Our Journey as Producers of Fleckvieh Simmental Cattle.

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2022 Red Deer County Bull Sale Report

Our High Seller – APLX Coach 37J

March 12th was another great day to hold the Red Deer County Bull Sale at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta.  Unseasonably mild temperatures created beautiful travelling weather to see a great group of bulls sell.  Customers had the opportunity to have a hot lunch and inspect a high quality, diverse group of bulls presented by a number of great consignors, before watching them strut their stuff in the sales ring.

In all, eight bulls ended up topping the $10,000 threshold at this years’ event which included bulls from each of the Fleckvieh, Purebred Simmental, Black Angus and Hereford divisions – truly a strong multi-breed sale!  The overall high seller was a polled Fleckvieh bull from Keato Meadows – Lot 49 – that sold for 21,000 to Lakeview Simmentals of Meacham, SK.  This is the second consecutive year that Jonathan & Ebony Kittlitz of Keato Meadows have brought the high seller to town.  As we have worked beside their program in both the Fleckvieh Equation and Red Deer Bull Sales for quite a number of years, it is awesome to witness their continued success!  Overall 68 lots sold for an average of $6,899, with the fullblood bulls averaging almost $8,500.

While our own string suffered some setbacks during semen testing, the highlight of the day for us was our Lot 42 bull – APLX Coach 37J.  We think very highly of the potential of this homo-polled, herd builder, and were excited to have him sell to the deep south of the United States!  ‘Coach’ was acquired for $15,000 by a partnership of Red Oak Farm / Josh & Hilarie Gardner of Greenville, Alabama and Little Creek Cattle / Jason & Nikki Gress of Starkville, Mississippi!  It is always a great feeling to have your genetics selected for international use, and we look forward to seeing how ‘Coach’ performs for his new owners.

Coach wasn’t the only bull who got enjoy a lengthy truck ride, as our  lot 41 bull ‘Impulse’ is New Brunswick bound after being selected by Mike Groom / Kenridge Farm, Leverville, NB.  Our other two bulls both stayed close to home.  John and Terry Matheson of Red Deer County selected our lot 47 bull ‘Wrigley, and Dallas Phillips acquired our Lot 40 bull in ‘Intrigue’.  Dallas was a repeat buyer for us, after selecting ‘Dundee’ from us back in 2019.  It is always special to see customers return for more bulls!

Once again we need to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale.  The Red Deer County Bull Sale is part of an extremely busy stretch of events, and we appreciate the time and energy Jay Good and his team invest to ensure we have a successful sale.  We look forward to working with them again later in the year at Fleckvieh Equation!

With both the bull sale and calving now behind us, our thoughts move directly to breeding season.  While we haven’t been successful in adding a new walking bull this year, we do have a couple of new options for AI so that we can continue to diversify our offering.  It is an exciting time for Applecross Cattle to continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.

Red Deer County 2022: Our Deepest and Most Diverse Bull String Ever

We are pleased to present nine herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2022 Red Deer County Bull Sale on Saturday, March 12th at 1:00pm at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta. This is our twelfth year at this event, and we are proud to be included in the strong offering that is always presented by this progressive group of breeders.

Our 2022 offering will be our deepest and most diverse bull string yet – clearly showcasing our breeding philosophy. We firmly believe that the future will bring an increased herd size, on the same amount of available labour. This means, that with less labour available on a per cow basis, birth weights will come down to improve calving ease, and that gradually more and more horns will be bred off the cattle. We continue to slowly incorporate the polled gene into our herd, as our goal is to add this genetic trait while maintaining the strong performance and mothering ability the Simmental breed is known for. In a sector that continues to operate with compressed margins, we think our bulls offer low maintenance, highly maternal characteristics that will produce both tremendous replacement females and heavy steers.

Maybe the most intriguing bull we have on offer this year is ‘Coach’. A homo-polled, dilutor free Double Bar D Confidence son, this mid-February calf is a real head turner. His dam manages to combine two of our founding cow families, that we have enjoyed the privilege of working with since the early 1990’s. The proven maternal of Antonius and King Arthur combine with the outcross of Rangemore Carrousel to create a truly unique individual that is loaded with potential. With endless ways he can be utilized, Coach is definitely worthy of consideration as a program changing breeder bull.

Rare for us, is also a pair of Anchor T Impact embryo herd sire prospects. One of the early lessons my father taught me, was that while ET could be a valuable tool, it should only be used incredibly selectively – it was his opinion that it was utilized too often to simply multiply genetics, when instead we should focus our efforts on breed improvement. We have tried to take this lesson to heart, but simply couldn’t resist a long-term goal of incorporating Anchor T Impact into our polled program. The dam, Applecross Diana is one of the young ‘stars’ of our herd, and we are confident you will hear a lot more from this moderate framed female in the future. These two Impact sons offer stacked maternal pedigrees backed by multiple generations of calving ease, all with a unique genetic twist!

The largest sire group is that of our home raised, homo-polled head turner, APLX Wedge 6F. With his first daughters now in production here, we have been very happy with his progeny to date. These five sons all showcase their sires incredible volume and shape, but are also very much defined by their dams. ‘Warner’ and “Wildcard’ were both born a little heavier, and pack a little more punch; while ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Wrigley’ both stack highly maternal Spruceburn Starfire dams to provide a little more balanced profile. Finally there is ‘Wheeler’, a true curve bender. His moderate birthweight, combines with a strong top and massive hip, this beauty of a buckskin is projected to be our ‘heavyweight’ on sale day. Together, we expect these five ‘W’s’ to create a really neat feature pen in Innisfail.

The five Wedge sons on offer are joined by Wedge’s maternal brother in ‘Duke’. We are incredibly high on Applecross Piper, but with so many relatives around it is incredibly difficult to figure out which way to breed her. For this years’ model we reached deep into our AI inventory to an old school Fleckvieh in JB Doctor Duke, to create our own ‘Duke’, and offer a little different polled twist with this classic line.

Individual pages have been created for all nine of our bulls on offer. Short-cut links are located in the right-hand column; alternatively, mobile users can also simply put the bull’s name in the search bar. On the individual pages, we have also pictured the sires, dams and often multiple generations of the genetics behind the bulls. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding cow family – and we have been working with some of these cow families since the early 1990’s! Links to the CSA database and current EPD’s have also been profiled, and we would be more than happy to provide any additional supplemental information.

We want to ensure our bulls will work for many years, so feet, legs and temperament are very important traits for us. The bulls are housed in a 5 acre paddock to ensure lots of exercise, and have been developed on a ration of free-choice quality first cut hay, combined with a forage-based pellet by Country Junction. All nine bulls are quiet and used to being around people. We like working and walking through docile cattle, and feel the herd bull should be no exception.

The 2022 Red Deer County Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 12th at the Innisfail Auction Mart.

Our 2021 Fleckvieh Equation Sales Report

Our Two Lead Heifers: Applecross Liesel 58G and Applecross Paris 16H

December 19th was another great day to wrap up 2021’s ‘Alberta Simmental Week-end’ with Transcon’s Fleckvieh Equation and Red and Black, 2 in 1 Sale Extravaganza at the Innisfail Auction Mart.  Despite the onset of ‘full winter’ impacting travel earlier in the week, temperatures moderated for sale day to allow for steady traffic through the legendary Innisfail Auction Mart cattle facility.  In what was the last ‘live’ Simmental sale in Alberta of 2021, astute cattlemen had the opportunity to have a hot lunch, visit with consignors, and inspect a high quality group of open and bred females, and a few herd sire prospects, before watching them pose for viewers in the sales ring.

In what is sure to become a sale tradition, consignors Skywest Farms led off the sale with Lot 103, one of several impressive Kuntz Duramax daughters that they had on offer. ‘Skywest Hope’ sold for $22,500 to Lockhart Valley Simmentals / Lee & Tina Robson of Rimbey, AB. A few lots later, the sales order turned to open heifers and. after some spirited bidding, Lot 119, BLL Lady Jane 53H ended up the top open heifer at $15,000 as Gail Gerein of Unity SK was the successful new owner.  On the purebred side, the high seller was Lot 4, ‘City View Hawaii 37H’ a really impressive SVS Tycoon Daughter, who was selected by Circle 7 Simmentals of Shaunavon, Sk.

It was a really awesome day for Applecross Cattle, as we were really happy with the condition and shape our heifers were in sale day.  We had a tremendous number of inquiries leading up to the sale, and were humbled by the number of compliments we received on our program. Our lead two polled heifers were selected to be the 3rd and 4th heifers in the ring, and both went to first time customers.   After being selected by Mike McCart / Alliance Simmentals,  for $6,400, Lot 117 ‘Applecross Liesel’  is  Ontario bound.   Lot 116 ‘Applecross Paris’ is staying right close to home here in Central AB, after being acquired by OH Kay Farms / the Lougheed’s of Red Deer for $5,000.  And finally, a little later in the sale, Lot 114 ‘Applecross Olivia’ was selected by Jayme Hunter of Caroline, AB.  and lot 115 ‘Applecross Carly’ by Justin Wagner of Leslieville, AB.   It was great to see four new customers acquire Applecross genetics, and we are excited to see what our females can do for their new owners.

We were also successful in making two acquisitions during the sale.  Our eyes were certainly drawn to Lot 118 ‘BLL Hocus 51H’, and with both ‘Sibelle Sugar Ray 25F’ and ‘Brinks Bullet Proof’ being outcross to our herd, we jumped at the opportunity to add this promising female to round out our open heifer group.  We were also able to add Lot 105 ‘Skywest Harmony’.  We have been very impressed with the Duramax progeny, and were quite interested in the Twenty X bull when he sold at Anchor D back in 2011, so it was pretty cool to add this larger framed female to our walking herd.  We are always on the look out for new or different genetics that can add different dimensions to our herd, and we believe we have been able to accomplish that goal again in 2021!

Once again we need to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale.  Jay Good and his team are always a quality sales management group – constantly on the phone while inspecting cattle for prospective buyers.  Since interest and bids don’t always result in a purchase, you can’t always see their work – but that certainly wasn’t the case for Equation 2021.  Between the onset of winter weather and the continued impact of Covid, fewer people are able to attend the sale.  Having a professional, ​reputable sales team inspect animals and provide advice on behalf of potential bidders and buyers is simply irreplaceable .

With the heifers sale a now behind us, we are full into calving.  With some new AI options and the first Black Gold Battleborn 44H calves set to arrive, it is an incredibly exciting time of year.  Being a purebred cattle breeder is always a journey – and there are so many ways that we can still work to improve both our herd and sale offerings.  Yes, our trend of offering more polled genetics will continue, but we certainly won’t be successful if we single-trait select – so we will continue to keep an eye on feet, thickness, udders and temperament – while also continuing to mix back in different horned genetics to continue to diversify our genetic base.  We are really excited about both our open heifer group, and the yearling bulls that are only days away from being clipped up for bull sale pictures.  We are truly fortunate (and very blessed) to own and operate Applecross Cattle where we can continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.

Cow Families @ the Heart of it All: Fleckvieh Equation Preview 2021

Our 2021 Equation Sale Heifers from Left – Olivia, Carly, Paris and Liesel.

We are pleased to present four bred heifers at Transcon’s 2021 Fleckvieh Equation Sale at 1 pm on December 19th, at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta.   We really enjoy the group of consignors that join together in what has become the last ‘live’ Fleckvieh sale of the year in Alberta.  Every year seems to bring a few new faces, and this year we are excited to have moved ‘down the road’ a few miles to our new location in Innisfail.  The last two versions of the Red Deer County Bull sale have enjoyed great success at the Innisfail Auction Mart, and we look forward to more amazing hospitality from the Daines family.   

Our 2021 sale string really showcases the importance of our cow families.  We have taken a slow approach to building our herd to ensure that multiple generations of cow families all walk here.  This way, the maternal lines can develop, and we can watch and compare as the younger generations work alongside their matriarchs.    We are very selective in adding females – typically only circling a few each fall with the goal of adding only one or two neat outcross females that have the potential to found a legacy cow family of their own, and simply make our herd better.  So in that vein, it is not a surprise that all four of our bred heifers on offer trace back to three of our initial founding lines.  Our ‘Christina’ (or C) cow family, our Pauline (P) cow family, and Lady Western cow family (who has founded five different lines – D’s, B’s, L’s, G’s and I’s  (!!!)).  Why have naming guidelines if you can’t break them occasionally!

The easiest place to start is with the youngest and last of our founding matriarchs, Dora Lee Christina 28S.  We selected Christina as one of our ‘founding four’ females from Dora Lee.  We knew that one of the priority cow families from my parents was RHY Zamia 40Z, so we jumped at the chance to obtain this grand-daughter.  Christina is one of those seemingly rare females that can produce both top quality sons and daughters, while also moderating birth weights.  She is a moderate framed, no nonsense cow, still working here as she enters her 16th year; having never taken a year off.  From a progeny perspective, she is probably best known for producing APLX Santana, who put on the miles spending time walking in three different Fleckvieh herds: Wa-Na-La-Pa, Gibbons Farms and Virginia Ranch.  She was also the dam of  APLX Javar 18A who worked at Troy Cerny’s / Diamond T, and is the dam of high selling daughters Applecross Candice (to Sunville in 2015) and Applecross Cynthia (to Anchor D in 2017).    With all the balance to her progeny, it is not that surprising that Christina shows up in the sire side of our Lot 114 heifer, Applecross Olivia, and then as the maternal grand dam to our lot 115 heifer, Applecross Carly.    Both of these heifers are moderate framed, solid dark red in colour, and project to have the same versatility that Christina has provided us. 

For the Pauline Cow family, let us count the P’s.  Poppy, Paula, Piper, Panda,  Patience, Pepper & Penelope are all slated to calve in 2022.  All of them originate with one of our earliest selections, Spruceburn Pauline, who was our pick of Bill & Donna McMurtry’s heifer calf crop way back in 2009.  Bill and Donna got to know my parents from a number of Fleckvieh events over the years, and being one of the original supporters of Fleckvieh cattle, it was great to have them located close by when we relocated to Alberta.  Donna is legendary for her knowledge of pedigrees, and was willing to not only provide advice as we first started out, but also AI some cows for us each spring while also allowing our girls to date Spruceburn Starfire for a few years.  While we still walk a couple Starfire daughters (and Starfire himself shows up in Olivia’s pedigree as he combined with Christina to produce ‘Santana’),  it was the acquisition of Pauline that really stands out as carrying on the Spruceburn legacy at Applecross.  Despite a relatively short career, she left us with two daughters.  Applecross Poppy 1X and Applecross Paula 13Z.  Both have been very prolific and popular!  Poppy is an amazing looking female, and cruises around our pastures as a 2,000lb working girl.  Her progeny has topped both our bull sales (APLX Wrangler) and heifer sales (Applecross Penny).  Paula is one of Jeanne’s favourites (as our camera roll would attest), and as such her daughters seem to be vetoed more often than not whenever Transcon is here selecting calves.   One look at our lot 116 heifer, ‘Paris,’ and you will see why we are so high on this cow family.   

As much as I like to tease Jeanne about consistently vetoing progeny from the ‘P-Line’, I will readily admit to having a soft spot for ‘Lady’.  DLD Lady Western 48R was one of my dad’s favourites; a direct King Arthur from SRN 2Y, one of his founding Fleckvieh lines.  She was the toughest one for him to part with when he gave us full rein to select four cows to come west with us when we started Applecross Cattle.   Lady Western is probably best known for being the dam of APLX Envoy 2Y that left his mark at Lone Stone Farms / Lonnie & Karen Brown, as I hoarded all of her daughters here at Applecross.  Over the years, she left us five daughters to start cow families with: ‘Diva’, ‘Bella’, ‘Grace’, ‘Isobel’ and ‘Frauline’.  As we already have an ‘F Cow Family’ (started by Anchor D Fergus), we promptly decided to name all of Frauline’s daughters L’s.  Frauline has given us three full sisters in a row:  Lyanna, Liesel and Lydia.   This years model  Lot 117 ‘Liesel’ is an absolutely massive, big volume homozygous polled bred heifer, that we originally planned on retaining – there is simply so much breeding potential in this heifer!  She certainly carried the volume of her grandma through the generations, and will provide endless genetic possibilities for her new owner.     

Individual pages (short-cut links are on the top right), have been created for each of ‘Olivia’, ‘Carly’, ‘Paris’ and ‘Liesel’.  We preg-checked in mid October and the vet feels that all four are safe to their AI breeding or early exposure.  The Heifers are also vaccinated with ViraShield Gold and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Scour-Guard prior to sale day.  On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings.  We hope to have videos of our sale heifers completed next weekend. 

The 2021 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event,    We look forward to a great day on December 19th in Innisfail!

Take Time to ‘Smell the Roses’

A Summer Saturday Night @ Applecross Cattle

Take Time to ‘Smell the Roses’

The title tonight is one of my dad’s sayings.    An idiom as a reminder to take time, to do the things that we enjoy; even when our schedules may seem busy.  A pause on the farm – for a few minutes – an hour – an afternoon – an evening.  Just to enjoy the blessings we have been given, and to be thankful.  It has been a tough six months for us at Applecross Cattle.  The continuation of a world wide pandemic, combined with personal loss and some family health challenges, has had a material impact on our mental health.  So practicing self-awareness, and focusing on our own communication skills, have become essential.    It is also a reminder that I am very fortunate that I have a partner I travel through life with,  that I can share / talk to / be with / be a source of strength and remind me (or I can remind her) that sometimes we just need a break; to take time to ‘smell those roses’.

We are very fortunate to be able to have a cattle operation.  We do this by choice.  And a lot of people, in a lot of professions, can’t say that.  There are certainly lots of great things about having the cows, but at the same token there is simply no escape from them.  As one of our great friends mentioned when we were visiting the other day ‘the best part of the place is the cows / but it is also the worst part’.  Cows demand attention; and more often then not, when it isn’t convenient!  If the bull calves decide to push through a fence and get on the highway in the dark one night, or the resident senior herd bull decides that 2am is a great time for exploring the flowerbeds, neither situation is something that can be deferred to more accommodating daylight or even business hours between 9-5 in order to be resolved.  Nothing impacts a Saturday night ‘date night’ cow-tour like noticing an animal with a limp, or simply looking ‘off’.  Having cattle reinforces the suggestion that while for many days of the year they can exist perfectly healthy (in the pasture they are supposed to be in), that we are still on call 24-7-365.   So a pause, spontaneous or planned, can remind us of all the great reasons we do choose to spend our life in the purebred cattle business.  Outside, with nature, watching our cattle turn grass into milk and meat.

This year both of us have tended to operate with a higher level of emotion, so we have made a conscious effort to take these breaks to remind ourselves why we do what we do.  A pause on a hilltop to watch the cattle work their way through a new pasture.  A Saturday night gator ride that stops for no reason, other than to watch the cattle grazing, backdropped by a glorious sunset.   A pause to reflect, a reminder that we are fortunate enough to do what we do, and that billions of people in our world have life so much worse.  We are fortunate in so many ways.  We need to take time to reflect, give thanks, and enjoy the moment while blessed to have each others company.  And as the world turns back toward “normal”, time with family and great friends also returns to become moments that are cherished.     Cherished because of what was missed; but also cherished because there is that sense of sharing; of openness and the awareness that everyone has their own demons.  Together we can give each other strength – while also (often) enjoying some great cattle to boot!

When life becomes more challenging, it is often the deep rooted pillars that have always anchored our lives that move towards the fore.   For us growing up, Sunday was always a time for our faith, and a pause (as much as possible) from ‘farm work’ so that we would have time for reflection, restoration, and rejuvenation.  I was also blessed to grow up in a house of music.  My mom sung in the barn during chores (and sometimes – if it wasn’t stupid early in the day – we would even join in!).  My dad would play the same ‘Sunday Songs’ before church every week.  And with two siblings that played the piano (one of whom is a now church pianist), music was never far.  So between scripture and song, they continue to be inspirations that keep us grounded, sane and settled.  A couple readily come to mind: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Matthew 6:34) and also  ‘Trust I seek, and I find in you.  Every day for us something new’ (Metallica).  Reminders that while still planning for the future, try to stay in the “today” without worrying unnecessarily about things that might not even happen tomorrow.  And also that we are fortunate the have someone to share our burdens with; hand in hand as we journey through life.

For Applecross Cattle itself, the farm has done very well for us this year.  Despite widespread drought across Western Canada, some timely rains in June and again in late August allowed us to stretch our pastures a lot longer than anticipated.  The cattle have moved closer to home and were put on feed 2 weeks earlier than usual, so we count our blessings that we have been so fortunate.  As we were short grass, we did pivot and double the usual number of cull cows that went to town after weaning.  The entire cow herd is mapped for performance of their progeny, with a simple test of whether their offspring was retained into our herd, became one of our sale animals or were culled.  The combination of lack of performance, some flaws (I really like to clean up udders and feet), alongside some older cows that simply aged out of our program, meant quite a number went to town.  It is always a sad day to see some trusted mainstays leave the yard, but at the same token having the opportunity to clean up the bottom 20% of the herd should never be passed up.  The bonus is that I am much happier touring the cow herd! 

We enjoyed a balanced calf crop and were able to continue our progression with polled genetics.   I have said this fairly frequently over the past 5 years, but we are blessed with the strongest set of open heifers we have ever raised – there are some really neat, different genetics in the pen – and some of our more impressive matron cows (finally) gave us daughters.  We also retained more bulls in our development paddock than we have ever had in the past, and have selected four bred heifers to present at Equation 2021.   We won’t spoil the details, but between our walking bulls, some AI, and (rare for us) embryo calves, we are pretty excited for the potential of our 2021 calf crop.      

In closing, this blog post may be a bit of a departure from our usual musings.  Everyone has days they struggle with internal demons.  And in Agriculture, I think there has always been a stigma to acknowledging them; confusing a public persona of ‘toughness’ and resiliency with experiences and challenges that every person faces.  Mental health is just too important, so we decided to share a small snapshot of our journey.  We are so fortunate to be able to live our dream of Applecross Cattle, while having each other to rely on when times are a challenge.  So on Sunday night, we pause.  To reflect, and to just ‘smell those roses’.  We are so grateful.  For friends.  Family.  Scripture.  Song.  Partnerships.  And (of course), plenty of time to talk cattle.

Until next time,

Dennis

Our 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale Report

Denzel and Daytona, our two high sellers on the day.

Our 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale Report

March 13th was another great edition of the Red Deer County Bull Sale at the Innisfail Auction Mart, in Innisfail, Alberta.  It was a gorgeous spring day, with unseasonably mild temperatures in Central Alberta which, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the current pandemic, led to a robust crowd enjoying comfortable weather to inspect bulls in their large outside pens. Customers had the opportunity to have a hot lunch and preview a diverse group of bulls presented by a number of great consignors, before watching them strut their stuff in the sales ring.

The three lead bulls in the ring were all from the Keato Meadows program / Jonathan and Ebony Kittlitz of Ft. Sask.  Despite being regular consignors at this sale for more than a decade, this was their first time being selected to lead the sale!   Their headliner status did not disappoint, as their lot 34 bull ‘Keato Pld Ben Hur 951G’, both led off the sale and ended the day as the overall high seller, for $18,500 to Lakeview Simmentals at Meacham, Sk.   One of the cool features of the Red Deer Bull Sale is that, over the years, numerous breeders have been given the spotlight in the lead-off spot, so it was great to see Jonathan and Ebony’s program showcased and recognized with the high selling bull! 

Over the past few years, the Red Deer bull sale has evolved from one devoted exclusively to Simmentals, to one now involving both Angus and Herefords.  It has been great to meet and get to know these up and coming breeders, who also bring different perspectives and a whole lot of enthusiasm to the sale.  In this regard, we would specifically like to recognize the Bricker’s from Chestermere Stock Farm – their Hereford string was very impressive, averaging a very strong $8,228 across their nine lots.

In all, nine bulls ended up topping the $10,000 threshold at this years’ event, with the high-sellers split fairly evenly across all breeds, including both fullblood and purebred Simmentals.  Overall, 62 lots sold for an average of $6,630.

The highlight of the day for Applecross Cattle was the selection of two lots by Arthur Smith of Smith Simmental Ranch from Ft. Sask.  Arthur has been a long time supporter of the Lone Stone Farms Simmental program at Westlock, where he had acquired several ‘APLX Envoy’ daughters over the years.  This year they turned their attention to our curve-bending lead bull, APLX Daytona 55G, who they acquired for $11,250.  Later on in the afternoon, they were also successful in acquiring our heifer bull candidate, APLX Cairo 14H, for $6,500.  We hope these two youngsters perform just as well for their program as their ‘Envoy’ daughters have.

It was also great to see the return of two of our previous clients.  Frank Deur of Crossfield selected ‘Diego’ at last years’ Red Deer Bull Sale, so it was awesome to connect and have him select our homo-polled youngster, APLX Watson 29H.  We were also super excited to see Linda Bingeman / Conestoga Farms successful in acquiring APLX Dalton 50G.  Linda had been to Red Deer in 2013 to select ‘Ajax’ from our program, so it was nice to see her back looking for another APLX bull.  Repeat buyers are the foundation of any successful bull sale!

APLX Denzel 9H is Ontario bound, after being selected by Brian and Lynn Vail, of Clarksburg.  Vailview Farms have been long time customers of my parents operation (Dora Lee Genetics), so with Dora Lee winding down, it is pretty cool to see the Vail’s decide to connect with the Alberta based Smalls! It is not a surprise that Denzel goes back to one of our founding Dora Lee females, DLD Lady Western 48R.

Our final bull, APLX Dillon 57G, stayed right here in Red Deer County, after he was selected by Ryan Layden of Layden Farms, just east of Innisfail.  It is always neat to send bulls long distances, but having our prefix on bulls in the ‘neighbourhood’, is also a great experience.  

Overall it was a tremendous day for Applecross Cattle at auction.  Our 6 bulls all found great homes, and it was fun to meet new people and visit with old friends on a gorgeous afternoon in Innisfail!

Once again we need to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale.  Jay Good and his team are always a quality, sales management group – constantly on the phone while inspecting cattle for prospective buyers.  Bull sale season is a tough gig – there is a different sale every 48 hours, across three provinces, so it can be easy to lose focus – but we always admire their professional approach.  We look forward to working with them again later in the year to market our females at Fleckvieh Equation!

We also want to give a big shout out to the Innisfail Auction Mart.  It is simply a great venue for marketing bulls.  The Daines and their team are awesome hosts, provide first class service, and are great people that showcase a strong desire to host successful agricultural events.  We are super supportive of the sales’ decision to relocate to Innisfail!

With both the bull sale and calving now behind us, our thoughts move directly to breeding season.  We have a couple of (new to us) high profile options for AI and a brand new walking bull to test out.  It is an exciting time for Applecross Cattle to continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.

Until next time,

Dennis

A Focus on Maternal Strength: Applecross Cattle @ Transcon’s 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale.

Five of our seven bulls on offer, from left: Cairo, Dalton, Dillon, Watson, Daytona and Denzel

We are pleased to present seven herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale on Saturday, March 13th at 1:00pm at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta. This is our eleventh year at this event, and we are proud to be included in the strong offering that is always presented by this progressive group of breeders. 

Our 2021 offering continues to showcase our philosophy of highlighting the maternal strengths of the Fleckvieh Simmental breed.  We firmly believe that the future will bring an increased herd size on the same amount of available labour.  This means that with less labour available on a per cow basis, birth weights will come down to improve calving ease, and that gradually more and more horns will be bred off the cattle.  We have moved slowly to incorporate the polled gene into our herd, as our goal is to try and accomplish this while maintaining the strong performance and mothering ability the Simmental breed is known for.  In a market that suggests continued strong demand for beef, we think our bulls on offer all provide the maternal characteristics that will produce tremendous replacement females. 

At the top of the pen is the third set of sons to be offered from NUG Delmonte 81D, who has clearly left his stamp on our herd. Dark red, smooth polled, non-diluting, amazing gain to feed efficiency ratio, and a quiet temperament are the adjectives that  immediately come to mind when we think ‘Delmonte’.  Loaded with hair and heavily pigmented, plenty of power yet moderate birth weights are common across the group of ‘Dalton’, ‘Dillon’, ‘Daytona’ and ‘Denzel’.  These four Delmonte sons all bend the curve, with very intriguing EPD profiles, that balance calving and maternal strength with strong performance numbers.   

We have tried something a little different this year, by bringing a couple of calving ease bulls to town.  It has always been a struggle for us to evaluate sons from first calf heifers, as they typically just don’t have the performance to stand up to our strict bull pen selection criteria.  This year we have two bulls that made the grade, ‘Gideon’ and ‘Cairo’, who both present as intriguing options for the heifer pen.  Joining these two bulls in our ‘junior division’, is ‘Watson’, who is a unique youngster with potential, having only a February 20th, birthday.

We want to ensure our bulls will work for many years, so feet, legs and temperament are very important traits for us.  The bulls are housed in a 5 acre paddock to ensure lots of exercise, and have been developed on a ration of free-choice quality first cut hay, combined with a forage based pellet by Country Junction.  All of the bulls are quiet and used to being around people. We like working and walking through docile cattle, and feel the herd bull should be no exception.  

Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right), have been created for each of the bulls.  (For those reading this on phones, the bulls name or lot number can also be entered into the search bar, to locate their individual page). On each of the pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings – hopefully, sharing pictures will provide a better glimpse into the extended pedigree.  It is also not unusual for us to have walked 4 or 5 generations of each respective cow family.  As 2021 has been an eventful spring, we also plan to have videos of each of our sale bulls the next couple days.   Please check our Applecross Cattle Facebook page for up to date info on our sales offering.   

Transcon’s 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 13th at the Innisfail Auction Mart!

Our 2020 Fleckvieh Equation Sale Report (and related year end thoughts)

Our Four Equation Heifers: From Left – Tanis, Lyanna, Cabernet and Paprika

A gorgeous late December day, with mild temperatures and sunny skies, created ideal weather for Transcon’s 2020 Fleckvieh Equation Sale on Sunday, December 20th, at the Westerner Grounds in Red Deer, Alberta.  Despite all of the uncertainty due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, a respectable (socially distanced) crowd was on hand, supported by busy phones and robust internet bidding.  As usual, Equation was held in conjunction with Transcon’s Red & Black Event, to create ‘Super Sunday’ with 80 total lots on offer.   

We were incredibly honoured to have our lot 115 Applecross Cabernet 14G heifer selected to lead off the sale.  Cabernet had turned a lot of heads all week-end.  Her dark red colour combined with tremendous depth of body and a stacked Virginia-backed cow family, generated a lot of excitement.  When the gavel fell, it was RichMc Simmentals / Jason Mclean & Mylia Richards who had successfully acquired Cabernet for $15,750.  This is the second Applecross female for RichMc, who also acquired Applecross Blossom 11E back at Equation 2018. Blossom has produced back to back sets of twin heifers for RichMc, so while we do wish them as much success with Cabernet, it will be a substantial challenge for her to be as prolific!

The Skywest string of bred heifers never disappoints, and it was lot 101 Skywest Freedom that led off their 2020 offering.  Freedom was the heaviest, largest volume heifer in the barn, so it was no surprise that some very spirited bidding led to her being the overall high selling bred heifer at $25,000.  I admit to having my eye on her, so it is convenient that she is headed to Beechinor Bros at Bentley, where I will hopefully have the privilege of watching progeny sell though either their on-farm bull sale or their annual Western Harvest female consignments.  John Beechinor continues to re-invest heavily in top notch genetics, so it will be pretty neat to see how Skywest Freedom fits into the Beechinor Bros program.

While the Fleckvieh bred heifers created tremendous excitement, it was an open heifer that really stole the show.  Lot 117, BLL Cece 952G was a stone cold stunner that combined feminine neck extension with tremendous length of body, a strong top and plenty of hip.  There was a rousing duel to take her home which, despite the moderate crowd, created a palpable stir in the building.  Century Simmentals / Jesse Pukalo will be taking ‘Cece’ to Spruce Grove, after making a $35,000 investment!  Wow!  Our excitement was only augmented as Cece’s sire, Double Bar D Confidence 179D, now walks the pastures here at Applecross!  We were successful in acquiring Confidence from Beechinor Land & Livestock / Stefon & Becca Beechinor just prior to the 2020 breeding season.  While we don’t have near the maternal depth that Stefon has assembled, the recent success of Confidence’s progeny only serves to create another level of anticipation. We expect his first APLX calves in just a couple of weeks!    

In addition to our lead heifer, our three other Applecross Females all found great new homes.  Lot 113, Applecross Lyannna 26G ($9,000), has made her way north to Lone Stone Farms / Lonnie & Karen, Nathan & Alisha Brown.  Nathan stopped in for a tour just over a month ago, so while we visited, we also took the opportunity to get his thoughts on his own heifers (more on that in a bit).  Our lot 112, Applecross Paprika ($6,500), and lot 114, Applecross Tanis ($9,000), joined Cabernet on a truck to Manitoba, after both were selected by the renowned Bonchuk Farms program.  All of the heifers are now in their new homes, and we look forward to hearing how they calve out for their new owners.  We thought our four heifers on offer all fit together nicely as a set, and were pleased with how they fit into the broader bred heifer group on consignment at Equation 2020.

The Fleckvieh Equation portion of Super Sunday averaged a robust $9,169 on 26 lots.

In addition to the above noted high-sellers, I wanted to share some additional thoughts on the 2020 Edition of Fleckvieh Equation:

  • The current Covid 19 pandemic certainly impacted Equation 2020.  From a good news perspective, the Westerner ensured we had plenty of space; the large pens and numerous alleys allowed for natural distancing between consignors. The downside was that distancing and limiting social interaction is the opposite of why we enjoy cattle sales!  The ability to visit, meet new people and talk cattle is one of our favourite parts of the week-end, and it was unfortunate (but understandable) that such activities were reduced.
  • In that vein, it was great to see the Red & Black portion of Transcon’s Super Sunday have a number of new consignors.  From a breed perspective, it is important to see new people have an interest in purebred cattle and join sales – it was just not as natural a year to strike up new conversations, when distancing and masks combine with a couple of introverts from Applecross!
  • Covid also put a fair bit of a damper on the new National Trust Format.  We thought the split format with a portion live / portion internet only worked really well.  The live portion was over within a couple of hours, which allowed us to adjourn to the barn with plenty of time for some (socially responsible) visiting.  The Saturday night has always been one of my favourites, so despite the limited number of people in attendance, we thought the shorter format worked really well – we look forward to a ‘more normal’ 2021 version!
  • National Trust wasn’t all just social, as we are able to acquire some frozen genetics in units of both Black Gold Elevation and Virginia Spartan.  One of the advantages of being located in Central Alberta is the ability to readily evaluate progeny from the premier breeders in the area.  For complementary reasons, we thought both Elevation and Spartan would add intriguing dimensions to the Applecross herd.   It is also an advantage for our ‘small’ operation that opportunities like National Trust and the similar New Year’s Resolution Sales exist.  We can tap into fairly exclusive AI sires, in manageable increments, in order to add elite options to our herd.   We may not be able to ‘compete’ on purchasing a top herd bull outright, but the opportunity to acquire a semen pack is certainly very tempting!   
  • We were also successful in adding lot 110 in Keet’s Princess Grace 15G during Equation.  We have long admired Brett & Naomi Keet’s work in developing polled genetics, so we were pretty excited to add this moderate framed, homo-polled BEE Vortex daughter to our walking herd. 
  • We also stepped out on a limb (for us), and acquired Lone Stone Miss Haley sight unseen in late November.  As mentioned earlier, we quizzed Nathan Brown on his ‘Cashmere’ heifer calves when he visited us this fall, and reached out to Cody Haney of Transcon to also inspect the heifer prior to the sale.  Cody knows our program, and has evaluated both our bull and bred heifer offerings over the past number of years, so we trusted his judgment as to whether Haley would fit in here.  He thought she would, and she sure does!
  • As people who follow our operation are aware, we are moving to gradually take the horns off of our cow herd.  While this goal hasn’t changed, 2020 was a bit of a switch for us.  In the past couple years we have typically sourced horned females while adding polled genetics on the sire side.  This year, more by accident than design, we ended up adding polled females and horned genetics on the sire side.  We still find the polled gene pool very narrow (specifically within our own cows), and feel it is important to incorporate our picks from the best horned genetics in order to continue to diversify and improve the quality of our walking herd.
  • In reviewing prices of the sale, it was also apparent that open heifers had themselves a day, out averaging the Fleckvieh breds by $164. While there were a couple high-selling outliers that boosted the numbers of each group, open heifers more than held their own and, when adjusted for a year less in development and breeding costs, were probably more profitable for their consigners.  In addition to Beechinor Land & Livestock high seller noted above, the Langer Fleckvieh and Keato Meadows open heifers were very well received. I think part of the reason is the late sale date, with breds often being heavy in calf, and substantial risk in any sort of lengthy transport vs. moving an open heifer.  Open heifers also fit into more programs as breeding dates can be aligned to match the buyers program.  The downside is that breds tend to show up to sale day looking a lot closer to the cow they will become, while Opens still have a fair bit of developing to do – while also potentially being in that awkward teenager phase that can change appearance substantially within just a couple weeks.  As our own numbers continue to increase, we will need to look at the option of including Open heifers in our sales string.  We simply need to ensure we pay attention to what the market and our customers are telling us.
  • We would also like to give an extra shout out to our sales facility, the Westerner Grounds in Red Deer.  The Westerner has really struggled over the past year as virtually all of their events have been cancelled.  It was great to see their increased willingness to work with the Agricultural community to safely host Super Sunday 2020.  Over the past number of years, it has felt like the Westerner had treated AG events as more a nuisance than a source of revenue, so 2020 was a refreshing change.  A number of these facilities were originally built with the intent of hosting AG functions as their primary purpose, so keeping Agriculture top of mind as an avenue to improve revenues going forward should be a priority.  Nothing beats a late December sale than a quality indoor facility that accommodates lots of socializing while inspecting cattle!

Our final comment is to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale – they are always a quality, professional sales management team.   Jay, Darren, Glen and Cody spent the weekend inspecting the cattle while consistently talking on their phones, making evaluations for prospective buyers.  I am sure that the shift to digital and an increasing number of (very successful) online, timed auctions may be creating some angst regarding the future of in-person sales.  At the same token though, there is nothing better than being able to physically inspect a purchase.  And second best, is being able to have someone you trust inspect them on your behalf.  And that is where our sales management team has a potential niche that simply can’t be replicated by technology.   Our own experience from the Lone Stone sale this fall that we outlined above is the perfect example! Sales Management may need to pivot a bit – but there will always be a need for trusted independent experts who know cattle and understand the needs of their clientele. 

Overall, despite the uncertainty heading in to Equation 2020, tt was another great day to present Applecross Cattle at auction. We are honoured by the compliments we received on our cattle from all of our fellow consignors, the sales staff, bidders and buyers that took interest in our program.  Our calving season is underway, and we are set to start clipping bulls for Red Deer County 2021 this week-end.  As we pause to celebrate the New Year, it creates a natural opportunity to reflect on the past, while equally anticipating an exciting future – in furthering our goal of producing high-quality genetics to share with the cattle industry.

Until next time,

Dennis

Equation 2020: The Fabulous Four

Our 2020 Equation Heifers, from left: Paprika, Lyanna, Cabernet and Tanis

We are pleased to present four bred heifers at Transcon’s 2020 Fleckvieh Equation Sale on December 20th, at 1pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta.  There is always a great cross section of genetics available at this prestigious event, and we are proud to be part of this progressive group of breeders.

This year we are showcasing progeny from four of our young cows that each have lots of potential.  In addition to the bred heifers selected for Equation 2020, all four dams weaned off big calves again this year that have subsequently been retained for further development in either the bull or open heifer groups.  Three of the dams are FGAF WowEffect daughters, a bull who has not only left a legacy here, but whose progeny has also impressed in the sales ring.  The fourth dam is an intriguing Banker daughter, who was our selection from the Virginia Ranch program at Western Harvest 2018.

It is Virginia Ms Chardonnay’s first daughter who will lead our 2020 string to Red Deer.  ‘Cabernet’, is a dark red, heavily pigmented, head turner that already carries massive volume.   There does not appear to be many Kuntz Gudas daughters on offer this fall, so ‘Cabernet’ will represent a unique combination of Seldom, SouthSeven Mr Adonis, Jeremiah and Laredo spread across the four quarters of her pedigree.  And she sure has the looks to balance her depth of pedigree!   

‘Tanis’ and ‘Lyanna’ are three-quarter sisters that combine WowEffect with NUG Delmonte, and represent two of our proven cow families.  ‘Tanis’ traces back to our foundation HEMR Tasha 8T, who sired a sale topper in APLX Axel 5Z, while also giving us daughters that have built an extensive cow family here.  ‘Lyanna’ is the granddaughter of one of our ‘founding four’ females in DLD Lady Western 48R – of whom we have 5 daughters working here.  ‘Tanis’ (cherry red) and ‘Lyanna’ (brown), each follow their dams colouring, but have their sire’s heavy pigmentation and non-dilutor status.  As is evident, we are really happy with the WowEffect-Delmonte cross, and that combination will be featured heavily in our Red Deer 2021 Bull Sale Offering.

The final heifer on offer this year is Paprika.  Our P-Line, that was founded with our original purchase of Spruceburn Pauline back in 2009, has been very popular over the years. This is somewhat surprising as Jeanne consistently uses her veto on a ‘P’!  Now that we have six ‘P females’ in production (Poppy, Paula, Piper, Pepper, Panda, Patience), a seventh vetoed (Penelope) to be added in 2022, and APLX Wedge (a P son) as our junior herdbull, she will continue to have trouble vetoing them all!   ‘Paprika’ will also be one of the final Dora Eclipse daughters to sell, as his semen is now very scarce.  We have successfully utilized Eclipse on heifers for the past 12 years, and have been impressed not only with his calving, but also in the daughters he has provided.  Paprika is a great example of the broody females he has produced for us over the years.    

Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right, names can be entered in the search bar on phones), have been created for each of ‘Paprika’, ‘Lyanna’, ‘Tanis’ and ‘Cabernet’.  On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings – hopefully, sharing pictures will provide a better glimpse into the extended pedigree.    As 2020 has been an eventful year, we also plan to have videos of each of our sale heifers over the next couple weeks.  Please check our Applecross Cattle Facebook page for up to date info on our sales offering.

All four heifers are AI only, and were pregnancy checked in mid-October.  The Heifers are vaccinated with ViraShield and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Dectomax and given Scourguard prior to sale day. 

The 2020 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on December 20th at Westerner Park.

The Emergency Fund

 

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After I turned 16 and obtained my driver’s license, I received an unexpected gift.  No, not a new vehicle – like most farm kids, I would now get to borrow the ‘farm truck’.  Assuming, of course, that my chores were done, and that my grades and behavior still allowed me vehicle privileges, I could take the truck and head out for a Saturday night with friends.  The gift itself was simply a twenty-dollar bill for my walletI was told to tuck that $20 away; not spend it, but save it in case of an emergency.  I could get stuck on the side of the road or maybe even require emergency fuel.  But even if I did need to use it; the $20 should be replaced so that it would be there for next time.

It was a different era 30 years ago – ATM machines and bank cards were just starting to show up in rural areas and $20 went a lot further.  There were no cell phones, so the possibility of becoming stranded was a reality.  Just think of the panic that sets in today whenever someone realizes they have left just their phone at home!

But with that gift of $20, and at that early age, the practical value of having an ‘Emergency Fund’ was born.

As I grew through my late teens and moved off to university, the concept of an emergency fund only gained importance.  Student Loans were arranged at the start of the school year, so then I was responsible for budgeting and managing my own cash flow throughout the year.    Like most students, it was easy to get ‘sidetracked,’ not worrying about running out of money later in the year, and splurge on fun things like a killer new stereo for my dorm room.  (Editor’s note – some of us did budget VERY carefully because we did worry we wouldn’t have enough to make it through the year.)  My second year brought my own vehicle to also budget for – but also a ride to go on dates with my cute new girlfriend!  (26 years later, she’s still pretty hot!).  As I evolved through the different stages of life most kids go through, my need for an emergency fund increased from simply a $20 in my wallet, to include the unexpected costs of vehicle repairs and maintenance, while also trying to manage school costs.

I have been very fortunate to always be aware that my parents were there to help, and that home at Dora Lee was always a haven of quiet and comfort (something we have tried to emulate here at Applecross).  Like most college kids, coming home on the weekend for a visit and meals (and laundry! and farm fuel!!) was always a pleasure – and an escape from the responsibility of being an ‘adult’, if only for a day or two.    And it was comforting to know that if I had a financial emergency, my parents would always be there to help.  So they did help – and always ensured that ‘us kids’ knew that they could help if we needed it.   But at the same time, while it was amazing to know that my parents were always there to assist, I knew it was incredibly important to me to build my own emergency fund.  Maybe this goal was a product of my own independent streak, or the (sometimes) uncomfortable questions that I needed to answer about my current situation.  But in any event, despite knowing that they were in a position to provide support, it simply reinforced the need for having my own contingency plan.

There is an old adage about lending money to friends (or family): be prepared to lose either one or both.  Money issues are the number one cause of family relationship stress, and a leading cause of divorce.  Parents, kids and siblings can all argue over different interpretations of a ‘helping hand’.  What was the intent: is it a gift?  a loan?  Did a sibling get treated better?  What is fair?  What is equal?  From a friend perspective, if a loan doesn’t ‘work out’; the situation gets awkward in a hurry…for the lender, if the loan isn’t repaid as expected, it is something that always gets remembered.  For the borrower, constantly knowing that you haven’t been able to repay the loan from a friend is also an issue.  This awkwardness often leads to the loss of friendships.  While family ties are not something that will break as quickly as a friendship, there are certainly plenty of family situations where members may not talk to each other for years.  It can be a tremendous asset to know that friends and family are there for financial support if needed, but it always seemed uncomfortable to rely on them as a backup plan.  Developing our own, independent solution seemed to be a better option.

Debt is another tool that people often rely on for emergency funds.  The majority of farmers have an operating loan of some sort, and personal credit lines / VISA cards can also provide emergency access to capital.  The challenge with debt though, isn’t only that it has to be paid back; it also may not be available when times become challenging.  The first thing a lender looks at when it comes to increasing credit facilities is a client’s ability to repay the loan.  If there is an ‘emergency’ and little to no income being earned, then how does the loan get repaid?  This was the case for a lot of people in Alberta who have experienced job interruptions during the current downturn in the oil & gas sector…going to the bank after a job loss and trying to qualify for additional credit, without income to support, is going to be a challenge.  And that is the banking conundrum.  Banks are investors in your life or in your farm – and they make that investment as long as they are comfortable they can get repaid as agreed for an acceptable return.  There is some truth to the statement that it is easy to borrow money when you don’t need it – and tough to borrow it when you do.  Reality is a more complex matter, as any lender who understands agriculture is aware of the cyclical nature of farming, and that there may not be profit earned every year.  So banks (and bankers) certainly make a reputation on whether they support their farm clients during ‘good times and bad’.   But regardless of the trust you may have with your advisor or financial institution, debt may not be the most reliable source of funding in an emergency – especially when it may be needed in a hurry!

There are other challenges with debt, or having someone else as an investor in your life or farm.  Usually as a condition of their investment, they negotiate terms.  It could include interest rate, collateral, credit limits and a schedule on repayment.  There may also be other terms and conditions that need to be followed, such as providing annual financial information in a certain format, or achieving specific results.  If the terms of the agreement aren’t followed, then the loans (and limits) can be reduced or due in full.  Or, potentially even cancelled outright if they aren’t being utilized.

This last situation happened to Jeanne and I when we were first married.  Having just graduated from university, Jeanne was excited to get accepted into teachers’ college.  I had just started as a banker, and we both had our fair share of student loans (we joked that there was no use having a pre-nup as we had a negative net worth when we got married!), so while Jeanne was going to school, we knew cash flow would be in short supply.  I wasn’t worried, as I had a credit line from my time as a student that we had been able to pay down to zero, and I figured that if we got tight, that we could just tap into that.    What I didn’t realize at the time, was that because it was a student loan, and I was no longer a student, since my loan had a NIL balance, it had been closed.  So several months later, when we went to use it, we had a bit of a surprise!  We were welcome to apply again for a ‘regular’ credit line (that we might have access to ‘in a week or so’), but not having ready access to our ‘emergency credit line’ did create some short term panic.  It certainly was an early life lesson, when the banker didn’t even know the terms and conditions of his own loan!

So again, as a person with an independent streak, it seems only prudent to have at least some of our own resources available to provide some flexibility in the case of emergencies.  Agriculture is big-business though – so I don’t know how realistic it is to tuck away a huge amount in an emergency fund – but at least having some money put aside does provide some time and space until more fundamental changes can be made.

The question becomes: How much money should be in an emergency fund?  The general rule of thumb is 3 months worth of expenses – which can be different than 3 months of income!  In our case, as we both have off-farm pay-cheques, having a 3 month buffer suggests that we could both be unemployed for 3 months or, more realistically, one of us could become unemployed for 6 months, and we would still have sufficient funds put away that we would have some flexibility to make alternative plans.

Sounds easy, but what about farmers who can have such variable income streams throughout the year? I still think 3 months (or 25% of annual cash expenses) would be a good number – the challenge, of course, is remembering that an ‘emergency’ fund should be treated significantly differently than day-to-day cash flow management.  Emergency funds are just that – to be used in the case of an emergency, such as a crop failure or drought, that puts an ‘extra-ordinary’ stress on cash flow.  Agriculture can be so variable and cash flow depends on both weather and markets – both of which are outside of farmers’ control.  It can be easy to confuse market cycles with ‘extraordinary events’, and get tempted to dig into that emergency fund.  (We have a saying in banking: if ‘extraordinary events’ happen every year, then they really aren’t that extraordinary!)  While an Emergency Fund is supposed to provide time and space, it also starts a clock ticking.  Once funds start getting utilized, it does add pressure as to what happens when the emergency fund runs dry.  But the alternative option, of not having reserves at all, can create substantially more stress, and lead to knee-jerk reactions that may not have been the preferred approach if a little more time and space was available.

The other big question is how to establish an emergency fund.  I am a firm believer of the pay yourself first concept.  By taking a small amount (10%) of money off each pay-cheque as soon as it hits the bank account, saving can be relatively painless.   My understanding of this methodology dates back to an early read of ‘The Wealthy Barber’ in my late teens – it was a bit of a slog at that age, but it certainly helped shape my habits. And since it was a gift from my favourite uncle (thanks Uncle Jim!), it actually got read!  Being surrounded (and influenced) by people who have good financial habits is a huge help – especially as habits can be started so young!  The concept I recall is partly based on an understanding of human nature.  If there is money in a bank account, (or room on an operating line), it provides a sense of comfort – and that comfort often means that money simply gets spent on ‘stuff’.  By paying yourself first and transferring funds right off the top to a separate savings account, the primary chequing account may stay a little ‘tighter’ than what would be preferred (which does help with spending habits), and the savings account will grow over time.  This same concept can be utilized by farmers.  By taking a small percentage of sale proceeds (the grain cheque / cheque from the auction mart) and transferring it directly to a savings account, an ‘emergency’ fund can slowly be built.  As my dad would say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ – so an emergency fund is something that can be built gradually over time.

One other point to make on an emergency fund is making sure the funds are available when you need them.  Financial Institutions typically pay very poor interest rates on savings accounts, but regardless, this is typically where your emergency fund should be located.  There are (slightly higher paying) options like ‘e-savings’ that may require electronic transfers, that are also great options. However, I would hesitate to lock an emergency fund into a GIC or other fixed term investment just to generate a little more return – in case it was ‘locked in’ right when you needed it. Emergency funds are just that – for use in an emergency – you never know when you may need it, so keeping that deposit ‘liquid’ so it can be accessed is more important than a little more interest.

A contingency fund provides time and space.  As readers of this blog would be familiar with, ‘time, space (and communication)’ is my favourite problem solver.  Whenever there is a shock to the system/operation, having emergency reserves allows for adequate time to allow the best decisions to be made.  This is something the recent COVID outbreak really brought home.  As a banker (and consumer), I was astounded by how many people and businesses needed payment relief within 2 weeks of the outbreak shutting down our economy.  And to be clear, the financial impact of COVID has been devastating.  Fortunately, the agricultural community has (so far) been spared from the worst of the impact.  But it does say something about our society, when a significant portion of the population is running that close to their financial edge.  Farmers are rather used to the concept of disaster striking – so having reserves that provide some time and space, so the best plan to move forward can be determined, just seems like prudent planning.

At the risk of diving into political theory, self reliance is a powerful concept!  It is so important to know your own family/farm financial position, and then take responsibility for managing it!  Understand that those marketing jingles that include any sort of idea that you ‘owe’ it to yourself (or your family) to purchase whatever trendy item or experience that is being marketed can safely be ignored.  We don’t ‘owe’ ourselves anything – except taking responsibility for our own financial position, and making sure that we know exactly where our money is being spent.    ‘Don’t pay a cent events’ on furniture / electronics, a new vehicle, well-deserved (!) vacations, the latest phone, and dining out are all luxuries.  And in farmer speak, luxuries are luxuries whether they are tax-deductable or not – farmers sometimes focus so much on NOT paying income taxes, that the ability to ‘write things off’, doesn’t necessarily make a discretionary financial decision a good one.  Yes, farmers work hard – and this is a unique industry with extraordinary challenges.  And I would suggest that it is equally important to ‘live a little’ and not be solely guided by a profit and loss statement.  But, the point is, we should all know our financial position BEFORE proceeding with discretionary purchases, so we understand the consequences to our bigger financial picture.

The last point (I promise,) that I’d like to make on the concept of emergency funds, is the importance of being on the same page as your significant other.  I am extremely blessed to have met Jeanne early in life (editor’s note: correct).  And even more fortunate that she is more frugal than I am.  Everyone has a unique upbringing and, as mentioned earlier, habits start young.  So being aligned in the household on the importance of saving (and having an emergency fund), was something we discussed in our pre-marriage counselling, and a topic we have certainly had to revisit over the years.  It takes discipline to be financially prudent – and we have certainly been tested along the way.  And frankly, purebred cattle is a crazy industry when you think about the logic behind spending (tens of) thousands of dollars on ‘genetic potential’.  Finding the right partner, and having an open, honest and collaborative conversation on finances is just such a huge advantage when it comes to managing the bumps on life’s journey.

So, my long, rambling message is actually pretty simple.  As tough as it may be to begin, set aside some money.  Start small, but make it a regular habit.  If you need to dip into the emergency fund, make a plan for replacing it (note to self: not exactly an emergency to ‘buy just one more heifer’).  Sacrifice a little discretionary spending today, for a little extra cushion in case things don’t go as expected.  Have a candid conversation with your spouse/significant other about money (and where it goes) in both your household and farm operation.  Give yourself some time to manage the curves that life throws at you.  And balance the needs of today, with the promise of (an uncertain) tomorrow.

Until next time,

Dennis