The 365 Day Search
We are always thinking cattle. Dad and I had a joke growing up that mom would let us talk cattle 364 days a year (every day but Christmas), but we’d be in real trouble if we started talking cattle Christmas day. As I got older, moved away from home and then started our own herd, NOT talking cattle on Christmas became even more difficult; with calving starting and that urge to get caught up on what is happening around the farm. Cattle is in our blood, and an important part of our livelihood, so it is hard not to talk about them. Indeed, the seasons can be measured by what is going on with the cattle. New Years means calving, ‘May long’ is fencing, ‘Labour Day’ equates to weaning and Thanksgiving to a pasture tour.
And as I enjoy the challenge so much, we are always evaluating – our herd compared to AI bulls and sale cattle. We are always on the look-out for new or different outcross genetics that have the potential to improve our herd. Growing up, the Simmental Country and sales catalogues combined to form piles – one at the kitchen table (for coffee breaks) and one on the side table in the family room, for reading when the Leafs and Jays were (often) getting beat. They combined to form a great resource. Cattle and breeders advertisements from years gone by could be studied. Evaluating genetics that way allowed you to see what sires stood the test of time, and follow some of the bloodlines that were interesting.
A great example of this are the Alberta Fleckvieh week-end sales. Mom and Dad were at the first one in 1988, and I think Dad has only missed 2 sales in 24 years. Having all the back catalogues has provided an invaluable resource for studying pedigrees and noticing which genetics continue to work. Sometimes there was an outstanding female identified in a sale one year, that you could track and see her sons and daughters in turn make an appearance, and maybe have a crack at purchasing them. It was also a great way to evaluate bulls; especially AI sires. You can’t always get to all the sales you wanted to, so the catalogue at least gave some idea as to how the animals looked both phenotypically and in colouring; and which breeders were using a bull, so you could follow up with them for more information surrounding feet, temperament and calving ease.
Probably the biggest advancement in helping research genetics was the introduction of CSA’s online database. The ability to chase pedigrees back to the original imports is essential when you have a 100% Fleckvieh cow base and wish to keep it that way. When evaluating dams or sires, the ability to view all registered progeny from each individual animal is an incredible tool. It is also awesome (if you are impatient like me), to have the ability to search by breeder prefix and sort by date of birth to get an early preview of fellow breeders’ upcoming bullpen before the catalogue arrives. Searching can be a time sink, but mining the database for information has become an essential part of researching genetics. It has also led to a third pile of magazines; this one by the computer. Maybe the advent of tablet computers will allow me to consolidate the stack of magazines down to one, but I am somewhat doubtful that a computer will be any more welcome at the kitchen table than the magazines are!
As we evolve, I do find I am spending more and more time online. Individual breeder web-sites and videos have provided additional information to supplement the catalogues. The Transcon database of catalogues and sales results has provided an important link to some of the sales you can’t get to (or a electronic version of a catalogue that might have had coffee spilled on it). The AI websites tend to offer more bulls than their printed catalogue, including some of the older bulls that you may not have realized were still available at a reasonable price, so that is also great information. Not that it is ever a substitute for a good phone call, but communication by e-mail is also increasing; great for eliminating time zone differences, and for those of us who think up odd questions at odd hours that just need answering (since nobody really cares if they get an e-mail at 2am!).
All in all, a back inventory of catalogues combined with the advances in technology has certainly made research that much easier. It is never a complete substitute to viewing the actual animals themselves, but for when you can’t get to a sale, or for during those cold days (-35 like today) when touring cattle just isn’t an option, they create a great resource for those 365 days a year that we are thinking cattle.
We started off the 2012 calving season today, just the way you want to – an unassisted heifer calf that was up and drinking on her own. The calf itself is a daughter of our newest edition – Delta-Rho Miss Marnie sired by Dora Lee Eclipse. What a great way for Marnie to start off here at Applecross. We think baby (already named ‘Mariah’) should fit right in to our program.