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Prominent Ont. cattle feeders retiring

Jemstar Farms, a fixture in southwestern Ontario’s cattle feeding industry and one of the top cattle operations in the province, will close the book later this month on its 45-year history.

The farm, owned and operated by brothers Bob, Dave and Jim Cooke of Walkerton, will host a complete dispersal auction March 25 for its equipment as the Cookes prepare for retirement.

“Farming has been a good life filled with opportunities and irreplaceable knowledge,” Jim Cooke said in a release Tuesday by Vancouver-based auction firm Ritchie Bros., for whom the Jemstar sale will be its first on-farm auction in Ontario. “Now it’s time to move on to the next phase in our lives.”

Dave and Bob Cooke started their farm in the 1960s on 300 acres at Walkerton, where Jim joined them in 1972 after earning a degree in ag engineering. On an expansion track, “we bought a neighbouring farm or so every year,” Bob Cooke said on Ritchie Bros.’ website.

“We’d clean up the land, do the fence work, install tile drains, improve the soil — get it ready for farming.”

The farm grew to 2,100 acres, including feedyard capacity for 3,000 head of cattle and cropland to feed them.

Before the U.S. border closed to live Canadian cattle in 2003 after the discovery of an infected cow in Alberta, the Cookes had also been shipping animals to southern U.S. custom lots for finishing there. After May 2003, they replaced that cross-border business with western and local backgrounding and custom feeding projects.

The Cookes went public against the border closure in April 2005, when the brothers filed a challenge against the U.S. government under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement and international trade law, challenging the ban on U.S. imports of live Canadian cattle.

This year, with all three brothers now in their 60s and none from the subsequent generation of Cookes planning to take over, the Jemstar partners have opted to retire.

Neighbouring farmers have already purchased separate sections of Jemstar’s land base, and the feedyard itself has been sold to another prominent southwestern Ontario cattle business, Schaus Land and Cattle of Elmwood.

Ken Schaus confirmed Tuesday that the Jemstar feedlot’s staff are now working for its new owners.

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