One of my favourite weekly hockey columns is Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts” on sportsnet.ca. Since his days on the Score, Hockey Night in Canada and now Sportsnet, I have always found his articles to be articulate and nuanced; attributes that may come across better in print instead of in the ‘loudest voice wins’ sound-bite discussions that often appear on TV.
While I am far from being an ‘insider’ or expert on anything (other than perhaps writing extremely long blog posts), I thought a ‘31-Thoughts’ format might work to share some opinions on the fall female sales, the start of calving and the upcoming bull sale and breeding season that have been derived from the busy past few months:
- We are still processing our results from Equation. Still shocked. We never expect / try to sell a heifer for that much money. Sure, we thought our ‘Pippa’ was good – but our goal is the same for all of them: find good homes for a fair price where, hopefully, they will all be successful (and profitable) for their new owners. That’s it. That’s all.
- Crazy fun when one goes through the roof though. Once I got past the ‘stunned’ look, I don’t think I stopped smiling for days. (Last time I smiled that long was probably our honeymoon!)
- It was a very busy fall for us… we added a major piece to our calving barn that was completed Dec 7th. I finished lagging the stabling in on Dec 13th; had our first calf on the 16th, while we were busy fancying up cattle in Red Deer at Equation.
- We traditionally don’t start calving until Jan 1, but we did plan an earlier start to calving this year. With a new herd sire purchase, and not wanting to mix bulls and risk injury just before breeding season, we sorted our cows into 3 breeding groups on March 5th – two weeks earlier than usual.
- Our other thought behind earlier calving was that we are already pretty tied to the farm during the holidays. As we both have time off work, why not take advantage of time on the farm to be calving?
- Next year we may move it back a week, but still start early. As my dad (and his dad) would say, ensure you ‘take time to smell the roses’. And with the barn construction flowing into Equation and then calving, we didn’t get the break we needed. Next year there will be a gap before calving starts – even if it is only for a day or two.
- We really enjoyed the additional barn space last week during the extreme cold. Several nights we had 9 cows in at once (and 5 calves arrived in 26 hours), so it was really nice to have ample room when it is -40 outside. Not sure what we would have done during the same situation a year ago when our indoor space consisted of 3, 10×10 calving pens.
- We also took the plunge and put in a camera system this week. We went with a local security company, primarily due to local customer support which ensured Face to Face training to setup camera access on our phones and tablets. We put in four cameras for the cows and then two additional security cameras for the yard. Rural crime has become a major concern in our area, so some 24 hour ‘eyes’ were an inexpensive addition when they were already here wiring cameras.
- With the early start, we were half done calving on the 7th of January. Currently we are running 2 heifer calves for every bull calf born, and already I can see that there will be some tough decisions to be made in September when we whittle down the numbers to the group that will become sale heifers and replacements.
- I am fascinated to watch a ‘Battle Royale’ that should shape up between the progeny of three of our top cows. They each gave us polled bull calves within 24 hours between Jan 1st-2nd. With one each from our Delmonte, Rambo and WowEffect sire groups (and a 5lb spread in BW), the few-day-old bulls are already bouncing around the yard like they own the place. Keep an eye out for the names ‘Dundee’, ‘Riptide’, and ‘Wildcard’.
- We had some tough luck near the start of calving when two of my favourite cows lost their calves within 24 hours of each other. It made for a very difficult day and some (ok, a lot of) second guessing as to what we could have done differently. It happens though. All we can do is try our best, and learn from it so our best is even better next time.
- Not sure of the reason, but this year there seems like there are so many more pregnancies that are exciting. Maybe it is the first Delmonte calves. Maybe it is a sign that there is more depth to our cow herd, that there is more excitement to see what can happen. But half way through calving it is hard to pick a favourite – and there are plenty of great cows left to calve!
- Sure is nice when we don’t have to dehorn a calf – still a work in progress, but with new pain-management regulations on the horizon, keeping things simple and skipping a step (for both us and them) is a good thing.
- I try to keep notes on how each cow calved. Even if it is just ‘unassisted on straw-pack or ‘unsettled for hours before finally calving’, the notes remind me if a cow has never calved inside before, or if she just likes to take her time. Knowing when to intervene always seems to be a judgment call, so having notes on past behaviour helps the decision making process.
- Likewise, the breeding chart also starts to get made during calving – not just for calf size, but also to (attempt to) keep some outcross calving lines in our herd. With our smaller numbers, the whole herd tends to get fairly closely related. Trying to develop our own replacement bulls can then become a challenge. Especially if it is a year like this where ideal heifer bull candidates only give heifers.
- As a result, it is looking more and more like we will be shopping for a heifer bull in 2018. While we don’t ‘need’ one until 2019 (we think Rambo has one more year before he is too big for heifers), we prefer to shop early so we aren’t to a point where we are ‘desperate’ to find a bull.
- What are we looking for in a heifer bull? Strong maternal lines that we think will yield great replacements (more than ‘just’ a heifer bull, but still calve easily). I will be using all 6 of my selection “P’s” from my blog post a year ago.
- While probably unrealistic at this time, we would also love to see a full DNA genomics test prior to purchase, as this is something we follow, specifically for ADG and Feed Efficiency. It isn’t ‘mainstream’ yet, but we believe genomics will happen for beef – and when it does we hope to be ahead of the curve.
- As an add-on to genomics, we have seen an increased interest in a dilutor test. More of our commercial clients are asking us about it (and we do test our own bulls), so it would make sense on a bull purchase. (We tested Delmonte post-purchase, and we were quite happy he came back dilutor free – and his genomics were pretty great too!).
- We are fortunate to be located in Central Alberta where there are plenty of bull shopping options. While Transcon is awesome, and I am comfortable with their understanding of our program if we had to purchase sight-unseen, nothing beats physically seeing the cattle so they can be evaluated in person.
- So I will be keeping a close eye on sales catalogs and social media in the lead up to bull sale time. Jeanne often comments that my ‘news feed’ is ‘all cows’ (unlike hers), but I must admit that I keep a much closer eye on Facebook than on individual websites. (So it is no surprise that, for that same reason, I link all my website blog posts to Facebook).
- The ‘immediate information’ era of platforms such as Facebook has substantially changed how customers consume advertising – but I think that the ubiquitous nature of ‘always connected phones’ has changed it more. More than once at Equation I utilized my phone to grab cow pics from our website to show potential buyers the extended cow families and service sires of our bred heifers – all while standing in the pen with the heifers.
- I hope to dig into that topic deeper on a future blog post, as utilizing social media to market cattle has its advantages, but it can also create challenges. Farmers have always blurred the line between the ‘business of farming’ and the ‘life of farming’, so it’s no surprise that posts can mix personal views and opinions with cattle pictures.
- With my eye on a heifer bull purchase this spring, and the rising cost of elite herd bulls, there seems to be more and more bulls owned in partnership. It may be an approach we need to take in the future, but sharing a bull can be tough when the breeding season is so short (and breeders tend to all calve at the same time)
- And when it comes to partnerships, I am always reminded of a couple more sayings I heard growing up, “Partnerships are easy to get in to, but hard to get out of,” and, “Most people struggle to remain in a partnership with their spouse, let alone anyone else,” as words of caution.
- I also like the idea that people have to come to us if they would like to incorporate our genetic selections into their herd. If there is the right genetic mix, exclusivity does increase demand.
- That being said, with a small herd, we will continue to utilize AI in 2018. As I mentioned earlier, we are pretty narrow genetically, and will need to continue to search for outcross bulls to incorporate into our herd. We are fortunate to have a professional AI expert willing to assist us with syncing groups of cows every spring (Thanks Donna!)
- There are many benefits, being married to Jeanne. Benefit #4,264. She can make sure that I don’t veer too far into ‘banker-speak’ or ‘farmer-speak’ when I am trying to share ideas. When I get passionate about something, I tend to just assume that everyone knows the same ‘lingo’. She provides a fresh perspective that is (thankfully) free of industry acronyms.
- As a teacher, she also fixes my grammar, verb tense and ongoing issues with run-on sentences. Thankfully without using a ruler!
- She also volunteers to do night checks. It does annoy her if I watch her on the new camera while she does them though! I haven’t tried to give her tips through the audio feed yet! (Editor’s Note: If that EVER happens, night checks will immediately become 100% Dennis’s responsibility!)
- It is an exciting time of year. Calving on one hand, scheduling in clipping / picturing our bulls for Red Deer on the other. Facebook ‘bull sale preview’ posts are in full swing, and we look forward to bull sale catalogs in the near future!
Until Next time,
Transcon’s Fleckvieh Equation Fullblood Simmental Sale wrapped up the Alberta Simmental Week-end with a flourish on Sunday, December 17th. Sunny skies and unseasonably warm December weather lead to a standing room only crowd filled with enthusiastic bidders. A great group of consignors brought 38 lots of Fleckvieh genetics to Red Deer to strut their stuff through the ring to a very impressive average of $9,440.
In what is becoming a sale tradition, a consignment from the Beechinor Brothers program led off Equation 2017. Lot 111 ‘BEE Deloriss 620D’ was a very impressive heifer that carried her massive volume across tremendous length. Sired by Double Bar D United, Deloriss was backed by the Beechinor’s renowned ‘She Devil’ cow family. After some spirited bidding from many top programs, the Stout Brothers of Bluffton, AB were the successful buyers, acquiring this foundation female for $41,000.
Our very own lot 130, ‘Applecross Pippa 21D,’ had the honour of being the second animal in the ring. ‘Pippa’ has long been a favourite of ours and she was difficult for us to sell, but at the same time, we knew she would be the perfect representative to showcase our program – her sire, maternal grand sire, dam and maternal grand dam all carry our prefix – which is something we are very proud of. We had quite a number of visitors and complements on ‘Pippa’ leading up to the sale, but we never could have imagined that she would sell for $30,000 to the elite Starwest Farms polled program at Calmar. We are truly stunned by the result!
After several years of very strong bull sales, the number of herd bulls on offer at Equation continued to expand. Long time co-consignors with us in the Red Deer Bull Sale every March, Starwest Farms brought two hairy rascals to town for breeder consideration at Equation. Their lead bull was “Starwest Ember’, a polled power bull sired by Starwest Blueprint – whose offspring have proven to be extremely popular over the past year (including to us – our new herdbull NUG Delmonte is also a Blueprint son). When the gavel fell, Jason McLane / Rich-Mc Simmentals from Manitoba was the successful buyer for $30,000.
Not to be outdone, the selection of heifer calves on offer continues to be very strong. The high seller was Lot 131, ‘Clearwater Desire 27D’ an impressive open from Chad & Shelley Smith at Olds, sired by their intriguing Crossroad Vintage bull. ‘Desire’ was selected by Randmar Management / Randy Ward of Calgary for $14,000.
All four of our Applecross heifers were very well received, and we couldn’t be happier with the great operations that they will now call home. Applecross Cynthia was selected by Dan & Karen Skeels / Anchor D Ranch for $10,000. As Dan has been auctioneering Simmental sales in Ontario for at least the past 20 years, he does have some ‘insider knowledge’ of the cow family. Maternal grand-dam RHY Zamia 40Z was a pasture favourite when she strutted her stuff for both Dora Lee and Gibbons Farms. Applecross Flora ($6,250) will be heading south to Okotoks to join the MI Simmentals program of Mike and Allison Imler, where she may get to become acquainted with APLX Axel 5Z – the high selling ‘bull of the barn’ in the 2013 Red Deer Bull Sale that is still working there. We are also quite excited that Applecross Ivy ($6,000) will also be expanding the presence of our prefix at the highly regarded Eagle Ridge program – where she will be joining past sale features ‘Pearl’ (2015 Equation) and ‘Waylon’ (2015 Red Deer Bull Sale). It is always rewarding when past customers return to make another purchase, so it is rather neat to see an expanded presence at Eagle Ridge and MI Simmentals.
In addition to the above noted high-sellers, I thought we would share some additional thoughts on the 2017 Edition of Fleckvieh Equation:
- While the numbers were down (probably close to 50% from when we were last part of the sale in 2015), the quality remained very strong across the consigners. 7 different operations brought animals to town that topped the $10,000 mark, which just confirms that the group is committed to bringing their best to Red Deer.
- In addition to the high-selling bull from Starwest noted above, the renowned JNR program continued to showcase their diverse line-up of bulls, as they presented LITHIUM for consideration, who sold to Herbert Smith of Irma for $15,500.
- Volume buyer, with the purchase of 3 lots, was Andrew’s Fleckvieh of Pennsylvania, who selected 3 open heifers.
- After getting shut out on our heifer acquisition plans last fall, we were successful in acquiring our pick at Equation 2017. With tremendous volume and a complete outcross pedigree to our herd, Lot 126 ‘Wolfe’s Dawn’ caught our eye in the catalog, and was then studied quite extensively when stabled right beside our own heifers. Shane Wolfe is a fellow 2nd –generation Fleckvieh breeder, so it is unsurprising that I tend to recognize genetics deep into the Wolfe pedigrees. It is awesome to be successful in adding another piece to the genetic puzzle to our herd.
We would really like 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. I think we sometimes tend to take sales management for granted. They tend to take all the blame when sales are tough and none of the credit when sales are strong. At the end of the day, we as consigners bring the cattle to town, and determine the quality of the base product that sales management has to work with. As such, I don’t think I have ever seen the Transcon team as busy as they were this week-end – from National Trust through Equation and Red and Black, there was tremendous interest in the cattle, and all of the sales staff were consistently working the phones both prior to and during the sale for prospective buyers. Certainly not a surprise Transcon is celebrating 50 years in business!
It was another great day to present Applecross cattle at auction, and we are honoured by the compliments received on our cattle from all the bidders and buyers that took interest in our program. With 2018 just starting up, we are already deep into calving season, and clipping bulls for March’s Red Deer Bull Sale is just around the corner. We look forward to showcasing our ongoing efforts to produce high-quality genetics that we can share with the industry.