The Applecross Year In Review
2012 was an incredible year for Applecross. We hit a lot of milestones and are very pleased with how our operation continued to grow and evolve during the year.
We had some mild weather to begin the year, and that certainly made calving easier. It is not every year that calves can be born outside on the straw-pack without losing their tails or freezing their ears! We were almost three-quarters heifers to bulls in 2012 – which is great when you are trying to increase your herd numbers. While the mild weather created its own set of (health) challenges with the calves, we were quite happy with how they developed.
Bulls sales in 2012 far exceeded our expectations. Unexpectedly, at the end of 2011, Envoy was selected for the National Trust sale. As a result, we began the year with a visit to Lonnie & Karen Brown in late February, to deliver him to his new home and tour their operation. Not long after that, we got the chance to deliver Santana up to Edson, giving us the chance to see both the Wa-Na-La-Pa and Langer herds (and check out APLX Ensign in his home). Touring herds is one of my favourite things to do, so it doesn’t matter if it is February – seeing good cattle and visiting with great people is always a great way to spend a day. We were also pleased by how our bulls sold at auction in 2012. We were both honoured and humbled to see both Jackson (who sold in March at the Red Deer Sale for $12,000 to Westgold Simmentals) and Santana (who Wayne sold in the 2012 Cow-A-Rama sale for $11,000 to Vaughn Gibbons) represent the APLX prefix so well. It always takes time for bulls to make an impact in a breeders program, but we look forward to visiting all of these operations in 2013 to see how Envoy, Jackson and Santana are doing.
Lots of moisture in June and July led into a warm August and plenty of grass for the cattle. We didn’t vacation this summer, so there was plenty of time to halter break calves in July and complete farm improvements in August. We added space to winter mature bulls this year, so that was a major accomplishment for us. We also spent time improving our rotational grazing program, and making more efficient use of space and labour to help us manage additional cow numbers.
Heading into the fall sale season, it was great to see such excellent results, and see our fellow breeders having the success that they enjoyed. On the home front, we were successful in aquiring an additional bred heifer privately from my parents operation. Dora Lee Martina is a big, strong Broadway daughter that I think will fit in nicely with our young herd. The sale season also brought the opportunity to travel to Brandon to the National Trust sale, and while there I really enjoyed both visiting with fellow breeders and touring some world-class purebred operations. The sales seemed to get stronger as the year went on, and we weren’t successful purchasing females closer to home. The market for quality cattle has become very strong, and it is a great sign for the Simmental breed as the cattle market takes a much needed turn for the better.
I commented last year on the success of our website – and I thought it only fitting to provide an update again this year. 2012 brought additional visitors; with almost 10,000 views from over 87 countries during the year. We also worked with my parents to launch an updated Dora Lee website (www.doraleegenetics.com) utilizing the WordPress platform. Mom and Dad are able to manage and post updates to their site themselves, so it is another example of how easy establishing and maintaining a current web presence has become. We look forward to another exciting year in 2013 of providing updates on our operation, and sharing our perspective on topics that interest us.
Looking forward to 2013
For 2013, we are excited about what should be our largest, most uniform calf crop yet. We start calving about the 10th of January, and thanks to some good luck with our AI program, and having our walking bulls go right to work, we should be done calving in 2 months. We are expecting calves from 10 different sires, so there should be lots of diversity, but the similar ages of the calves should allow us to effectively compare the genetics. We have a number of cows bred to sires that have proven to work here in the past (Eclipse, Equinox, and Pharao to name three), but have also added some new sires, including a group bred to the great Bronson bull, as well as the first calves from our two young walking bulls – APLX Escalade and APLX Samson. It should be a awesome 2 months.
Early in the new year has also become the time of bull sales, and it appears like several events have moved earlier in the season. Based on how purebred heifers sold this fall, strong cattle prices, and the gradual rebuilding of cow numbers in the industry, I expect bull sales to be exceptional. Getting a different catalogue in the mail (seemingly) every day, is an exciting part of our search for new and outcross genetics. We also look forward to watching our three bulls develop in preparation for the Red Deer Sale in late March. We think Axel, Edge and Ajax all have something to offer the industry, so it will be great to watch them continue to develop.
Hard on the heels of bull sale season, comes some tough breeding decisions. While we still plan to AI extensively, we are planning on increasing our use of both of our walking bulls. With Escalade and Samson wintering here, they have continued to impress, and I think they will be more than up to the challenge of breeding a few more cows each in 2013.
In a lot of ways, the next few months are critical to the success of an operation. Getting healthy calves on the ground (and off to a good start), followed immediately thereafter by breeding decisions that can shape a program for years to come. Those night checks might get old after a few weeks, but the excitement that comes with seeing that healthy new-born calf, from a mating that you had such high hopes for, will make it all worthwhile.
As 2012 wraps up, and 2013 is about to begin, we pause during this holidays season to reflect with family and friends on the challenges and successes we have enjoyed over the past year. We are blessed to live in an amazing country, with fresh air, clean water and the means to put food on the table. We have a passion for breeding quality Fleckvieh cattle, and we are very fortunate to be able to pursue this dream through our operation here at Applecross. We look forward to an awesome 2013!
Annual Female Section Update
We have completed our annual refresh of our female section (Herdbook > Foundation Females) with updated pictures and new pages to showcase some additional females. The pages fall into chronological order, with our oldest cow (Jewel) at the top, and our youngest female (Taylor) at the bottom. As our herd is made up predominantly of young cows, a year can bring significant change as they grow and develop into more mature animals. The challenge is, of course, getting updated pictures that reflect the phenotypical change (not to mention to convince the cows that they should stand to get their picture taken!). Over the years I would like to get a good picture of every quality female we own, but there are always some that can escape the camera.
Featured above is Applecross Janelle. Janelle is one of our top bred heifers, and was originally selected for this year’s Fleckvieh Equation sale. An Anchor T Ikon daughter, by a powerful Dora Lee Eclipse dam, Janelle (and her dam Jasmine) have caught the eye of many of our visitors the last couple of years. After a lot of discussion, we decided it would be best for the long term success of our operation to retain Janelle (and all of our bred heifers), to help grow our numbers here at Applecross. We look forward to Janelle’s 2013 calf by the polled calving ease bull Sanmar Pol Pharao in mid January.
Labour Day week-end has always meant weaning time here at Applecross. I am not sure whether it is the sudden change in weather (it seemingly goes from warm evenings to a hint of frost overnight), to Jeanne’s annual return to the front of the classroom, but it is always the last ‘must do’ on the summer’s job list, and is always scheduled for Labour Day Monday.
For the last 4 years, we have used ‘Quiet Wean’ nose flaps in a two step weaning process that begins 9 days earlier – often the morning of the Anchor D Female Sale. Dan & Karen always showcase a set of excellent cattle combined with amazing hospitality, so I always take the day off work to attend this great gathering. The Friday morning sales date provides the perfect opportunity to work through the groups and get quiet weans in every nose, prior to enjoying some fun and fellowship later that afternoon. Nine days later, on Labour Day Monday, we removed the Quiet Weans, and formally separate the calves from their dams.
The Quiet Weans themselves are a small, bendable plastic insert that fits into the calves’ nose. The flap allows them to still eat grass and drink water, but prevents them from ‘drinking upwards’ to the teat. This ensures that the calves have nine days to wean themselves off their ‘milk addiction’, and then only have to deal with separation anxiety from their mothers come weaning day.
I first saw the quiet weans at work when touring the D Bar C / Cutler & Sissons herd in 2009. I figured that if it worked for them in their 400 cow operation, we could easily manage the extra step with our much smaller herd. Now, four years later, we are pleased with how both the cows and calves transfer through the stress of weaning. Yes, there is still some noise for a day or two, but the calves adapt a lot more quickly and seem to be back turning grass into meat in no time. We hope to profile some of these calves over the next few months.
Rotational grazing is something we have been working with since the early 1990′s, when Dad purchased the farm next door. The new land had not been worked for a number of years, and everything on it was in a state of disrepair. The old barn was buried, the house cleaned up and refurbished, and new fences went up so that our Fleckvieh cattle could enjoy the extra space. We spent a lot of time together that summer – fencing and, in his words, ‘putting the land to work’.
Thanks to 40 acres of bush at Dora Lee, fencing started the hard way – we cut all of our cedar posts directly from the bush. Most trees had two or three 8ft posts in them, and Dad was always careful to only selectively cut the posts we needed from a number of different areas in order to keep the forest viable for future uses. We would log for a while, and then move the pile of fresh cut posts to the house, where an ‘after supper’ job for us kids would be stripping the bark from the green posts, getting them ready to be ‘planted’. We then moved on to the actual fencing – the perimeter was completed with 4 strand high-tensile electric wire (with cedar posts every 30 ft), while the cross fencing was single strand (and thankfully just plastic posts). Although it has been 20 years, the original electric fencing has remained in place, and dad continues to add additional cross-fences to improve the rotational grazing patterns. This summer alone, an additional 2 miles of interior fences were added.
Partly because of this background, one of our summer projects here at Applecross was to complete the first phase of our rotational grazing program. As I have previously discussed, our home quarter is solely a grass quarter, with three separate walking groups (bred heifers, cows w heifer calves, cows w bull calves). All three groups obviously need to have access to a clean water source, preferably in the yard. While well-water is more expensive than a dug-out or natural water source, I think the cattle just do better with quality water. We also like the fact that our groups then have to come up to the yard to drink. It gets them in a routine of coming up to buildings, and in turn locking them in for treatment, processing or sorting becomes very straightforward. It might mean a little extra fence to add alleys to all the rotations, but the management benefits more than offset the additional cost and time to put them up.
So during my August holidays, we finally finished phase one of our rotational grazing plan. Each of the three groups now have 3 paddocks they can rotate through, and an alley to get to the yard for water. The cows are rotated approximately every 10 days, giving each pasture a 20 day break. We also have 2 smaller ‘overflow’ fields which are not part of the rotation, but can be utilized should any of the groups get ahead of the re-growth. It is always great to have a little flexibility.
Our cross-fencing is simply single strand hot wire, and it does appear to be something that the cows respect. We have quiet cows, and that certainly helps with the hot wire (as they usually walk not run), but obviously if a cow feels cornered or threatened, they will still go through or over the fence. We are predominantly utilizing fiberglass ‘pigtail posts’ that can be easily removed/dropped if you need to drive over the fence with a tractor (or when spreading manure for that matter). We like that the ‘pigtails’ don’t have parts to break off like other posts, but they are a little tall at spring turn out, as the younger calves can still walk under them. We manage this by angling the posts, which drops the wire height slightly. Not only does this keep the calves in, but it also makes it a little easier for us to step over when walking between groups.
Phase 1 is now complete, so we will move on to phase 2 over the next few years. Our final goal is to have 6 paddocks for each group, allowing a 5 day rotation and 25 day rest – we think this will be the optimal balance between maximizing grass while keeping active management to a moderate level. While we are out to ‘visit’ our cows pretty much every day in the summer, moving them every 5 days feels like it will be the right amount that will allow the cattle to keep their routines, while keeping the grass re-growth high.
It may be early yet to see how successful our new fences have been in improving yield, however we have already been able to see visible improvement in the first fields that were cross fenced in 2010 and 2011. While the cows still have their favorite spots in each paddock, re-growth seems to be broader spread and more even. Different species seem to be thriving – as an early graze of quick growing spring grass appears to allow for clover and alfalfa to thrive more through the middle of the season. We look forward to seeing how the grass continues to evolve over the upcoming years.
Our goal is to be able to increase the yield of our pastures by upwards of 20%. Whether we utilize this gain by being able to graze longer into winter, or by pasturing more cattle, a 20% grass gain for a couple of hundred dollars of wire and posts seems like a pretty good investment.
We have been blessed this summer by lots of moisture through June and July, followed by plenty of heat this summer. The grass (as you can see in the picture), has been plentiful, and as a result, it hasn’t been nearly as stressed as a ‘normal’ year would be. Considering the wide-spread drought conditions in the US and Eastern Canada, we are very, very fortunate. With the weather and grass that we have, our efforts to improve our rotational grazing may not seem immediately beneficial, but over the longer term, less stress on each of the pastures should only be a good thing; regardless of the weather.
I was originally going to title this ‘Spring’ update but, while the snow has mostly gone, sub zero temperatures, random flurries and lots of wind hasn’t made this season feel too much like spring yet. Not that I am complaining. After the warm temperatures we enjoyed this winter I have nothing to complain about. It is truly special to walk out to the straw pack and see that a calf was born unassisted, and is up and drinking on their own, without having to worry about it freezing. While the mild winter can create its own set of challenges, we are truly thankful for the great calving season. The final tally has us with a 2 heifer to 1 bull ratio, which definitely means that the first Applecross females will be marketed this fall.
April brings ‘Spring Fever’ to our house (which is more than just me chasing Jeanne around the kitchen!). Perhaps cabin fever is a more apt description. Since the daylight hours are so long, and those pesky night checks are done for the season, there seems to be more time and energy to get those ‘after supper’ chores done in preparation for spring. Those ‘to-do’ lists that were made during the winter months get transferred into action. It is also great just to be outside more, without the heavy clothing, working away at those endless number of things that need done around the farm.
We have been able to get the cows out of the corrals behind the barn and onto our ‘shoulder season’ pasture that we use for December and April-May. It is a three acre paddock, complete with an old horse ‘round pen’ they can utilize for shelter. It is great to see them more relaxed; out of the mud and using their feet and legs more. I think the exercise is good for the calves too – they sure change in the few months since birth. It doesn’t take long for the bulls to start looking like bulls, and the heifers to start ‘princessing’ around the yard.
Speaking of ‘Princesses’; that is a great word to describe our Anchor D Viper calves. We only got heifers, but they sure are easy to pick out. They all seem to have the certain intangible ‘sass’ about them that is really neat to see. If there is going to be a calf to follow you around when you’re checking cows, looking for some attention, it will be a Viper heifer.
Dad has always said that the key to a successful breeding season is to make more ‘good decisions’ than ‘bad ones’. Sometimes a genetic combination works out; other times it does not. Hopefully each calf crop yields more of the ‘good’, and fewer ‘bads’. For the 2012 edition, I think I am firmly on the ‘good’ side of the ledger, though there are a few matings that didn’t work out quite the way I hoped. I always try to treat mistakes as something to learn from, instead of constantly second guessing myself. That is one of the great things about the cattle business: there is always next year to plan for.
To help me plan, I really try to keep detailed notes; some days those notes morph into a journal. It really helps the memory, and can be referred back to; little details can be remembered. Everything from calving tendencies and gestations, to a genetic cross that worked (and those that don’t). We live in such an information society, being able to go back and refer to notes – and have an accurate record of what you were thinking at the time, instead of relying on an increasingly bad memory (or just whatever you have heard recently) – is a great help when making decisions.
We are thick into AI season. I have a detailed chart of who should be bred, and to what; but that doesn’t always stop me from changing my mind when Donna McMurtry drives in the lane to breed them. Having Donna available is a great resource. As she has bred thousands of cows over the years, her level of expertise is tremendous. Having been around the breed for 35+ years, she also has an interesting perspective on what genetics work.
The biggest addition to our 2012 AI line-up is IPU Bronson. I really admire the Bronson females that Harry and Michelle Satchwell have working down at Virginia Ranch. They really are a sight – I think at one point they had something like 17 daughters working there – and they are all tremendous big volume cows. As we didn’t manage to get any daughters bought, we are excited to hopefully develop some for our own over the next few years.
We will also be AI’ing more to Dora Lee Eclipse this year; specifically on our heifers. His first daughters that I have working (now aged 4) are really impressive – and I have a really nice heifer calf this year too. There is a lot to like about Eclipse – he has both calving and maternal calving (a Fleckvieh rarity), he is coloured right, puts square udders on his females, and he can take the horns off. There is something to be said about keeping a semen bank around to re-visit 5 years down the road after you know a genetic combination works.
Spring is also when our bulls are introduced to their new homes. One of the great things about delivering bulls is the opportunity to tour the operation, and see what management techniques and genetic direction different herds are taking. I haven’t toured a herd yet where I haven’t learned something. This held true when we had the opportunity to tour the Langer and Wa-Na-La-Pa herds when delivering APLX Santana in a mid-March snow storm. One of the many things that stood out for us on this visit, was the work they had done with their new panel set-up that replaced old wooden corrals. The panels provide lots of flexibility and allowed multiple confined breeding and AI groups, all close together without the bulls seeming to bother each other; despite several cows being in heat that day. I see more panels in my future!
We also quite enjoyed our visit to Lone Stone Farms in February. One of our conditions in selling Envoy at the 2011 National Trust in November, was that we wanted to winter him prior to delivering him to Lonnie & Karen. So, on another snowy winter day, we travelled to Westlock to enjoy a wonderful lunch and most of an afternoon visiting. Even though it was only 4 days prior to their annual bull sale (and with plenty of jobs still yet to get done), they were more than happy to spend a lot of time with us showing us their program. One of the things that stood out for us on the visit, was the uniformity of the cattle. For the past 30 years they have developed a clear vision of what they want their cattle to look like, and that was clearly evident by how consistent their cow groups were. The success of their approach was clearly proven in the success of their Friday Bull Sale. Improving the uniformity of our cow herd is something that I look forward to, now that our herd numbers are almost to where we want them to be.
A last closing comment on bull season: while it has been a great year for bull sales overall, I would also suggest that it has been an amazing year for the ‘best of the best’. I don’t recall another spring where I have seen or heard of more bulls sell for $10,000+, $20,000+ or $40,000+. In some ways, it is not surprising; a rising industry should lead to reinvestment by both commercial cattlemen and by breeders. It is just great to see so much dedication / enthusiasm throughout the entire industry again in 2012. Here is hoping it continues on for the next few years.
Individual pages (short-cut links are located in the right-hand column) have been created for our three bull entries to the 2011 Red Deer Bull Sale to be held on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 1:00pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. The 2011 edition will represent our first genetics to sell by auction, and we are pleased to be a part of this great event.
The three bulls selected represent the best of our 2010 bull calf crop. We weaned September 3rd, 2010, evaluated the calves, and then culled thoroughly. These three bulls are all solid colour, heavily pigmented, have moderate (90-100lb) birth weights, show lots of muscling, have tremendous hair coats and are backed by strong, often unique, pedigrees. The bulls have been developed on a ration of free-choice quality first cut hay combined with 10lbs/day of mixed grain, formulated to 12% protein. To ensure they are in shape for breeding season, the grain ration was increased to 12lbs/day on February 1st. The bulls are housed in a 5 acre paddock to ensure lots of exercise, they have all been at least tie-broke, and all have a quiet temperament. In short, we have raised them to be the type of bulls we would wish to buy for ourselves, and feel they will go out and get the job done.
Thanks to their sire, all three bulls are scurred and may pass the polled gene along to their offspring. In 2009 we were selected to help ‘prove’ an exciting new homozygous polled bull that was the result of 10 years of development – Dora Lee’s Equinox. We are very pleased with how his first calf crop has performed, will continue to use him extensively. Thanks to his development in Ontario, we also believe his genetics are outcross to the vast majority of Fleckvieh lines in Western Canada. These three bulls will also represent the only Equinox sons to sell publicly in 2011.
On the individual pages, we have also pictured the dams. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding mother. We also have additional information and pictures available about the maternal grand dams; should it be of interest. As some people prefer paper copies, we also have individual bull profiles available in PDF format that can be e-mailed and printed, or sent by regular mail. Please let us know if you would like any additional information on any of our animals.
The 2011 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale will be a very exciting time for us. We look forward to seeing the first Applecross genetics sell March 21 at Westerner Park.
Picture Note: The above picture of ‘Ensign’ taken in October of 2010. We really like this picture of Ensign, as it showcases his tremendous volume and heavy muscling, but wanted to use a current ‘winter’ picture in order to have consistent maturity with the other bulls in the catalogue and on his web-page.
We are officially half way finished calving – so far, so good. We survived a couple of really brutal weeks of weather; during which, we were fortunate enough to convince the cows to calve inside. The calving barn is at least out of the wind, and not quite as cold. This week has been mild, so it has been nice to see the calves bouncing around the yard playing.
There have been a number of interesting calves to date; both bulls and heifers. Pictured here are two of the girls – (5 day old) Taylor who is a Gidsco Appollo by our Hiemstra cow, Tasha; and (2 week old) Janelle, an Anchor T Ikon heifer from Dora Lee Jasmine. We think very highly of both dams (they are both featured on our ‘Young Guns’ page), and we are excited to be able to grow both cow families. I hope to feature some of our other exciting calves in future posts.
I am very fortunate to have been raised in a photo-friendly family. My mom took a lot of pictures while I was growing up, and her love of photography meant there was almost always a camera around. Thankfully, Mom’s interest in pictures included ‘nature’ photography, as it meant a ‘rest’ from pictures for those of us who often tired of being in front of the camera. She took literally hundreds of cow-pictures each year. One of the underappreciated aspects of nature and cattle (whether it be sunrise, sunsets, dew-drops or autumn colours) is that they don’t tend to talk back, whine or complain to the photographer.
Well before the advent of computer editing and publishing, Mom took a lot of great cattle photos. This has created an incredible archive of pictures; giving us that timeless ability to see what generations upon generations of cattle look like . . . not to mention how sceneries and farmsteads change over the years! The attached photo is one that Mom took of our cow-herd (with our yard-site in the background) when she and Dad visited Applecross in the summer of 2010. With her permission, I hope to feature more of her photos in the future.
I also enjoy a taking a good picture, and feel it is a great way to showcase our operation. While the world has gotten a lot smaller, it is still not easy to visit every place that you’d like to go. Hopefully, some of the pictures posted here will serve as a bit of a ‘virtual tour’ of Applecross.