By Tom Collins
KEMPTVILLE — John Hess took over the family dairy farm in 1955 with one goal in mind: To take home a Master Breeder shield.
John quickly made changes and started breeding purebred Holsteins. Decades later, his sons David and Allan became partners in the farm. The farm came close to a shield numerous times. It finished in the top 10 for the last eight years but could never quite get over the hump.
John died in 2006. His son David died in October 2015. Last month, Hessholm Holsteins received its shield 62 years after John took over the farm.
“Too bad they weren’t here to see it,” said John’s son Allan, who is dedicating the shield to his dad and brother. “I’m glad we got it this year. They worked their careers aiming for that and we weren’t going to quit reaching for that goal.”
Holstein Canada handed out 11 new shields in Ontario and 9 in Quebec. The shields are awarded to breeders to recognize balanced breeding with high production, outstanding conformation, and great reproduction, health, and longevity.
Hess, who milks 55 cows in a tie-stall barn with a milker on tracks, said one of the keys to the farm’s success is to use different bulls.
“Some people, if they find a couple of bulls that work well in their herd, they’ll use quite a bit of them,” he said. “Sometimes that works well. We try to pick and choose. That way if the bull happened to not turn out as well as you thought, you’re not stuck with a group of cattle coming up that might not be as good as you want them to be.”
Here are some fast facts about the farm.
Master Breeder: Hessholm Holsteins, milking 55 cows under the Hessholm prefix, owned by Allan Hess, 45, at Kemptville.
Herd: 3 EX, 23 VG, 28 GP, 1 G
Breeding strategy: “We have bred a lot for type,” said Hess. “A lot of times, the milk is there with the type bulls. We probably over the years haven’t gotten as much milk as we could have if we used different bulls. We were always breeding more for the feet, legs and udders, and for longevity of the animals. We’ve always liked to milk cattle with decent udders. It’s a lot nicer to milk a cow that looks good compared to one that might give you lots of milk that’s not really on the good-looking side of things.”
The cows behind the shield: About 25 per cent of the herd can be traced back 15 years to three cows: Hessholm Counselor Vick, Hessholm Jethro Daniel and Hessholm Jethro Eve. Daniel received a superior lactation and longtime 90,000 kg production awards while Eve had a longtime 100,000 kg award. The three cows combined bred 1 excellent, 15 very goods and 6 good-plus daughters.
“Their daughters have added up a lot of the points over the 15 years,” said Hess. “We have sold a pile of cattle over the years. There’s a pile of excellent cows that were two or three years old when they left here and they became excellent cows for somebody.”