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,
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