More often than not, mixing family and business is like an ill-conceived blind date: awkward and hard to get out of. That’s not the case for Shane and Kristen Schooten, recent winners of Alberta’s Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) award. They are living proof that you can survive and even thrive by blending family and finances.
For Shane, the family/business connection started early.
“I was farming with my dad, John, when I was old enough to walk,” says Schooten.
He started feeding cattle when he was 14. Three years later, at an age where most boys are trying to master the latest video game, he bought his first John Deere self-propelled forage harvester and started a custom silaging business.
Following the BSE crisis of 2003, Shane and his brothers, Cody and Justin, assumed management of Schooten and Sons Custom Feedyard from their father.
Since buying out their dad in 2006, the brothers have been running the feedlot in Diamond City, Alberta with capacity to feed 36,000 head of cattle, as well as a custom farming operation consisting of 5,000 acres.
They also have a composting division that supplies golf courses and landscapers.
“We use a lot of the compost on our own land as it increases production by 10 to 15 per cent,” says Shane.
Shane and Kristen were surprised to be nominated for the OYF award by their bank and humbled to win it. They will compete for the national Outstanding Young Farmers title later this year in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
“For us it was confirmation that what we’re doing is working,” says Shane. “There aren’t a lot of accolades out there for farming, and not many kids have the drive to enter the business. This award gives them something to strive for and a chance to be recognized for the hard work they do.”
Retain and sustain
Recognition is also something the Schootens emphasize with their staff.
“We have 35 full-time employees and we really value their opinions,” says Shane. “By setting them up for success and giving them room to grow, we’ve attained close to 100 per cent employee retention over the last five years.”
When it comes to growth as a company, they subscribe to the “tortoise and hare” philosophy: Slow but steady wins the race.
“Our goal is controlled expansion where we have a balance between working in the business and on the business,” says Shane. “It’s an approach that should make us sustainable for decades to come.”
The Schootens also take a “big picture” approach to agriculture as a whole, stressing the need to improve education for children and young parents.
“Many people today know little or nothing about where their food comes from,” says Shane. “They need to realize that what we do is important, and that we care for our animals and land as much as we care for our own families.”
For Shane, Kristen and Shane’s brothers, it begins and ends with family.
“Our dad did so much to get things going and instilled the work ethic and values that we maintain to this day,” says Shane.
Since they also have one brother (Mike) who is not in the farming business, they invested a lot of time and money in estate planning so that everyone was on the same page going forward.
“We had some hard conversations, but that effort is paying dividends now as we all know where we sit and everyone is happy,” says Kristen. “Our farm is a large operation but it’s still family driven.”
For Shane and Kristen, part of their commitment to family includes spending quality time with their two children. If mom and dad ever have a slow business day, which is rare, five-year-old Gracen and three-year-old Berkley make sure their parents are never bored.
They say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. In other words, you must work with the cards you’re dealt. In that regard, the Schootens feel like they have a winning hand, and they can’t wait to see how it plays out.