By Brandy Harrison
SCHOMBERG — Larry Sheardown isn’t afraid to pick other breeder’s brains or buy into up-and-coming technology. He’s duplicated promising breeding matches, installed automatic takeoffs before most other tie-stall operators, and even shelled out $5,000 on the urging of his vet for a computer, monitor, and printer back in 1983 to take cow inventories digital.
The Schomberg dairy farmer who runs Rexlea Jerseys Inc., earned a second Master Breeder award — one of only five Jersey farms in Canada to earn the distinction more than once.
“My dad has often said Rexlea is everyone else’s ideas rolled into one,” Sheardown says. “You don’t become a high-level breeder by doing just one thing.”
Jersey Canada recognizes one Master Breeder annually for long-term excellence in breeding, awarding points for production and classification scores.
Here is a look at Rexlea’s breeding philosophy.
Master Breeder: Rexlea Jerseys Inc., milking 50 cows, owned by Larry Sheardown, 58, his wife, Sue, 57, and his parents, John, 79, and Helen, 77, at Schomberg, in York Region.
Previous award: 1997
Breeding strategy: “Production is first. Milk pays the bills,” Sheardown says. “We’re running for the last three or four years at a 9,000 kg average. A 300 BCA across the board on 50 cows is hard to attain and maintain.”
The herd is among the top 10 Canada-wide producers but is also highly-classified with solid type, he said. “You can’t have high production cows without good type because your cows don’t last.”
The cows behind the award: One night during a stint as a Jersey Ontario field rep., Sheardown pored over the record books, manually tracing the farm’s two best cow families — more than three-quarters of the herd — all the way back to a cow bought by his great-grandfather in 1912.
“It’s pretty bizarre. The line could have been broken at any point.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, that bloodline produced the Hostess and Iola families.
Over a nearly 20-year breeding career, Hostess was an 18-star brood cow with 37 offspring. Her dam, Rexlea Beacon Herta, set Canadian records in two of her first three lactations.
“Herta was our first wow cow. She gave 10,000 kg when Holsteins averaged 5,000,” Sheardown says.
Iola was EX-91 with three EX and one VG daughter that all became star brood cows. Rexlea has generated 62 star brood cows since 2000. “She was a breeding machine.”
Both were test sire matings. “I call it the X factor. You see potential in a lot of combinations but not all of them work.”
How they got their start: After leaving school at Grade 9, Sheardown’s father, John, worked at home and clipped sheep, cut wood, and made maple sugar for neighbours. “Whatever he could do to make a buck,” Sheardown says.
In the late 1950s, John started the Rexlea prefix with his wife Helen.
“They got married on a wish and a prayer. They joked about having $25 in the bank. Everything they did was done by hard work,” Sheardown says. “The foundation comes from my parents.”
But father and son haven’t always seen eye-to-eye.
“My wife says I analyze everything to death. My dad is the hardworking guy who’ll put his nose down and charge into something. I’ll stand back and look at it. It doesn’t always jibe with the way my dad does things but that push and pull sometimes makes for a better decision.”