the girls’ 4-H calves.

“On sale day, it’s basically the girls and their friends who put the cattle through the ring on their own. I give them a two-minute pep talk ahead of time and then I’m busy with customers and they take care of moving all the cattle through,” said Andrew, adding that his youngest daughter, three-year-old Indy, likes to tag along and emulate her three big sisters.

Three-year-old Indy gets a bird’s-eye view of the Johnson Livestock farm from the shoulders of her dad, Andrew.
photo: Christalee Froese

The Johnsons host two large sales a year — the purebred female sale in December where 350 to 400 bred cows are sold and a bull sale in March featuring 150 males. The size of the sale allows customers to come from as far as Alberta and Ontario to buy up to 60 or 70 head at one time.

With Andrew and the kids focusing on the outside work, Laurie concentrates on the marketing end of the business, photographing and laying out the sale catalogues and taking care of the farm’s social media presence. With a passion for design, the Saskatoon-raised matriarch of the family has developed a black and white Johnson Livestock brand that extends from their new black-sided home with white interior to the Johnson logo and the black and white T-shirts and sweatshirts the family sports.

Laurie and Andrew have also developed a Johnson Livestock blog, Facebook feed and Instagram account that highlights their purebred cattle and their rural lifestyle.

“The farming lifestyle is really en vogue right now and people are interested in it. When I grew up you were embarrassed to say you were from a farm family but today it’s become a cool thing,” said Andrew.

Spending 90 per cent of their time on the farm, the Johnsons put family first both while working with the cattle and in the farmhouse.

“It’s fun to all be working together to put a meal together in the kitchen,” said Laurie who helped design a state-of-the-art area for her girls to prepare their garden- and beef-centred menus.

“The girls are extremely competent in the kitchen… one day I came home and Maya had made salsa and canned it all on her own,” said Laurie.

The Johnsons are the new face of cattle farming, one that is rooted in old-fashioned family values and personalized customer service, but has embraced technology and large-scale farming as the way of the future.

About the author

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Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Sask.

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