CORBYVILLE — Rare is the farm that wins a master breeder shield in more than one dairy breed, but the Jarrell family managed it earlier this year.
In January, Holstein Canada recognized the operators of the Corbyville-based Holstein herd with a 2022 master breeder shield. The shield was the family’s first in the black-and-whites and followed similar recognition for their better-known Jersey herd (by Jersey Canada) in 2008.
The dual achievement is “kind of neat because there have only been three other farms in Canada to do that,” says Bobby Jarrell, member of the partnership that comprises RJ Farms. The operation includes his parents Robert and April, and Bobby’s wife, Jennifer.
Both breeds at the farm share the same “RJF” prefix and live in the same tie-stall barn. The milking herd comprises about 70 Jerseys and 25 Holsteins, a ratio maintained for many years.
“We’re regarded more as a Jersey farm. Most people don’t even realize we have as many Holsteins as we do,” Bobby says. “It was crazy how many people would come into our barn to look at cattle on farm tours, and the comment is, ‘I didn’t realize how many Holsteins you have, and how good they are,’ he says, adding, “Because maybe we don’t market them as well as we do our Jerseys.”
His father, Robert, bought the farm in 1977 with a herd of 22 Jersey cows. He began adding top-quality Holsteins early on because of market demand for the ascendant breed, although the black and whites were always outnumbered by Jerseys as the herd grew.
“I can’t emphasize enough how good the market was back in the 70s and 80s for Holstein heifers,” Robert recalls. “Especially foreign buyers, like Japan and Italy, and all those countries that were buying Canadian genetics. There was a tremendous market at that time.”
Breeding dairy cattle for market has always been an important part of the farm business and today represents about 25 % of revenues. Adding Holsteins to the mix helped ensure attention from more prospective buyers. Twice as many buyers used to visit for Holsteins, although that’s “pretty well flipped” in favour of Jerseys these days, according to Bobby, who joined the farm after graduating from the University of Guelph in 2005.
He says they have always aimed for “balanced breeding” and “cows that give large volumes of high component milk for a long period of time. We’ve always strived for good conformation because longevity in our herd is important.”
Their animals are also known for their excellent udders, he says, and on the Holstein side, a better than usual butterfat performance. His father was breeding Holsteins for higher butterfat “long before a lot of other people did,” he points out.
Both men are dairy cattle judges and say they appreciate any good milking bovine breed.
They look forward to picking up their shield at Holstein Canada’s national convention in April. “I think the Holstein producers will think it’s a little funny that we’re there,” Bobby observes. “But you know, the dairy world has shrunk so much that regardless of the breed of cattle, we have a lot of good friends in the Holstein world and a lot of Holstein guys now have Jerseys, too,”
He adds, “We know lots of them. It’ll be fun.”
Holstein Canada awarded 20 Master Breeder shield recipients in Canada for 2022 — 9 of them in Ontario. Herds from Quebec (10) and Alberta (1) comprised the rest. Awards are made early in the new year in recognition of the previous year’s performance. Master Breeders must wait 14 years before they’re eligible for another shield. Five of the winners received their second shield in the minimum amount of time: Belmoral Farms of Teeswater, Elm Bend Farms of Brantford and Havenvalley of Wallenstein, along with Quebec-based breeders Arcroix and Mirabel. Two other farms picked up their third shields in 28 years, Wendon of Alberta and Rubis of Quebec.
More than 1,100 Holstein Master Breeder shields have been handed out in the program’s 93 years. Shields are awarded based on points for balanced breeding with high production, outstanding conformation, and great reproduction, health, and longevity.
In addition to RJF, first-time Ontario recipients of the Holstein shield included Vriesdale Holsteins of Mountain, Yorellea Farms of St. Eugene, Breezy Holsteins of Brussells, Christhill Farms of Tara, and Spruce Lawn of Drayton.