By Brandy Harrison
BRANTFORD — Trusting their guts to invest in the right seed cattle to start long-living, high-type cow families has earned six Eastern and East-Central Ontario dairy farms Master Breeder shields.
Canada-wide, 21 farms, including 10 in Ontario, scored the honour, awarded annually since 1929 by Holstein Canada to recognize balanced breeding with high production, outstanding conformation, and great reproduction, health, and longevity.
Here is the breeding philosophy and classification scores behind the six newest Master Breeder shields east of Toronto:
1. Winchester farmers love lighting up show ring
Master Breeder: Delcreek Holsteins, milking 65 cows, owned by Jonathan Rylaarsdam, 28, his father, Peter, 65, his mother, Mala, 56, and his sister, Amanda, 25, of Winchester, in the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry. Former and current employees, friends, and experts also get credit: Doug Liscumb, Eric Vandervliet, Mike Black, and Roger Sauve.
Previous shield: 1998
Herd: 21 EX, 64 VG
Breeding strategy: “We’ve always bred for long-lasting families that will go on to make nice show babies — longevity and good producers,” says Jonathan, who emphasizes traits judges prize in the show ring. “Dad likes to wake up in the morning and milk nice-uddered cows with deep bodies and big rumps that are going to live a long time and are easy to work with.”
They got what they were looking for with two calves that sold right out of the hutches in spring 2011 and lit up the ring at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. a few months later: Delcreek Fatal Attraction and Delcreek Naughty By Night were first and second in their classes and were announced back-to-back in the champion class.
“My dad still watches the video. It was the proudest I’ve ever seen him,” says Jonathan.
The cows behind the shield: The Rylaarsdams racked up a raft of points from Delcreek Fox Tail, classified EX-94; Delcreek Blueberry Crumble, the dam of Naughty By Night and a huge herd builder; and Delcreek Cheesecake, their best brood cow with seven stars.
Their drive: Peter moved to Canada when he was just 19, scrounging to save money while working on other farms, slowly purchasing cattle and renting from his brother-in-law until he could buy his own farm in 1976.
But shortly after earning the farm’s first shield in 1998, he was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease and needed multiple surgeries.
But he didn’t let it keep him out of the barn.
“He always had a smile. I look up to that. It’s what’s pushed me,” says Jonathan, adding that his father’s passion over the little things — like finding out a cow went EX for a new owner — is contagious.
“He’s just glowing for a week. He got me hyped up about breeding.”
2. Heifer-heavy family rooted in Hastings farm’s post-fire purchase
Master Breeder: Crovalley Holsteins, milking 85 cows, owned by John Crowley, 57, his wife, Cynthia, 53, and their children, Christina, 28, Justin, 25, Ryan, 23, and Vanessa, 20, of Hastings, in Northumberland County.
Previous shield: 2001
Herd: 45 EX, 152 VG
Breeding strategy: “If you select the right kind of cow — that ultra-dairy cow with the length of neck, the flat bone, the veins on the udder, and the dairyness — the milk side will take care of itself. We’ve always leaned more toward type,” says John, who flushes 25 to 30 cows per year to breed to top sires. “We’re breeding for genetics and high-scoring cows, but in the back of our minds we’re also breeding for that show market. She’s got to have show style.”
The cows behind the shield: When they started slowly rebuilding their herd after a fire in 1977, the Crowleys lucked into a heifer dynasty.
Among a group of 18 heifers purchased in 1980 was the dam of Crovalley Dynamic Ann Red.
With a wide rump and extremely long neck she transmitted with ease, Ann opened the floodgates: More than 70 per cent of her descendents are heifers and the family has racked up more than 40 EX cows.
“It just snowballed. We used different sires on her and every one seemed to work,” says John.
The family attracted the attention of perennial winners Arethusa Farm of Connecticut, who bought Crovalley Knowledge Akika, coming back a year later for a Roxy family cow.
“It’s great for our name down in the States.”
The Allison family also takes some of the credit. Crovalley Gibson Allison was an all-Canadian calf and reserve two-year-old and her offspring have generated as many as 20 all-Canadian and all-American nominations, with a number of embryos snapped up by Brazil buyers.
It’s a long way from the mix of grade and purebred cows the farm milked before the fire.
“I used to read the Holstein Journal religiously. I loved those cow families and pedigrees always intrigued me. I never in my wildest dreams believed that we’d have two master breeder shields in such a short time.”
3. Fourth-generation breeders nab fourth shield
Master Breeder: High Point Farms, milking 35 cows, owned by Mike Smith, 37, his father, Robert, 65, and his wife, Julie, 34, of Port Perry, in Durham County
Previous shields: 2001, 1993, 1967
Herd: 34 EX, 55 VG, 9 GP
Breeding strategy: Overall, just functional profitable cows,” says Mike. “We probably focus more on breeding for type and managing for production.”
The cows behind the shield: Much of the Smith family success can be traced to Bond Haven Lance Roxie, a six-month-old 4-H calf purchased in the late 1980s at the Hanover Hill Holsteins dispersal.
Mike, 10 years old at the time, had no way of knowing Roxie would lead to the latest Master Breeder shield.
“It’s been a true breeding family, to the point where we have animals that are now seventh generation Excellent going back to that cow,” says Mike. “She bred some great daughters but the biggest impact is still being seen in generation after generation of Excellents that’s continuing on.”
How they got their start: Mike’s great-grandfather started breeding Holsteins in 1914. They have exhibited at the Ontario County Show every year since its inception 78 years ago.
“I’ve always loved showing and working with great cows. It’s just something that you grew up with in 4-H,” says Mike. “It’s just that drive to improve, to always try to get to that next level or take that next step. It’s just something that’s passed on. My grandpa loved the cows, my dad loved the cows.”
Their cows have been sold to buyers on five continents. Two sister calves, High Point Chief Mary and High Point Astro Mary, together won the progeny of dam class at the Royal show in the U.K five times.
This is the first time in Holstein Canada history that a farm has won four Master Breeder shields.
4. It’s all about a Penny for Crylser dairy farmers
Master Breeder: Huybregts Farms Ltd., milking 85 cows under the Limbra prefix, owned by Willy Huybregts, 52, his father, Cornelius, 85, his brother, Gerry, 51, and his son, Colby, 21, of Crysler, in the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry.
Previous shield: 2001
Herd: 47 EX, 91 VG, 17 GP, 28 cows with more than 70,000 kg lifetime production
Breeding strategy: “We breed for type. We do look at milk, but we don’t push our cows. They go out all summer on pasture. It’s good for their feet and legs and keeps their muscles toned,” says Willy. “If we’re going to milk cows every day, we’d rather milk a nice-looking cow. We try to select cows with good conformation numbers.”
Breeding highlight: The Huybregts haven’t missed a county show since 1983, scoring both grand and junior champion in their second outing and earning premier breeder and exhibitor banners every year from 2001 to 2013.
How they got their start: Cornelius emigrated from Holland in 1961 and after a stint working as a hired man, bought his own dairy farm in Finch. When health problems temporarily sidelined his wife and left him caring for the cows and three small children, he sold the cows and headed for home in 1973.
He was missing Canada and returned to start milking with grade cows but picked up six purebred heifers at a Chesterville herd dispersal in the mid-1970s.
One of the heifers earned the farm its first VG cow and a few generations down the line, the Huybregts hit the jackpot with Limbra Mattador Penny, who lived more than 18 years and produced 9 EX and 9 VG daughters.
Nearly 80 per cent of today’s herd traces to Penny but it all came down to one tough call: Cornelius was offered $20,000 when she calved as a two-year-old.
“That was a lot of money back then. My brother and I were just teenagers and it was a hard decision on dad’s part. If we’d gotten rid of her, we’d have a completely different herd,” says Willy.
But they made it back on the first daughter: She sold to a buyer from England for $20,000.
5. They sold the Cannington farm in 1999 but still got the shield
Master Breeder: Donelea Holsteins, owned by Dan Doner, 58, and his father Howard, 84, of Cannington, in Durham Region.
Herd: 6 EX, 16 VG, 4 GP, 1 Class Extra Sire
Breeding strategy: “We’ve always been very type-conscious, but also recognize that you need animals that produce volumes of milk to be profitable,” says Dan. “It’s a balanced approach. When you did discover a cow that has both, that’s when you knew you had something special.”
The cows behind the shield: Health problems forced the Doners to reluctantly sell the farm in 1999, but Dan, who would keep working in livestock sales and consulting, hung onto about four high-pedigreed cows.
The backbone of the shield points — as much as 90 per cent — can be traced to one of those cows: Altagen Jed Racy.
He first saw her on one of his buying trips in 1997 and couldn’t pass up a maternal sister to Startmore Rudolph, a prominent class extra sire, or buying into a family that transmits exceptional type and production. He put out $20,000 and built a family around her. “You just get a feeling that something you’ve found is pretty special.”
How they got started: When Dan finished school in 1974, Howard transitioned his turnip and rutabaga farm to dairy. There was one hitch: Farm Credit Canada wouldn’t lend them the money for a Jersey herd.
“But they said, ‘if you buy Holsteins, we’ll give you the money,’” recalls Dan.
The Doners picked up few cows at a dispersal and under the tutelage of a 4-H leader, Dan bought his first show calf, Cathland Candy, for $550.
A few weeks later, they found out her dam, Cathland Countess, had been scooped up by Paul Ekstein of Quality Holsteins for $1,800 and re-sold to Peter Heffering of Hanover Hill Holsteins for $8,000.
Dan calved out his heifer as a two-year-old and milked her for a lactation.
“When she calved out as a three-year-old, a big, white Cadillac drove into my lane. Paul Ekstein had bought most of the family and started a herd of his own. He wanted a daughter of Countess,” says Dan. “That’s when I started to see the value of pedigree and breeding. It’s like a disease: Once you get into breeding and showing, it gets in your blood.”
6. Osgoode farmers mine show families for winning genetics
Master Breeder: Velthuis Farms Ltd., milking 180 cows, owned by Paul Velthuis, 52, his wife, Laurie, his brother, Steven, 51, Steven’s wife, Colette, and their parents, Bert and Ann, of Osgoode, in the City of Ottawa.
Previous shield: 1991
Herd: 4 multiple EX, 5 EX, 161 VG, 54 GP, 1 EX Class Extra Sire, 4 VG Superior Production bulls
Breeding strategy: “We focus on breeding profitable cows that make money — cows that last for several generations, make a lot of milk and make it efficiently with minimum feed inputs and maximum returns,” says Paul.
The cows behind the shield: While some of the cows in their herd trace back to the original cows Bert and Ann started the farm with in 1959, the Velthuis’ have a keen eye — and a lucky streak — for buying into good families.
Shopping around at the big shows has paid off.
In 2002, they bought embryos from the Elegance family at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto to improve type, wanting show lineage that produced heifers with long bodies, depth of rib, and well-attached, high and wide udders.
“It gives you something to dream about. You know that every time a calf hits the ground it has the potential of going to the top of the class,” says Paul.
They picked up embryos from MD-Delight Durham Atlee in 2005 at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., not knowing that once genomics burst on the scene she’d be a proven transmitter for milk and extreme type. It gave the farm three heifers and five high-index bulls that all went into AI. One of them sired this year’s Royal Holstein show winner.
The same year, Gen-I-Beq Goldwyn Sofia, one of the first Goldwyns up for sale, went home to Osgoode after the Sale of Stars. She came from cow families that had a good track record for both heifers and AI unit bulls.
But emphasizing AI-quality bulls means putting out the cash to get the best genetics.
“In the genetics game, if you’re six months behind, you’re out of touch,” says Paul. “We can sell a heifer once, but if we can sell a bull and it continues to make semen for a lot of years that is good enough to sell around the world, that pays too.”