December 8, 2022 at 7:32 p.m.
“My ancestors came to America from Germany as part of the Saxon Lutheran immigration of 1838,” Schoen said. “My great-grandfather Ernst Schoen started milking cows and selling cream in 1900. My grandpa Erhard went out on his own in 1924 and built a new dairy barn. He milked in buckets until 1955, when he purchased a farm that had a three-cow milking parlor.”
The Schoen family farm has grown and includes John and his wife, Teri; their daughter, Melinda Morrison; their sons Matt and Corvin; John’s sister Cathy Hemmann, and her husband, David; and Cathy and David’s son, Kyle.
Each family member of the Schoen operation has his or her specialty. Matt is in charge of cropping and feed orders. Melinda handles their herd’s mating and is in charge of training employees. Corvin is the farm’s A.I. specialist and manages the transition animals. Kyle, a professional metalworker, is the farm’s chief mechanic and helps with feeding the animals.
“Everyone is cross trained to each other’s jobs,” Schoen said. “We have two full-time employees who work here five days a week. We handle the weekend chores and milking ourselves. Our employees are like family to us. We hold a large Fourth of July picnic every year and invite all of our current and former employees. People who worked for us many years ago continue to come to our picnic because of the good memories they have of their time with us.”
Schoen Farms near Oak Ridge is home to 300 registered Holsteins. They have had registered Holsteins since 1967, which is the same year the family installed a double-4 parlor. An expansion to a double-8 came in 1975 before the Schoens settled on a double-12 parlor in 2019.
The Schoen farm is located 6 miles west of the Mississippi River and about 100 miles south of St. Louis. Stifling levels of heat and humidity are a constant companion from June through October.
“There are many days when the temperature matches the humidity,” Schoen said. “Our freestall barn doesn’t have any walls or doors, just a curtain on the north side. Even though the barn has plenty of fans and sand bedding, our milk production will fall by 10%-15% during the hot months. Our conception rate also drops.”
The Schoens farm 800 acres and raise corn, alfalfa and wheat along with some triticale for a cover crop. About one-third of their acres are wooded pasture. They raise heifer calves in barns until they are about 400 pounds. Then, they are turned onto pasture. After the heifers are bred, they are put back onto pasture until about a month before they calve.
“It’s too humid here to make dry hay,” Schoen said. “We have been baling and wrapping high moisture alfalfa for the past 25 years. We chop all of our corn for silage. We have been feeding various commodities to our cows since the early 1970s.”
Some of the commodities have been a bit unusual.
“Once we purchased some out-of-date fudge that came from a candy factory in Illinois,” Schoen said. “At one time or another, our cows have also been fed such things as Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, peanut skins and cottage cheese whey. Most of the time, we buy dry corn, gluten or cottonseed, but we will buy any commodity that makes sense for us.”
The area where the Schoen farm is located is hilly and wooded.
“From 1853 through the mid-1930s, my family would purchase land, sell the timber and then either sell the land or clear it and use it for farming,” Schoen said. “Back in the day, one of our family members brought up some cypress logs from 35 miles south of here. He milled the logs into lumber and used the lumber to build a barn. Our family still owns that barn, and we continue to shelter cattle in it during the winter.”
The Schoen dairy farm is located in a small bubble of about a dozen dairy operations in southeastern Missouri.
“It’s 120 miles to our nearest dairy equipment dealer,” Schoen said. “We keep plenty of supplies on hand and have learned how to repair almost anything around the farm. Being able to fix things is especially handy when something breaks down on a Saturday night.”
The Schoen family has a long history of dairy promotion.
“We have participated in the Adopt A Cow program for many years,” Schoen said. “We also give tours of our farm to FFA and 4-H clubs, chambers of commerce and development boards. It’s important to make a good first impression. It’s all about making a connection with people. I’ve had folks drive up to our farm and say, ‘You’ve sure got a nice place here. Can we look around?’ I’m always happy to show people how a modern dairy farm works.”
The Schoen family hands out milk at the dairy booth at their local county fair. For the past 20 years, they have participated in an annual agricultural fair that is held at a horse arena. The fair is attended by more than 1,100 urban fourth graders.
Schoen serves on the board of directors for Prairie Farms, is a member of the St. Louis Dairy Council and is the dairy superintendent for the Southeast Missouri District Fair. Last January, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson appointed Schoen to the State Milk Board. In 2021, the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors awarded the Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeder Award to Schoen Farms in recognition of their high milk production and herd BAA scores.
“It was quite an honor to be picked for the Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeder Award,” Schoen said. “Serving on boards has broadened my perspective. My philosophy is to let the people do the jobs you hired them to do. You have to learn and listen and think before you speak.”
Even as they honor the past, Schoen Farms is looking toward the future. This can be seen in a new dry cow facility the Schoens completed. The new barn features plenty of fans to cool the cows and a comfy bedding pack in the maternity area.
“We are gradually transitioning our family farm operation over to the next generation,” Schoen said. “Our grandchildren will be the seventh generation of our family on this farm. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for them.”
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