Stuff My Dad Says
I think that everyone can relate to having their father, over the years, pass along words of wisdom to their children (witness the amazing success of the book and twitter feed of ‘Sh*t My Dad Says’). In my case, having my dad involved in the cattle business for almost 40 years, he has not only advised us in the day to day journey of life, but has also provided a lot of advice and wisdom for both the farm and the genetics business. Despite living a few provinces apart, Dad still has a great impact on our farm. I am fortunate to have just spent a few days visiting with him (and of course touring/talking cattle). The time spent together is always wonderful, and brought to mind several of his customary sayings. Three of my favourites are: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, ‘sometimes you have to make do without until you can afford to get what you want’ and ‘when breeding cattle, you have to look out 3-5 years and plan accordingly’. There are other sayings of course, but these are three that continue to pop up in conversation, especially when we are talking cattle or about improvements we are constantly striving to make at Applecross.
The first phrase on Rome is both a cautionary tale and one of perseverance. Don’t try to do everything at once – it is better to start and complete a few jobs/tasks at hand, then start a whole bunch, but have nothing complete. The second part relates to the importance of perseverance – ‘keeping at it’ and constantly improving the farm operation, making small changes every year to make things better. Rome wasn’t built in a day; it evolved over time by changing and adapting to the needs at the time, and as a result, was the pre-eminent western civilization for more than 1000 years.
With us in our formative years of Applecross, there are a lot of things we would like to have, but don’t. Doing without, until we can afford to get want we want, is a constant mantra in our operation. There are always things to spend money on – from improved handling facilities to a better stock trailer, more wind-breaks and purchasing improved/outcross genetics; there is, and will always be, a debate over where to spend our limited funds to the most benefit of our operation. Doing without is also a comment on making do with what you have vs. spending money on a middle step, and then having to redo your plans yet again when you do have the funds. Having a plan to ‘get what you want’ eventually is important, but in the interim, it is maybe better to do without and work with what you have, instead of rushing a project that you may not be happy with.
The 3-5 year plan is probably one of the most important lessons Dad has taught me about the genetics business. As referenced in the previous post on patience, cattle take time to develop and prove their worth. A great example of this is a major herd decision that became the evolution of Dora Lee. I remember very clearly in 1999 when Dad, Mom and I debated the merits of introducing the polled gene to the Dora Lee herd – we wanted to see for ourselves if we could develop a polled bull that could stand with the best of the breed. We started by utilizing one of our top proven cows (Dora Lee Fraline), and crossed her with one of the few polled Fleckvieh bulls at the time (Eisenherz) to get the ball rolling. We got very lucky. That first pairing produced Electra in 2000, who in turn gave us a polled calf, Elexis, in 2002. Our luck continued when Elexis gave us a polled Evangaline in 2004, followed by polled bull, Eclipse, in 2005. With two generations of horned now in the pedigree, Dad thought Eclipse was the polled bull he was looking for to utilize extensively on his herd. He was not disappointed. Coloured right and calving easily, Eclipse began to throw very appealing offspring that stood with the best horned genetics – exactly our goal from the start. The pinnacle for Eclipse was the 2010 Fleckvieh Forum Sale – 8 daughters averaged $3,400 and were selected by breeders from 3 provinces. Semen has sold across North America and to Europe. 11 years after that first decision to try and incorporate the polled gene, Dora Lee Eclipse was a proven success.
Looking back at this awesome example, it is no surprise that looking out a minimum of 3 to 5 years is important to the success of your operation. In Eclipse’s case, it was an 11 year timeframe to achieve an objective. To create him, we took a horned female, added the polled gene and then two generations of horned genetics in just 6 years. The genetic probability of doing this was about 3% (and even just a fraction of this when you consider the other factors such as calving ease, colouring/pigmentation, and disposition that Eclipse also has). We then spent the next 5 years proving the bull – evaluating the offspring; first internally within our own respective herds, and then by offering genetics to the public. We were incredibly, incredibly fortunate to develop and prove a new outcross polled bull within the timeframe that we did.
Most day to day decisions – what AI or herd bull to use, or what female to purchase – will have an impact a lot more quickly than in 10+ years, but I do believe that the 3-5 year timeframe is a minimum. Today’s genetic decisions can become tomorrow’s building blocks at best, or an expensive step in the wrong direction at worst. Doing some longer range planning (and having your eggs in more than one basket), can help prepare for the future. That is why we try to ensure that, despite our limited numbers, we maintain and build some genetic diversity; whether through ongoing female purchases or the use of different AI sires. We have some polled, some horned; some timeless genetics, some new. We have a single long term vision of where Fleckvieh cattle need to get to, but feel we should explore different avenues of getting there. And besides, breeding cattle is a journey without a final destination point – there will always be room to get better – so even 10, 20 years from now, there will still be that desire to improve cattle.
As we move forward with developing our own identity here at Applecross, it is great to be able to talk to Dad and tap his wisdom and opinions gained from being a lifelong Fleckvieh breeder. It is a tremendous thing to be able to share in a passion such as Fleckvieh cattle with your parents. Spending time together, touring and talking cattle, and getting those gentle reminders about staying patient and thinking out that 3-5 year plan, and keeping that plan fresh in your mind, is a wonderful way to spend a gorgeous August day. Hopefully just one of many such days in the future!