LOCAL LEGENDS: MEET THE MEN OF DURANGO LIVESTOCK
The story of how Durango Livestock got its start is not the story you would expect to hear. The Van Herk brothers didn’t grow up on a farm. The only thing they inherited from their parents was a good work ethic. Before Durango, Alex was a butcher, while Fred pursued his Master’s in Animal Science.
One day, Alex had to butcher a pregnant cow that had broken its leg. Luckily, he was able to save her calf’s life. It wasn’t long after that his small backyard on 20th Street in Fort Macleod became home to seven or eight more calves — which was fine until they broke through the fence (as cows tend to do) and were found wandering around town.
“Literally, they were running up and down all the streets. I got a visit from the town cop and he’s like ‘Alex, you can’t have these in here.’ I’ll never forget it,” laughs Alex.
That moment gave Alex the push he needed. He and his wife moved to an acreage just south of town and expanded from there.
Fred joined his brother a few years later as a partner, and in 2001 they became a corporation and called themselves Durango Livestock Ltd. Almost 20 years later, what began as a single calf being bottle fed in Alex’s back yard has grown into an operation that sees 7,000 cows every year.
“We probably would have been a lot bigger if we had come to Chinook Financial earlier, but at that time we were with bankers that didn’t understand what we wanted to do,” says Alex.
To Alex and Fred, their growth is all about creating something for the next generation. Between the two of them, there are more than 40 nephews and 36 nieces, many of which grew up working on the farm and some have even gone on to start operations of their own.
WHY ARE YOU A MEMBER OF CONNECT FIRST CREDIT UNION?
“I know all the tellers on a one-to-one basis, so I can go in there and chat with them about anything,” says Alex. “They don’t always agree with me, but that’s neither here nor there. I feel with the credit union, it’s more like a family.”
WHY IS AGRICULTURE SO IMPORTANT TO ALBERTA?
“Ag is the lifeblood of Alberta, besides oil — just look at how the province has grown because of it,” says Fred. “How many different crops have been grown here? Corn, beans, quinoa… Albertans are just more entrepreneurial. We want to diversify and expand and try things. Sometimes they don’t work, but that’s the only way we grow.”
WHY IS SUPPORTING LOCAL IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“I could go into any store in Fort Macleod without my wallet and walk out with anything. Whether it’s groceries or parts, they’ll tell me to come by tomorrow and pay for it. It’s all about trust,” says Alex.
“Farming is a very unpredictable industry. You never know what’s going to happen,” says Fred. “But if our feed truck breaks down on a Sunday afternoon, we can call our guy out of church and, within an hour, he’s brought us something to replace it.”
WHY IS BANKING LOCAL IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“With a big bank, you’re just a number. And when times get tough, as they do in farming, they’ll pull out,” says Alex.
“With the credit union, I feel like we can present something and they’re not just going to throw it under the rug. They take us seriously when we have something we want to do,” says Fred.
WHAT DOES THE CREDIT UNION MEAN TO YOU?
“I don’t want to be with a big bank because I want to feel like I’m part of a team, part of a community, part of everything,” says Alex. “With the credit union, it’s more like a family. They understand what we’re doing and they’re in it for the long haul.”