Some days are made for driving back country roads with a summer breeze floating through the windows, radio on, and getting lost in the beauty of life. Nothing but your thoughts in what might seem like the middle of nowhere.
Once you’ve reached this point, you’re probably right around the corner from GM Stein Farms. This middle of nowhere location is the centre of Michelle and Gary Stein’s world. It’s where they call home, where they farm together in their little piece of heaven.
The beauty is surreal. Rolling hills painted with lush pastures filled with cattle, fence lines that follow gravel roads and an endless big beautiful sky pulls it all together. Settled within this abyss is their farm where they raise beef cattle, market lambs, chickens, a couple pigs and milk sheep.
They chose the farming life. It wasn’t always easy and the reality is that all of this didn’t just come together overnight. “People tell us we are lucky. So lucky to have a farm. But it hasn’t been luck that got us to where we are,” admits the couple. Sacrifices. Sleepless nights. Stress. Life happens. There was never any question that farming was just a backup plan. It was the plan. The only plan.
At his core, Gary has always been a farmer. Owning his first 9 sheep at the age of 12, “he’s been farming everyday since,” Michelle says.
He has worn many hats, balancing work on and off the farm over his career. Building barns, construction, mixing feed at a beef feedlot, working on his dads farm, building stairs for houses, and much much more. His vast experience has always built skills he has perfected and brought back to the farm. Gary says, “I’ve done just about every job out there and you learn a lot” and jokes, “although I’m not sure what you learn catching chickens.”
The couple started on their own. They’ve built their farm from the bank barn up and achieved their goal of “getting big enough to stay home and farm full-time.” But the work doesn’t stop there. The dream the couple agree is “to be big enough for one of our kids to farm with us. So that when the time comes, we can retire, but not fully quit.”
Their investment in milking sheep has been a big one. And they have a bit of a different philosophy when it comes to production. “Too many people focus on penciling out cost of production,” they say. And then lose out on getting production. Gary ads, “you’ve got to feed your animals, get the best production you can. And then work backwards and cut costs. If you feed them, they will feed you.”
Technology has been a big asset on the farm. They invested in leg bands and readers in the parlour to track production records. This allows the couple to “make our best possible management decisions for breeding, feeding and drying-off.” While this may be more common practice in other industries, it’s a rarity in the sheep industry.
Perhaps what is even more profound than their farming accomplishments is their love of family and each other. Gary and Michelle met in church youth group. What came after the rides home and phone calls from a landline was true love and is still vibrant after 21 years of marriage. The spark is still there. And bright.
Michelle laughs when remembering, “I was never going to marry a farmer.” Growing up on her parents pig farm she decided that the farming life was not for her. But life doesn’t work out how we think it should and that’s okay. It’s actually perfect.
She can’t imagine doing anything else. Farming did give her a great appreciation for the outdoors and taught her the skills she has used to navigate being on the farm and homeschooling their three children Kaitlyn, Patricia and Brandon until grade 8.
Her farmher spirit is vibrant. “Sometimes just walking around on the farm there is a sense of ‘wow, look at what we have accomplished. God has truly blessed our work.’”
The rewards don’t end there. “One of our favourite things is after working together we often will stop and watch the animals. There is something satisfying about seeing sheep contently chewing their cud as lambs jump and bounce across the fresh bedded pens. Frisky playing calves are pretty cute as well,” says the couple.
Grit, goals and sacrifice has been the vehicle to get them to where they are. The ambition and energy the couple shares keeps them going. Their bond is radiantly alive, rooted in the business of farming and love they share for each other, their family and farming. With their names carved under an old farm tree, their love will forever grow on their little piece of heaven.