Our Journey as Producers of Fleckvieh Simmental Cattle.

The Great Halter-Break

Jeanne with 2010's APLX Ensign 2X

So, I married a city girl. Well, I guess not technically a city girl.  Jeanne grew up on 10 acres just south of Hamilton, on Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula.  There was just enough land for a cow, a couple of horses, and all the pets (dogs, cats, rabbits and a hamster) that a house full of three tom-girl daughters could handle.  With Jeanne’s and her family’s involvement in the military, her life revolved substantially around the armouries in Hamilton, and she always seemed quite at home navigating the one-way streets of the downtown core.  A ‘farm’ girl to her city friends, but a ‘city’ girl compared to where I was from, she has always been a unique blend of urban smarts with country calm.

Jeanne’s love of nature and the environment led her to the University of Guelph, where we met.  We studied topics about as diverse as you could get and still be ‘Aggies’ – Jeanne in Environmental Biology, and myself in Agricultural Business. They grouped all of the first year agriculture students in one big common ‘Agriculture’ course and, through luck of the draw, we ended up being in a lab group together.  One thing led to another and, somewhere between my volunteering to cook her breakfast if she would finish typing our final group report on a Saturday morning, and becoming couple-number-two on the class square-dance set, a partnership was formed that has now lasted almost 20 years.

When we started Applecross, Jeanne was convinced that a portion of her summer off from teaching school should be spent halter-breaking calves – the thought being that with both of us working full-time, there was more time in the summer to train cattle than immediately prior to the sale.  While Jeanne has been around Fleckvieh cattle since we met, she had never actively worked them. I was a 4-H’r all the way up (it was a 4-H interprovincial exchange to Alberta in 1991 that first piqued my interest in farming here some day), and had spent a lot of the summers of my teens preparing my 4-H heifer for our fall achievement days, and the fall shows.  Jeanne, however, had none of this experience, but she was quite keen to give it a go.  Armed with the assistance of our vacationing eight year old nephew (also a city boy), and a 16 year old neighbouring farm girl (who is a dance student of Jeanne’s), she started the task in August of 2010 to spend three weeks prepping bull calves.

Last summer, the primary focus was APLX Ensign 2X. We thought he was a really good calf, and we were hoping to display him at Transcon’s National Trust Bull Expo.  This was our first public display so we wanted to do a really good job with him, as we have always thought that first impressions mean a lot – not only for Ensign, but also for Applecross and establishing our reputation as a breeder. While Jeanne worked with all the bulls, Ensign did receive some extra attention – he was the one that would be showcased in two months, and we wanted him to be ready.

Needless to say, we were quite pleased with how things turned out, both in compliments and observations at the event itself, and in how Ensign eventually sold in March’s Red Deer bull sale. Pam Langer first saw Ensign at the Trust, so it was easy to relate their March purchase back to his original display last October. While we know there won’t always be this definitive link between the two; it was great to experience a direct correlation between our original promotional/marketing efforts and the final results. We definitely plan on displaying at the National Trust Bull Expo again in 2011.

Now summer once more, Jeanne has enthusiastically decided to halter-break calves again. She is starting earlier (July vs. August), so that the calves will be 100lbs lighter and thus a little easier to (wo)man-handle. She will have her trusty assistants available to help at least some of the time, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to turn our now nine year old nephew into a farm boy.  Jeanne has even decided to learn how to clip this summer (thanks to some encouragement from ‘Becca Beechinor), in order to complete the full fitting experience for future sales events. Not that  I am concerned, but I figure that, worst-case scenario, by practicing in the summer at least the hair will grow back prior to the bulls needing to be showcased. We might have some funny looking cattle in the pasture for a few weeks, but there is only one way to learn (4-H’s ‘learn to do by doing’ motto sure stands the test of time). And hey, it has been almost 20 years since I clipped in 4-H, so it is not like I am a seasoned expert, either.

So, as we start on season two of the great halter break today, I thought it fitting to talk a bit about Jeanne and her efforts that go on behind the scenes; getting cattle ready.  Applecross is a partnership in the truest sense of the word, and while we both have specific roles that we work best in, together we are definitely more than just the sum of our parts. Here is to Jeanne – nose to nose with an opportunity and desire to learn a new skill, taking that plunge, and then coming back for more in year two.  It is always wonderful and astounding that she wants to be actively and enthusiastically involved in this crazy passion of mine called Fleckvieh cattle.

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