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Winter of 2021-22 filled with changes for the Schafer family

John and Lester Schafer look at cow herd.

John and Lester Schafer will always have their eyes on top quality Registered Herefords. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

BUFFALO LAKE, Minn. – As the growing season approaches, it’s time to say our goodbyes to the father and son team of Lester and John Schafer.

Let’s look back at our five months together.

The 2021 growing season ended with lots of moisture – more than 20 inches for August through October.

As of Nov. 6, the Schafer had their last 35 acres left to combine, as well as cornstalk and soybean bales to make.

The last of the crops were harvested in November, and it was worth their effort. Yields and quality of both corn and soybeans were very good.

Perhaps the strangest southern Minnesota weather of the year was a thunderstorm on Dec. 15. That same system spawned tornadoes, straight line winds, and rain through several states. John has a good friend from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board that lost much of his property to wildfire. Winds up to 100 miles per hour knocked down power lines that started grass fires. The Kansas cattle producer lost their home, their horses, a couple hundred head of cattle, and winter feed.

In Minnesota, snowfall through the winter was typical, maybe even a little on the lighter side, and the snowpack was all but melted by early March. Topsoil was muddy, but the soil was still frozen.

“I pushed the limit a couple of days hauling manure. By the time I was done, it was getting smeary,” John Schafer conceded. Farmers in the region will want to get into the fields in mid-April, but it will depend on the weather.

The Schafers applied anhydrous ammonia at one farm last fall. Conditions at the home farm were too wet, though, for fall application. In mid-March, John talked with the co-op and learned that urea is available, but it is expensive.

“I’m going to be pushing the pencil the next couple of days and evaluating whether to switch some acres to soybeans or go with the amount of corn we had planned,” he said. “There are quite a few variables, and an unknown yet is when we can get in to plant. That might make the decision for me.”

He’s also looking at the financials for planting corn vs. alfalfa. It might make more sense to purchase hay and plant corn, but if everybody thinks that way, there could be hay shortages next fall.

“The good thing is there’s an opportunity to lock in a pretty good price if you don’t want to take the risk,” he said. “I can’t remember – in 40 years of farming – sitting at the end of March with so many unknowns when you don’t know what’s going to happen with the inputs or prices for grain at the end.

“Then throw in the cattle market, and all the uncertainty there. Farming is not for the faint of heart,” he added.

The Schafer Registered Hereford herd managed well through the winter of 2021-22, which was good for John and Lester.

Lester, 95, had an accident at the farm on Dec. 23. While fixing on the barn, he fell about 10 feet and landed in the snow. It could have been much worse, although he ended up with a broken hip, bruised ribs, and a severe knee sprain.

On Christmas Eve, he had surgery at Regions Hospital where a titanium rod was placed in his hip.

The good news is Lester returned home on Jan. 16 and has continued to make progress every day.

“He is continuing to come along quite well,” John said. “He’s been cleared to start driving again and made a few short trips. He is mostly walking without any cane or walker, but he has a cane along in case he needs it.”

John lost his chore partner for the winter, but Lester was still available to provide a needed second opinion and good advice. Together, they watched cattle sales on the computer – and some of the Hereford bulls had blood lines related to Schafer genetics.

LJS Mark Domino genetics are in the top echelon for Hereford programs across the U.S. and beyond.

John has high hopes for a 2021 Domino calf – LJS 2112. His resume is already half a page long, with an unofficial adjusted yearling weight of 1,296 pounds (top 30 percent, but his ranking will improve once his actual data is included in the American Hereford Association calculations). He currently ranks in the top 1 percent of the breed’s EPDs for maternal milk, udder suspension, and teat size; in the top 5 percent for maternal calving ease, ribeye area, marbling, and Certified Hereford Beef index; top 15 percent for carcass weight and back fat; and top 25 percent for calving ease.

“I try not to get my hopes up too much on an individual bull when he’s young, but in this case, there are sure a lot of things that look positive,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential and hope.”

His dam, he added, just calved another great looking bull calf. 2112’s sister also calved and had a nice, low birth weight heifer that’s doing very well.

As the 2022 calving season winds down, John’s already thinking about potential “matings” for cows and heifers. His thought process focuses on what has worked and what he’d like to improve.

“The EPDs certainly enter into that, and most of our females have genomic-enhanced EPDs,” he said.

A genomic-enhanced EPD offers the best estimate of an animal’s genetic value by combining all sources of information. The information is getting more concise and accurate, constantly.

It’s an exciting time to be in the Registered Hereford business.

It’s an excitement the Schafer family has shared for over a century – ever since John’s great-grandfather traveled by train to Garner, Iowa, in 1917 to purchase the farm’s first four Registered Hereford heifers.

For 105 years, the Hereford breed has continued to improve at their Buffalo Lake farm. With LJS Mark Domino genetics scattered across the country, there’s no telling how long the Schafer family will continue to influence the breed.

From Andrea: A very special thank you to John Schafer for his reports during the winter of 2021-22. I felt honored to meet Lester Schafer last fall and hear about his service at the very end of WWII.

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