By Brandy Harrison
GUELPH Canada-wide, 21 farms, including 12 in Ontario, have earned Master Breeder shields, awarded annually by Holstein Canada to recognize the best ratios for high-ranking breeding cows in production, conformation, reproduction, health, and longevity.
Here is the breeding philosophy and classification scores behind the six newest Master Breeder shields in Western Ontario.
All about production in Bruce County
Master Breeder: Albadon Farms, milking 165 cows, owned by Josh Ireland, 30, and his wife, Marjan, 28, and his parents, Mark, 60, and Debbie, 60, of Teeswater, in Bruce County
Herd: 15 EX, 171 VG, 71 GP
Breeding strategy: “We breed for the traits that affect our bottom line. That has always been, and will always be, production. Functional traits may be shifting more toward health and fertility, affecting bottom line more than maybe we used to think. Not that we put conformation on the backburner.”
Their philosophy: Sucession started early and no detail is left to chance in the barn. The Irelands time heifer breeding by body weight rather than age, monitor transition cows closely, and feed 80 per cent of their calves colostrum within three hours of birth with the remaining 20 per cent by the six-hour mark.
The farm wasnt even on the Master Breeder radar a few years ago. Building a sand-bedded freestall barn in 2009 pushed them over the top.
In 2012, they had the best-managed herd from Ontario to British Columbia out of 4,200 farms on test with CanWest DHI, up from 45th in Ontario only two years earlier. Theyve gone from 1.2 kilograms of fat shipped per cow to a consistent 1.6 and older, higher-production cows stick around longer. “Its a cow palace,” says Ireland.
Production is their mantra and the gold standard is 100,000 kilograms, Ireland says.
“Were milking a cow that did that in six lactations. Shes only scored 84 points but that doesnt bother me one bit. Shes a milk machine.”
Tavistock home to cow of the year finalist
Master Breeder: Walnutlawn Farms Limited, milking 60 cows, owned by Adam Zehr, 31, his wife, Bethany, 29, and his parents, Burnell, 54, and Darlene, 52, of Tavistock, in Oxford County
Previous shield: 2000
Herd: 40 EX, 101 VG
Breeding strategy: “Mainly type. We also watch for fat percentage pretty closely. All type traits are even. Not that we select heavily for it, but were watching for fertility and somatic cell count more than we have in the past. Since genomics have come on the scene, were still breeding mainly for type but using genomics as a tool.”
Breeding high points: As a teenager, Walnutlawn Astre Apricot, an all-Canadian in back-to-back years, piqued Zehrs interest. But now its Walnutlawn Gibson Jessica EX-94, one of the four finalists for Canadian cow of the year, that has him on pins and needles.
From their jewel family, Jessica is the Zehrs top producer, shows well, has high fat and protein, is easy to work with, and has produced good cows that milk well. Theyre still flushing the nine-year-old.
“Shes the kind of cow that does everything and easily. Jessica is pretty dear to my heart,” says Zehr.
He chalks it up to his fathers drive to improve. Genomics is one of the latest challenges and they love the results: three of four bulls theyve sent to AI are the highest-type bulls in Canada. Theyve bred more than 70 Excellent cows since the first one in 1992.
St. Thomas farm keeps it local
Master Breeder: Narwood Holsteins, milking 40 cows, owned by Don Catt, 47, and his wife, Diane, 47, and their sons, Dennis, 19, and Devin, 17, of St. Thomas, in Elgin County
Herd: 19 EX, 51 VG, 4 GP
Breeding strategy: “I tend to pick a typier bull and I wouldnt use a bull that was minus for milk but I would like to see a positive deviation for fat. We focus on feet and legs. I like bulls to have a plus for chest width and body depth. I like a cow thats a little taller.”
Cow history: The Catts jump-started their herd with help from two Elgin County farms.
In the 1970s, the late Bruce Howe, of Mervin Howe & Sons Ltd., approached Dons father, Floyd, offering embryos from Werrcroft Model Doris for semen from Romandale Count Crystan, worth $2,000 a dose. “It was insane,” says Don.
That match yielded two daughters, including the dam of his late fathers first Excellent cow. Joining the farm in 1995, Don and Diane developed a descendant Narwood Charles Emmylee. Cows from that family are now bolstered by 13 generations of Very Good or Excellent.
Don also struck gold, developing the family of Narwood Lee Honey for the last 20 years. In 1994, Don struck a deal to flush a descendant of Pioneer Citation Peachy Flo with his employer at Forest Lee Farms, the late Bill Shively, who nearly shipped her out.
“When you saw her, you knew she was a good cow. I think Dons lip was hanging out youre just going to ship her?” recalls Diane.
Wainfleet farmer trusts his gut
Master Breeder: Whitnell Holsteins, milking 33 cows, owned by Howard Augustine, 55, and his wife, Ineke, 54, of Wainfleet, in Niagara Region
Previous shield: 2000
Herd: 8 EX, 47 VG, 5 GP
Breeding strategy: “We try to mate a cows weaknesses and a bulls strengths. Weve always focused on type. We dont look specifically for increased body capacity or stature but we definitely keep it in mind when were looking at bull proofs. The big cow always catches your eye.”
The cows behind the shield: The cow that started it all was a Ruth that lived to be 13 years old. Out of the blue, a 60,000-kilogram production award arrived in the mail. A star brood cow award wasnt far behind.
“We never even knew about these awards. It tweaked our interest a little bit,” says Augustine.
One Ruth cow calved 12 times in 13 years, reaching 125,000 kilograms of milk in her lifetime. Augustine remembers talking to the classifier who scored her for the first time as G-75.
“I said to him, that heifer will make a good, productive cow. He just rolled his eyes.” While hes recently bought into high-profile families like Roxy, Lavender Redrose, and Tri-Day Ashlyn, three cow families dominate, including Viola, Dolly, and Lola.
In 2007, Augustine stood ringside at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair as Whitnell Inquirer Lola, the reserve all-Canadian five-year-old that year, bested Lylehaven Lila Z, whod made headlines selling for $1.5 million. “I thought, Wow, our breeding just beat a million-dollar cow.”
Grey County farmer started at age 11
Master Breeder: Glenwin Holsteins, milking 100 cows, owned by Patti Alsop, 57, her son, Matthew, 25, her daughter, Niki, 20, and her fiancé, Kevin Seeley, 46, of Singhampton, in Grey County
Herd: 23 EX, 114 VG, 26 GP
Breeding strategy: “I like large-framed animals with good feet and legs. Im not looking for exceptionally tall and Im not really into show cows. I like them to have some oomph to them.”
How she got her start: Alsop vividly remembers the night her grandfather had a heart attack. She was only 11. “I was the only one who knew anything about the cows. I remember my mom waking me, saying Do you know which cows are milking in the barn? That was it,” she says.
Her brother-in-law milked her cows while she was at university and her five kids have all done their time in the barn.
Cow history: The homebred herd rests on two main cow families descended from two daughters of Glenwin Mark Pepper, a cow her grandfather owned in the 1940s. The farm hasnt bought any cows since the 40s but also hasnt sold many.
“Everyone will tell you Im a cow collector. I fall in love and dont like getting rid of them,” Alsop says.
One of the few she parted with two years ago, Glenwin Goldwyn Calypso, was grand champion at Autumn Opportunity, all-Ontario five-year-old, and honourable mention all-Canadian five-year-old.
Springfield farm nets third shield
Master Breeder: Silverridge Farms Ltd., milking 110 to 120 cows, owned by Charlie Dykxhoorn, 57, his wife, Irene, 55, his son, Dan, 30, and Dans wife, Janina, 23, of Springfield, in Elgin County
Previous shields: 1989, 2000
Herd: 12 EX, 102 VG, 35 GP
Breeding strategy: “We like to use bulls that are a plus deviation for components. Udders and feet and legs are very important. They need a lot of capacity and width of chest so they can process all their feed into a lot of production in the tank. Were actually looking a little more at health traits. Trouble-free cows save. Healthy cows produce more milk. We like the total package.”
The champ: Canadian champion for fat as a six-year-old, Silverridge September Rae, produced 1,237 kilograms of fat in one lactation. “Thats three times as much as the average cow. Shes just one of those cows that doesnt come along very often,” says Dykxhoorn.
How they got their start: Dykxhoorns father, Lou, began purebred breeding from scratch.
“He purchased a lot of good cows and didnt have a lot of money to spend. He had to be very selective and had a good eye,” says Dykxhoorn.
The farm has its own Roxy family, including September Rae, which traces its lineage to the cow of the century, Glenridge Citation Roxy. Their Nicole Star family produced Silverridge Leduc Noleta, the grand champion at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and all-Canadian five-year-old in 2007.
The breed has been good to them, says Dykxhoorn.
“Were very humbled by it all. We are very thankful to God for all His blessings. Without Him, we wouldnt be where we are. We enjoy what we do every day.”