Caring for the cows, producing local food motivates third-generation Abbotsford dairy farmer every day

Taking care of cows gets Mark Schurmann out of bed about 3:30 a.m. every day of the week. He’s in the barn by 4 a.m. to check on the animals and feed them while a long-time employee takes care of the day’s first milking. Schurmann’s last chores of the day are done about 7 p.m., often with his wife Heidi at his side. Some afternoons their three children help out with some chores, but their parents are careful to make sure they have plenty of time just to be kids. 

Mark is the third generation to run the family farm in Abbotsford. They raise their own forage crops on about 200 acres and milk about 150 cows every day. 

“I enjoy it,” he says. “Care is a big focus for us. That’s something Heidi and I take pride in, and try to instil in our kids. You want the animals to be healthy and productive, so you need to take good care of them.”

That means housing the cows in open, spacious barns with plenty of nutritious feed and bedding, sets of fans to keep things cool in hot summer weather, and numerous other little things they have to stay on top of. 

“In the end, the thing we take pride in is that we’re contributing to the local food chain. What we produce ends up on someone’s table here in BC.”

In grocery stores in Abbotsford and across BC most dairy products on the shelves come from local family farms like Mark’s. Jugs of milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, and more. 

Mark says it’s too early to tell for sure if their children will take over the farm and that local food production in their time, but all three seem to enjoy farming. The family’s three children, aged 7, 9 and 11, enjoy learning all about caring for the animals and growing their feed. They spend time in the barn helping feed calves and cleaning up many afternoons after school – after having a snack and some free time to play or spend time online. 

“They enjoy it, for the most part,” Mark says. “They’re still young, so we don’t want to burden them with too much work. We want them to have kid time too.”

They’re also already encouraging the kids to leave the farm after high school to pursue an education – a trade, academics, whatever they’re interested in. Jackson talks about farming education, while their daughter’s been talking about becoming a veterinarian. 

“Who knows. It’s still early,” Mark says. “The opportunities for any of the children to farm will be there, but we’re encouraging them to complete school.” 

Mark’s own childhood on the farm wasn’t much different. He played on the farm, helped out with chores in the barn after school and over the summer. After high school he left the farm to pursue post-secondary education, earning a degree in agricultural science before returning to the farm 15 years ago and gradually taking things over from his parents. His parents Louis and Liz are semi-retired from farming, but still live on the farm and help out part-time. 

“We’re a family farm,” Mark says. “For big decisions, we’re still sitting down at the table with mom and dad, getting their advice and experience. My dad’s been farming for 40+ years. Without them and their help, their leadership, we wouldn’t be here.”

Indeed, Mark’s Dad Louis grew up on the same farm and helped out with chores in the barn after school too. 

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