By Tom Collins
NEUSTADT — After freezing rain shut down school buses in parts of Grey County on Jan. 8, Kevin Klages spent the morning in the barn with his four-year-old son Mitchell.
Klages was trying to get as many chores done as quickly as possible that morning as he was concerned that the boy would eventually lose interest in the barn.
That’s why Klages missed the first five phone calls from Holstein Canada.
“It was a whirlwind of a day,” said Klages, who runs Woodbridge Holsteins at Neustadt in Grey County. “I’m glad I did so much work in the morning because I got nothing done after they announced the winners (of Master Breeder Shields). I got text messages from people and I have no idea who they are from.”
Holstein Canada determines Master breeder shields based on points for high production, outstanding conformation and high proficiency in reproduction, health and longevity over 15 years.
The fifth-generation farmer wanted the shield to be a surprise for his school teacher wife Natalie, who had joked for a few years that it would be nice to receive the shield if the ceremony were ever held in Prince Edward Island. This year’s ceremony is scheduled for PEI on April 24-27.
When she called at the end of the school day, Klages nonchalantly told her that not much was new. She was skeptical. “Oh really?” she asked. “I have a text message here from so and so and it says congratulations. I know it’s not because I’m pregnant.”
“She knew when she phoned me,” laughed Klages. “She had a pretty good idea of what was going on.”
Klages, 41, took over the family farm in 2008 and it wasn’t long before he made changes that would lead to the shield. Used to milking in a 28-stall bank barn, he moved the cows into a new 40-stall tie-stall barn in March, 2013. He’s since added 10 more stalls.
Now milking 40 cows, he’s doubled the herd in the last five years. The stalls are larger, and the barn is more open, brighter and better ventilated than the old barn. In the bank barn, when it was 30 C outside in the summer months, inside was 40 C. When Klages let the cows out, they would immediately go to the trees and the bush to get shade and stay cool. But in the new barn with the big fans, the cows didn’t want to leave.
“I let them out like I normally did, and they stood in the yard and bawled,” he said. “They wanted back in. The new barn has really paid dividends in terms of getting potential out of the cows. Production went up 20 per cent in a matter of a week.”
He gives credit to other farmers for teaching him some of the ins and outs of the dairy industry. His farm is the third on his road to receive a shield. The other two are Bevan and Heather Weber of Elandee Holsteins and Cameron Hickling of Hicklee Farms. There are only five dairy farms on the road.
When he was doing relief milking for other farms, he would see good cows and think “You know, we don’t have anything at home that looks like this.” That gave him a bit of drive to improve the herd. “I got exposed to a lot of good cattle and smart cow men that way. You pick up things here and there.”
He pays close attention to the blood crosses between bull and cow. “I spent a lot of time on Holstein Canada’s web site looking at excellent cows and saw what breeding was behind them and what blood crosses worked,” he said. “I like the high-type bulls. I like a bull that is 30 per cent very good before I’ll use him.”
The farm has come a long, long way in 30 years when the cows weren’t on milk tests and the cows were classified, but not regularly.
“You could count the number of Very Good cows on one hand,” Klages said. “Now I can’t count the Excellents on one hand.”