People of Poultry: Susan Schafers

People often dream about the farm lifestyle, the benefits of growing your own food, living on the land, teaching your kids the value of hard work and being in close touch with nature. Schafers raised three children on her farm and was able to be with her children, enjoying the flexibility in living and working in one place. “Living rurally, the land, the animals, raising food – it all ties in with the family ethic and values,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to raise children.”

Susan Schafers is the owner and operator of STS Farms located near Stony Plain, Alberta. She is also the newly elected Chair of the Poultry Innovation Partnership, member of the U of A Heritage Chicken Program Steering Committee and chair of the Agricultural Service Board for Parkland County. Schafers is a second-generation poultry farmer with a rich background and optimistic attitude. She shares decades of experience and some words of wisdom to those who dream of a farm of their own.

The family farm (originally named Holborn Poultry Farm) was started in the early 60’s when her parents immigrated to Canada from Germany. Over the years, the family farm produced layers, broiler breeders, pullets, a cow/calf operation and even grain farming.

People often dream about the farm lifestyle with the benefits of growing your own food and living on the land. Schafers raised three children on her farm and enjoyed the flexibility of living and working in one place. “Living rurally, the land, the animals, raising food – it all ties in with the family ethic and values,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to raise children.” Although her children are finding their own path, her two sons are keen on farming and Schafers hopes that they may eventually take on the farm as the third generation.

Life is busy at STS Farms in 2021, where the focus is exclusively on layers and pullets. “I have a little over 11,000 layers – with some capability to lease in more -which brings it up to 14,000,” said Schafers. “This is the most stable part of the business.” Schafers houses her laying hens in free run barns. She also raises about 150,000 replacement layers, or pullets. Pullets aren’t covered under supply/management. “They are the one missing piece in the system on the feather side.” Schafers spent years trying to convince both industry and government to add them to the system, but there wasn’t any appetite for this change.

“Housing in the egg industry is another issue. Knowing what to build along with animal welfare concerns and the amount of paperwork that’s involved is huge, whether on-farm safety, animal welfare, environment, etc. There’s a lot of work that’s not actually ‘farming.’”

Regarding housing, there is a dissonance between what people say they want vs what they are willing to spend. “In the grocery store for example, there are people who are willing to pay organic price, but the vast majority of people want an affordable egg. They still want good quality and that it’s raised well, but they also want it affordable.”

“When you make an investment of a million and a half or two million dollars that will last between 25-35 years, you want to be sure you have made the right decision,” she continued.

What advice does she have to offer the young poultry professional or aspiring farmer who dream of running a farm of their own?

“Getting into any kind of commercial agriculture takes a lot of capital, but most of the sectors have developed young farmers programs with a bit of a helping hand up,” said Schafers. “There’s people who do smaller scale niche marketing and there are still opportunities out there.”

“I would recommend it to anyone who’s willing – I mean every job takes hard work, but you need to have a special dedication, a lot of faith, and the knowledge that not every year is going to be a successful year. All types of agriculture have their ups and downs but if people really want to farm, I would not discourage them. They need to have a healthy dose of reality about what it takes, and they need to be very innovative people to be able to start a farm from scratch.”

Schafers is really happy that the food industry is embracing local food, particularly in her role working with both backyard and commercial people. She believes that there is room for everybody and is glad that people are talking about what local food looks like.

“Just because I have 10,000 chickens doesn’t make me any less local than my neighbour down the road who has 50 chickens. I just feed more people with what I do, but all of us are local.”

View a recent CTV interview with Susan
You can read all about the farm on the STS Farms website
and follow her on her facebook page:

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