By Connor Lynch
EMBRO — The heyday of embryo flushing in the 1980s and 1990s, which multiplies genetic potential in cattle, built a foundation that’s still flourishing at one Oxford County dairy farm.
Darcroft Farms Ltd., at Embro, was awarded its third Master Breeder shield last month. Farms can only win a shield every 16 years, and the most any farm has received to date is four. Only one farm — High Point Farms at Port Perry — has earned four shields since Holstein Canada started awarding them in 1929.
Kyle MacLeod, 34, runs third-generation Darcroft Farms with his 38-year-old brother Jared. Their father, 69-year-old Paul, still helps out but has taken a step back as he’s gotten older. Jared handles the crops and the machinery, and Kyle is the herd manager for their 110-head milking herd.
His breeding style is focused on balance, where he breeds for a variety of good traits. Since the family moved to a parallel parlour milking system three years ago, he’s been breeding for shorter animals, which seem to do better in the more active freestall environment. The farm has always bred from bulls with high-fertility daughters. “We like cows that get pregnant,” said Kyle MacLeod.
But the modern breeding strategy that won them their third shield is built on the old. A big boon for the herd in the 1980s and 1990s was a large market overseas for embryos. That encouraged embryo flushing, which multiplied the impact of three cows’ genetics: Darcroft Astre Sadie, a 13-star brood cow; Suton Raider Spirit, a 12-star brood cow they bought over the phone; and Darcroft Ned Betty, an Excellent, 14-star brood cow.
About 95 per cent of their milking herd comes from those three cows, MacLeod said.
They’ve also adapted their breeding strategy as feed has changed over time. When the cows were getting mostly hay with a bit of grain, the farm wanted more depth in them. But a modern feed-ration environment wants for slimmer cows. Said MacLeod: “We want them to be as efficient as possible.”
As his parents get older, MacLeod is also looking to the future of his farm. Their parallel parlour is only three years old and he likes milking cows, so a move to robots is out. But he knows that finding help when his parents completely step away from the farm won’t be easy. “We’ve been very lucky. We haven’t had to have any hired help since we were young kids.”
WESTERN ONTARIO: Foundation built by embryo flushing pays off in third Master Breeder shield
By Connor Lynch