John Schafer of Buffalo Lake, MN, is a Cattlemen’s Beef Board member, vice-chairman of the Joint Product Enhancement Committee, Beef Promotion Operating Committee member, and an NCBA and American Farm Bureau Federation member. He’s also a ‘lifer’ in the cattle business, a fourth generation rancher growing up on a farm that’s been in family hands since 1900.
“My great-grandfather started our registered Hereford herd in 1917 and he owned some commercial cows prior to that,” he said. “We have about 65 cows now, not as much as we’ve had in the past. We don’t sell as much seedstock either, maybe 8 to 10 a year.”
The farm isn’t large, just 400 acres with some commercial crops – corn and soybeans – in addition to his cattle. Underscoring the tradition developed by over a century of family farming, John’s father is still a very active partner in the business.
Schafer raises Herefords, and as a member of the 1976 University of Minnesota Livestock Judging Team, knows the breed well. He earned a degree in Animal Agriculture from the school in 1981. He was raised with Herefords and has kept a critical judges’ eye on them for at least four decades. Helping him develop that eye, the family started performance testing in 1960; way ahead of almost everyone else in the cattle business.
John was just five at the time. “I thought I was helping but I was probably just getting in the way,” he said. That leadership in performance testing was a lesson that stuck with him, though. He started using ultrasound in 2000, another step in quality control that’s kept the farm a step ahead of the pack.
“Back in the ’60s, the emphasis was just getting cattle to grow better,” he said. “Then we started looking at milk production, changes in the beef market, measuring carcass traits – the science of this business has expanded.
“We’ve learned more about how our cows can earn their keep. We’ve all had to innovate and devote a lot of time to make sure this business pays.”
John started working with the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association and the Minnesota Farm Bureau. When an opportunity to serve on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board opened up in 2006, he decided to go for it. He was appointed to his first term by USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and accepted a second appointment from Tom Vilsack. He joined the Product Enhancement Committee, a fitting assignment for a man with his years of experience with performance testing and ultrasound. He’s currently vice chairman of that committee.