Our Journey as Producers of Fleckvieh Simmental Cattle.

Archive for November, 2012

Applecross @ the National Trust.

Anchor D Viper – pictured Fall 2011 / photo courtesy Stephon Beechinor

Applecross @ the National Trust

I spent a few days in Manitoba for Transcon’s National Trust in early November.  The sale had a large number of quality animals, and showcased the breed well under the big lights of the Brandon Livestock Expo.

I have attended all five of the National Trust sales, and really enjoy the concept. The   idea that the best in Simmental genetics can be brought together in one sales event, in a ‘showcase’ type format, has a lot of merit, and over the past 5 years I think it has proven to be a resounding success.  We were fortunate enough to be able to showcase a bull at each of the last two events, and with the success we experienced we thought it important to continue to support the sale in its new location.

While we weren’t successful purchasing any live lots, we did acquire 10 more doses of Anchor D Viper semen.  We watched this bull sell, and originally acquired a semen package in the spring of 2011.  This year Viper sired a couple of our top heifer calves, and we admired how his bull calves looked in the Beechinor string in Red Deer.  With Viper’s passing away this summer, leading to questions around future availability, we thought it made sense to invest now in increasing our semen bank.

We are also impressed by Viper’s genomic profile that the John & Stephon Beechinor were willing to share with us.  He has tested to be very feed efficient (top 1% of the breed), while still remaining above the breed average for ADG.   Our two heifers also tested well, showcasing his ability to pass these genomic indicators to his offspring.  While great genomic markers don’t mean a whole lot if you don’t like the calves, the combination of outstanding physical traits with great genetic potential is something that was worth the additional investment.

I really enjoyed the Brandon facility – having the barns, hotel and restaurants all under one roof was a pleasure – especially considering the 6 inches of snow we received on Friday.  It is a concept that deserves merit at other locations (Agribition in Regina, Westerner Park here in Red Deer).

One of the hidden benefits of  moving the Trust to Manitoba this year, was that it also allowed us Albertans an excuse to go and tour farm operations while we were in the province.  While in Manitoba, we got to see both Kopp Farms and Big Sky Simmentals.

Kopp Farms had a tremendous group of about 100 bull calves; nicely weaned, all tie broke(!), and already strutting their stuff.   I am far from being an expert in red Simmental genetics, but I thought the Crosby and Walker sons really stood out. On the heifer side, I really liked the Virginia Santiago calves.  We really appreciated the time and Edmund and Pauline Kopp spent showing us their program.

Despite all the snow on the ground, I also really enjoyed touring Big Sky (at Amy and Trevor’s).  While it wasn’t the home ranch, there were a lot of impressive bull calves and an awesome group of big, powerful Fleckvieh cows just finishing up on pasture.   I have always admired the performance in the Big Sky cattle, and after seeing some of their cows and bull calves, it is clear that the power is backed up deep on equal sides of the pedigree.

Both of these herds have high quality cattle, from which I could envision acquiring genetics in the future, so it is great to be able to visit and get a closer insight into their operation.  It was certainly a lot easier to get away in early November, than to try and juggle calving with attending their respective Feb-March bull sales.  As both breeders had cattle in the sale itself, it was great that that they were able to take the time to tour us around their farms, despite being so busy.  There are a number of other operations I’d like to visit in Manitoba, so here is hoping that I will be able to make it back to tour some more in the next few years.

While it was a short visit to Manitoba, it was great to see such great cattle and visit with such knowledgeable breeders  – both in Brandon and on our tours in the countryside.  I look forward to seeing what excitement the next edition of the National Trust brings.

Blue Sky Thinking

Blue Sky Thinking

Once a year we try to do one ‘get away’ vacation that has nothing to with cattle.  The idea is that, since even my family visits have a cattle focus, spending a few days away from cattle all together can help put things in perspective.   This year, we had the opportunity to spend a week-end cruising between Miami and the Bahamas.  While Hurricane Sandy, provided a fair bit more wind and surf to our trip than we expected, it did allow for plenty of opportunity to do some ‘blue sky thinking’.

From an operational viewpoint, getting away is one of the management tips that I have picked up.  For any small business owner / farmer / entrepreneur, long hours are often spent with the day to day focus and detail work – scheduling in at least one ‘vacation’ away from the operation is essential not only for personal well being (the chance to relax and unwind mentally, reconnect with a significant other that sometimes takes a back seat to the farm), but also from an operational perspective.  Time away allows a step back from day to day operational activities, to focus on big picture longer range planning.

I consciously ensure that we to do this long range planning with our cattle operation.  While it is essential to have a short term plan to ‘pay the bills’, utilizing time away to ensure that short term thinking doesn’t overwhelm any long term thinking is vital to the overall health of an operation.

Long range planning is a little different than day to day planning.  It tends to be more of a process of trying to identify trends, or to anticipate the future state of how the industry will work, and then work backwards to see what short term plans should/could be adjusted within our own operation in order to meet what is projected to be the demands of the future.  Of course, the crystal ball is not perfect, so other questions then arise; how quickly to adjust, how many resources to invest in a change, and whether there are any short term negative consequences for your operation.

This process may sound complex, but then, by its very nature, breeding cattle is a complex business – there are so many different genetic and management decisions that can be made to change your operation, that it always seems like there are more options that should be considered.  One of the largest challenges we face (with our smaller sized operation), is that due to our size constraints, there are only so many opportunities we can pursue within our farm, while still maintaining our focus on producing top quality cattle.    As a result, we have to prioritize our objectives and decide which ones to focus on, while ensuring the consistency of the herd remains strong.

It was great to get away for a week-end, but now that we are back home the more challenging part begins.  Planning without action is fruitless, so the next step becomes implementing those ideas, and ensuring that there is a method of quantifying progress built into those day to day routines.

Plan.  Implement. Evaluate. Adjust.  A big-picture circle that just keeps on turning.