Our Journey as Producers of Fleckvieh Simmental Cattle.

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‘Super Sunday’ / 2019 Fleckvieh Equation and Red & Black Sale Report

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Red Deer’s Westerner Grounds were home to the stylish conclusion of ‘Alberta’s Simmental Week-end’ as Transcon’s ‘Two in One’ bonanza of Fleckvieh Equation and Red & Black wrapped up a hectic week of Simmental sales. Despite the onset of the holiday travel season, there was a strong crowd of enthusiastic bidders on hand (and online) to watch 49 total lots pass through the ring to a solid average of $5,794.

For the first time, it was Keet Simmentals of Dalmeny, Saskatchewan who had the honour of being selected to lead the sale.  Brett & Naomi Keet have been regular consignors at Equation the past several years, and have showcased the continued development of their program; specifically with their focus on polled Fleckviehs.  Two dark red, heavily pigmented, homozygous polled stunners in Lots 1 and Lot 4 were the first two heifers to enter the ring and sell on choice.  After some spirited bidding, Lot 4 was selected by Barry Labatte for $9,750, and Lot 1 was selected by MAVV Farms (Mike and Allison Imler) for $7,500.

Our very own Lot 8 (Applecross Penny) and Lot 9 (Applecross Catrina) were next up.  These two FGAF WowEffect daughters had been head turners all week-end, so we were rather excited to see how they would perform.  When the gavel fell, Applecross Penny had been selected by Virginia Ranch / Harry & Michelle Satchwell for $14,500.  Harry had toured our place and recognized the dam, and also watched the full brother sell 18 months earlier at Red Deer 2018, so he is quite familiar with the consistency of this cow family.  Applecross Catrina ($10,000) is headed a few miles north to Bentley, to the home of Beechinor Bros Simmentals.  John Beechinor has certainly made a statement over the past few months, both with his heifers on offer at Western Harvest, and with his commitment to diversifying his program.  After a busy week, which included John selecting a number of high sellers and being the volume buyer at the Skor dispersal, it will be pretty neat to see the continued evolution of the already elite annual Beechinor Bull Sale.  It is always rewarding when animals brought to town are acquired by highly regarded purebred breeders!

In a change from previous years, the purebreds and Flecks were intermingled in the barn, which allowed for more visiting and a true showcase of the diversity the Simmental breed brings to town.  From a Red & Black sales results perspective, the spotlight was firmly on the City View string, SIBL Simmentals and the female sale debut of Red Top Livestock.  Blane and Tina Barnett of City View made the journey from Moose Jaw and showcased a matching pair of red heifers in lots 106 and 107 that ended up being the high selling purebred heifers at $11,500 (Bar CAL Farms/L&J Farms, Sundre) and $8,000 (MAVV Farms) respectively.  A year after his ‘half the herd’ event, Barkley Smith was back to Equation with an impressive black open heifer in lot 120 that sold for $10,000 to KD’s Simmentals of Jenner.  And finally, it was great to see Red Top showcase the female side of their operation, with two really neat open heifers in Lot 103 ($9,500 to Ashworth Farm and Ranch) and Lot 104 ($9,000 to KD Simmentals).    Red Top has been part of the Red Deer Bull Sale group for a number of years now, so great to have Ben and Kassandra present their high end red program at Red & Black 2019!  There was great balance between the two portions of the sale – with the top end purebreds matching up well with the best of the fullbloods.

The balance of our Applecross Cattle string also found awesome new homes.  Applecross Yvonne headed south to Didsbury to join the ascending Skywest program.   Dan Slingerland from Coaldale, AB added some sparkle in Applecross Paulina to his polled integrated cow herd and feed lot operation, while Sheldon Doerksen of Carrot River SK selected Applecross Rose, who has successfully calved a sweet little bull calf here at home (and will make her journey once she and her calf are ready for travel).  Loralta Farms / Leslie Botten from Boyle selected a few lots during the afternoon, including our own Applecross Brienne.  And finally, Barry Labatte was the successful bidder in adding Applecross Noelle.  In an interesting twist that goes back many years, Noelle’s great, great, great, great, great grand dam was also the dam of Dora Lee Franchesca that Barry selected from Dora Lee way back in 1997!  It is amazing how cow families can turn out that way – that is a lot of ‘greats’!  In all, our seven heifers found homes across Alberta and Saskatchewan, and we look forward to seeing how their progeny develops for their new owners.

On the acquisition front, Applecross Cattle also enjoyed a great week-end and were successful in acquiring our picks at both Trust and Equation.  After enjoying a front row seat to Skywests’ Duramax sons at the Red Deer bull sale in March, we were successful in acquiring our choice of his daughters on offer in lot 24 ‘Skywest Franceca’, who has already provided us with a promising star-headed heifer calf.  (Riley and Jolene of Skywest also presented the strongest string of bred heifers on offer as their 5 bred heifers averaged an impressive $9,500!)   We also dipped our toes into the National Trust frozen genetics pool, with the acquisition of 10 doses of FGAF Electric Avenue from Beechinor Land & Livestock (who were also quite successful with the two open heifers they brought to town!)  We have been looking to diversify our polled line-up, but with the prices of elite polled herd bulls soaring this past spring, adding to our semen tank seemed like a more feasible approach.  Electric Avenue combines the power of French Attack, with a cow family we know well, so we look forward to trying to determine how to best leverage him during AI season this spring.

In addition to the above noted high sellers, I thought it also worthwhile to share a few additional thoughts:

  • I do think that the late sale date impacted both attendance and the number of animals consigned to the sale. Family Christmas events, and the onset of calving, meant a number of breeders who usually attend were absent, and certainly missed from the circles of conversation that form at such events.  One of our heifers looked extremely close to calving at the sale (she did hold out for 4 days longer), and even now only ~10 days after Equation, both the heifer we purchased and roughly half of our sale heifers have calved.  As a consigner, we want our buyers to be happy with their selections, and an unexpected early calving can certainly impact this.  It may have just been how the week-end timing lined up with the other events, but the late sale date does give us pause when bringing heavy in calf bred heifers to town.
  • I also think that there is room for changes in the National Trust format on the Saturday night. The lead lots always generate a tremendous amount of excitement, but once the proceedings get to ‘tank clean out’ phase, the auction can slow considerably.  Despite a 6:30pm start time, the auction didn’t end until after 10pm.  And while we did acquire some vintage semen (Dora Lee Jake), the length of the sale took away from a lot of the Saturday night social time that we find so valuable.  My attention wandered considerably throughout the evening (and I actually remember most of the bulls on offer!).  Despite the ‘Simmental Week-end’ nature of the event, actual attendance at National Trust has dropped the past few years – and I think the length of the auction may be a big reason why – specifically as vintage Fleckvieh Semen has such a select following.  With today’s technology, there should be a way to move a portion of the proceedings to online only; speeding up the auction, while still having a great meal and awesome conversation.
  • I have always considered buying heifers a discretionary purchase – a ‘nice to do’ instead of a ‘need to do’. Buying bulls take priority (can’t breed cattle without one!), and while it is nice to acquire outcross females, it is somewhat optional depending on how the year has gone.  While we are an exception, most cattle producers in Western Canada rely on both cattle and crops to generate income.  With a very challenging harvest season translating to a significant portion of crops still unharvested, overall I would think that means there is less cash available to make those discretionary heifer purchases.  It has been a tough year in Western Canada – so it is perhaps surprising that heifer sales held as strong as they did throughout female sale season.

I can’t close without saying a few words about Transcon, our Sales Management team.  Jay, Darren, Glen and Cody always do a quality, professional job – and spend significant amounts of time on the phone – talking – taking pictures or ‘fresh’ videos for prospective buyers – and in Cody’s case – during the sale itself – racing over to me to ensure we’d calve out a heifer before taking a prospective buyers telephone bid.  It is foundational to have mutual trust in a Sales Management team, and we have that with Transcon.

Overall it was another great year to present Applecross Cattle at auction.  We were honoured by the compliments received, and were humbled to have our Applecross Penny recognized as the overall high seller at Fleckvieh Equation 2019.  It is the first time we have ever topped a female sale!  With calving in full swing (we are already 40% complete), we look forward to the excitement that 2020 will bring, and another step forward in our ongoing efforts to produce high-quality genetics that we can share with the industry.


Seven Up – Applecross Cattle Present our 2019 Fleckvieh Equation Sale Heifers

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Five of our seven 2019 Equation sale heifers. From Left: Penny, Noelle, Catrina, Brienne and Paulina.

We are pleased to present seven bred heifers at Transcon’s 2019 Fleckvieh Equation Sale on December 22th, at 1pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. There is always a great cross section of genetics available at this prestigious event, and we are proud to be part of this progressive group of breeders.

After three consecutive ‘best ever’ heifer calf crops, we feel we have been able offer a pretty free reign to Transcon in their 2019 heifer selections.  The picks this year include the first two NUG Delmonte 81D daughters, the last three direct FGAF WowEffect progeny, a fancy Kitimat heifer and a really intriguing homo-polled Rambo daughter.

On the dam side, cow families continue to form the foundation of what we do, and it is quite common to see multiple generations of our females sharing the same pasture (even when we split heifers and bulls into separate groups!).   The bedrock of our herd was built upon four original cows that we selected at Dora Lee to anchor our operation in Alberta.  While only the youngest (Christina) is still walking here, those four cows have been very prolific with many descendants anchoring our program.  Each of Dora Lee Jewel (‘Rose’), Dora Lee Evangaline (‘Noelle’), DLD Lady Western 48R (‘Brienne’) and Dora Lee Christina (‘Catrina’) have progeny that were selected for this years’ sale.  Another early acquisition was Spruceburn Pauline, who was our choice of Bill & Donna McMurty’s bred heifer pen back in 2009.  She founded our ‘P-line’ and gave us multiple stand out daughters.  Our sales string this year features two of her maternal grand-daughters in ‘Penny’ and ‘Paulina’.    The dam of our last heifer, Wolfe’s Dawn, was selected direct from Equation in 2017 with ‘Yvonne’ still in the womb.  Dawn has had an impressive start here at Applecross, with her 2019 bull calf being one of the few selected for next years’ bull pen. Together, these heifers form a really neat group that will clearly showcase the direction we are taking our program.

Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right), have been created for each of ‘Brienne’, ‘Catrina’, ‘Noelle’, ‘Paulina’, ‘Penny’, ‘Rose’ and ‘Yvonne’.  On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind each outstanding female, is an outstanding cow family – so hopefully sharing pictures provides a better glimpse into the extended pedigree.

The heifers all have quiet temperaments and are used to being around people.  We like quiet cattle. We preg-checked in mid-October and the vet feels that all eight are safe to early breeding dates – within a 6 week window that originates with their AI date.

Also, due to the late sales date this year, we expect all of our heifers to be very heavy in calf.  For any out of province buyers, we are willing to take the heifers home and calve them out.  While ‘stuff’ can happen, we would much prefer that ‘stuff’ to happen at our place, instead of having a disaster occur during the stress of a truck ride.

The Heifers are also vaccinated with ViraShield and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Dectomax and given Scourguard prior to sale day.

The 2019 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on December 22nd at Westerner Park.


Social Media, Marketing Cattle, and the World We Live In.

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The recent federal election.  The NBA and China.  Don Cherry. These three seemingly unrelated events bring focus to the power of social media, and make us ponder the impact it has on how we market cattle.  They force us to recognize uncomfortable thoughts about values, what we stand for, and even our personal identity.  How can three seemingly separate issues shape so many thoughts about who we are as people, who we are as a family, and how we choose to operate our business?

I don’t think it would be exaggeration to proclaim that social media has changed the world.  How we interact with each other – who we interact with – how we consume ‘news’ and information – is all radically different now than it was a decade ago.  In the purebred cattle business, there has been a steady shift from print material to browsing the web to social media during that time period.  In our own case, we see substantially more traffic on our Facebook page than on our website (which is just one of the reasons why we link our blog posts to our Facebook page and profiles).    While print materials (Sale Catalogs, Simmental Country) remain important marketing tools, the vast majority of our time, when both buying and selling genetics, is now focused on Social Media.

Social Media represents a specific challenge to farmers, particularly when trying to market a product.  Farmers have always blurred the line between the ‘business of farming’ and the ‘life of farming’, so it is not unusual that posts and profiles can mix personal views and opinions with cattle pictures and more farm oriented information.  This mix can be both good and bad!  From a ‘good’ perspective, one of the tenets of marketing is in having a story to tell. Social media can be leveraged to tell that story and make a farm seem more ‘authentic’, compared to just a brand, name or prefix on an animal.  It also allows farmers to help educate non-farming friends about the real life experiences and practices that shape agriculture today.  Personal views that are shared can also align with those of your customers which again can drive interest.  But the flip side is that those same views could totally repel buyers as well.  The purebred cattle business is a people business.  Giving prospective buyers a ‘closer look’ at the values of the individuals who typically both own and operate the farm can be a double edged sword.

This separation between farm life and personal life is a big part of the reason we operate an Applecross Cattle Facebook page instead of simply leveraging our own personal pages to share most of our ‘cow news’.  Yes, we are both ‘Facebook friends’ with a number of fellow cattle breeders, but we tend to limit those ‘friendships’ to those we know personally and want knowing our ‘stuff’ (as we are also interested in the ‘stuff’ going on in their lives).  Even Facebook has evolved.  Back in the early days when the audience was much smaller (and it was typically only friends of a similar demographic that leveraged the site), I would regularly quote a random song lyric from the 80’s as my status update.  I’d like to think they were mildly amusing, but the practice stopped once the audience started taking the updates literally as opposed to simply realizing they were lyrics which represented a cool hook/memory that resonated on that particular day.   So in that way, even our personal profiles have adapted, as social media has become more and more a part of publicly created personas and misconstruing became a concern. It is always a good thing to remember who is ‘listening’!

And that is where the recent Canadian federal election comes in.  Jeanne and I have lived in two different provinces, and we have family in three other provinces.  One of us is a Business major who grew up on a farm while the other majored in both Environmental Biology and Education and has spent most of her time in the city.  It isn’t surprising that we have a wide spectrum of friends and family that represent the full variety of political parties.  And that is perfectly cool.  Everyone is entitled to an educated opinion, even if it happens to be different than ours.  Quite a number of them are very passionate about their political viewpoints and shared them on social media (and yet I have never heard one individual suggest ‘oh I read a really funny/fascinating/fake news/biased post on social media and it totally changed who I was going to vote for!).  Unfortunately, social media sites such as Facebook can just provide an echo chamber to allow for the reinforcement and retrenchment of ideas within the same viewpoint.  My teacher wife calls it “voluntary balkanization.” This is the fancy term to suggest that sometimes people voluntarily split into like-minded groups that then become hostile to those with different opinions.  But posts that split people into a binary with-us-or-against-us approach also showcase the drawback of mixing personal with business.  If you have been ‘snoozed’ by a fellow cattle person for the next 30 days – or blocked permanently because of constant ‘over-sharing’ – while at the same time relying on your personal FB page to market cattle –  how are your ‘friends’ going know about it?  And while the recent election makes a topical example, it isn’t the only one. Algebra problems that 97% of people fail, or any post that begins with ‘this may offend some’ or ends with ‘90% of people don’t have the guts to share this’ typically have me reaching for the block button.  My time is too precious (and the FB algorithm is too complex for me to decipher) for my ‘news feed’ to be cluttered by noise.   So snoozing and blocking become go-to options just to ensure that the time I spend on social media is both enjoyable and efficient. Which means I am probably just balkanizing myself.  Voluntarily!

 And then there is Don Cherry.  The day after he made the statements he did on ‘Coaches Corner’, my news feed blew up with opinions.  The ironic thing is that despite all the ‘uproar’ most people posting or sharing clearly weren’t listening live and didn’t take time to actually go back and listen to what he actually said.  But regardless, it doesn’t matter if you agree or don’t agree with Mr. Cherry’s opinion / statement, the bottom line is this: Canada’s freedom of expression laws simply mean that you have the ability to express your opinion without the threat of government persecution.  It doesn’t mean that an employer can’t fire someone if they (or their audience) find those personal opinions offensive, or against their own ‘corporate values’.  And yes, listening to a ‘mix-tape’ of Cherry’s ‘greatest’ interviews over the past 30 years would make his recent statement seem pretty benign, but times (and what is considered socially acceptable) evolves.  So the message, spokespeople, and opinions need to evolve to match the expectations of society, or market share and business will be lost.  And big corporations tend to act accordingly. And sure, being ‘profit oriented’ seems to be an ‘evil thing’ that big corporations do, but at the end of the day every business or farm needs to make a buck.  So, while I think that there is nothing wrong with sharing an opinion, if that opinion happens to be offensive or outdated or ‘misconstrued’ it certainly can impact a potential customers purchasing decision.

Which leads to the first big question:  If one of your ‘Facebook cattle friends’ posted something that you found inappropriate or offensive, would it impact your future buying decision?   And for us, that answer is yes.   Absolutely.  This approach might make us ‘judgy’ and suggest we are not focused solely on cattle ‘quality’. But sometimes, how we do things are as important as what we do (and reinforces that purebred cattle are only as strong as the people that stand behind them).  When we buy cattle – either at auction or private treaty – we have 100% of the control over what we buy and whom we buy it from – and let’s face it – cattle genetics are somewhat replaceable and interchangeable.  There are a lot of different ways and places to acquire genetics!  I have a whole list (the seven P’s) that helps in deciding which animal to chase – and people/prefix is one of those P’s.  There has never been a sale season where we haven’t found an animal worth bidding on, from people worth buying from!  Having budget to get them bought is a different topic!

Since we are all cattle people, there is a flip side to that 100% control.  Our customers also have that same level of decision making authority when it comes to deciding whether to purchase from us.  Which leads to a second question – are you willing to call out that ‘friend’ and speak up if you do find their post or ‘share’ inappropriate or offensive?  It is one thing to vote with your wallet, but (since we are all both buying and selling), it is a significant step further to risk losing a customer by raising a voice.  And that, in essence, is the root of the issue with the NBA and China. The government of China thought a short tweet from the General Manager of the Houston Rockets was offensive. And then, China also found the NBA’s response to the tweet ‘lacking’ which is now putting a business relationship worth an estimated $1.5 billion annually at risk.  We are so crazy fortunate to live in a country where freedom of speech and expression is foundational in our every day lives.  It is something we take for granted.  But at the same token, that freedom can have consequences.  Expressing an opinion can cost business, or a job (As both the NBA and Don Cherry are finding out).  Everyone needs to make money to pay bills.  But at what cost?  At some point personal, farm or business values should matter.  Which brings to mind the Jon Stewart quote: “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being testedthey’re not valuesthey’re hobbies”.  What does it say about our integrity, if a fellow cattle breeder / prospective client says something that we find offensive and we just don’t respond?

It is this second question that Jeanne and I (and maybe a lot of other people) struggle with.  We are both intensely private people, and have only a small circle of people that we think know the real ‘us’.  We have strong opinions.  I also enjoy sarcasm, and long moon-lit walks on the beach.  But you’d never know that from our Facebook pages (well, maybe the beaches part).    Part of this, I think, is due to question 1: maybe we don’t post many of our own opinions so that we won’t be judged.  At the same time though: silence emboldens the vocal.  And we are both becoming increasingly uncomfortable just keeping quiet.  Maybe it’s the cattle equivalent to the: ‘just stick to sports’ ethos of athletes – but I don’t envision a future where we ‘just talk cows’.  We may seemingly ‘talk cows’ for hours sometimes, but it is hardly what defines us.  So maybe we will stop being quite so silent, and speak up (and post) a little more if only to say.  ‘No.  I just don’t agree’.

And that is one of the other challenges with social media.  While people feel more connected, we are actually connected less. During this same past decade, the amount of time we spend actually face to face with our friends has decreased dramatically, as we simply communicate via text and social. Ask yourself: when was the last time you even talked to someone on the phone for an hour?  And with those soundbites of a text or a tweet, it is virtually impossible to have an actual conversation – debate and discuss instead of simply counting likes.  Which is one of my favourite things (conversation not counting likes).  At the kitchen table, at the sales barn, on pasture tours, or on the deck with a beverage, it is conversation where you can truly dig deeper and find out the why behind how people think what they do. And yes, in our household a lot of those conversations surround cows, but we can, and do, drift into various topics including family, sports, travel, politics, farm finance (duh), Scottish Dance (should have put this first), motivational strategies and the earlier mentioned bad 80’s music lyricsBut the conversation allows for an understanding of perspective.  Sometimes consensus.  Sometimes an agreement to disagree.  But virtually always very good conversation.   And that is one of the ironic things about genetics and farm discussions. The genetic direction we take our program probably has a bigger direct impact on our bottom line vs. which politician is sitting in OttawaBut yet, it is pretty easy to agree to disagree over whether you ‘like a bull’. Typically a friend would never share a post for everyone to “unfriend-me if you ever (up)voted this bull!’.   And whether you like a bull or not – opinions can change if you see more progeny, or see the genetics selling for premiums at auction! This doesn’t tend to happen with politicians!  But in both cases, pretty fun to joke about which ones should be ‘castrated’ though!

I do think that the ability to listen, and actually hear what the person is trying to articulate, is an incredibly underrated skill.  This sounds stupid, but listening forms half of all conversations.  But yet when we disagree, we all tend to have a desire to make our opinion ‘truth’ and the other person ‘wrong’.  And then we stop having conversations, because the other person ‘doesn’t listen’.  So we shift to social media and share stuff that reinforces our truth. To quote Don Cherry ‘Thumbs up! Let’s Go!’

In short.  Be aware of the persona you are presenting to the public.  Understand that there can be consequences.  Make peace with it.  Click on a like. Or say you just don’t agree.   And then put down the phone and go for a visit.  Have a coffee.  A beverage.  Brunch. A BBQ.  (A Scotch?) Spend time together and enjoy meaningful conversation.  Try to understand a different perspective. Or maybe just agree to disagree.  Who knows?  Maybe someone will ‘take a selfie’ and post about it.

Until next time,

Dennis


Thanksgiving 2019 – Fall Update

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Three of our sale heifers sporting fresh new haircuts:  (from left) Noelle, Brienne and Penny

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has always involved a walk. In our younger years it was in Ontario, with our extended family, at my Grandparents farm.  We’d walk to the sugar bush to wander the paths originally made by a stone boat as they carried their barrels of sap towards the sugar shanty, all the while admiring the glorious fall colours of the maples.  To this day I am not sure if the walk was to admire the scenery, blow off some steam (and get exercise) before another magnificent meal, engage in great conversation, or simply to walk the land and pause to reflect on the bounty it has given us again this year.  Now farmed by my cousin, the family walk at my Grandparents’ farm carries on to this day. Three provinces away, walk is part of our own ritual here at Applecross, which was shaped by those similar themes of scenery, exercise, conversation and reflection.

2019 has been a year of challenge and a year of change.  But as we take time today to step back and think about the big picture, we have so much to be thankful for.  Our winter hay supply is all stacked in the yard; the straw is in; the corrals have been cleaned, with the manure spread to help enhance next years’ pasture growth.  We are well aware that quite a number of areas suffered this year with too much moisture and untimely snowfalls that have made the harvest outlook bleak and conditions grim.  So we do count our blessings, while our thoughts and prayers are with those struggling with difficult harvest conditions.

Reflecting back on our three back to back to back ‘best ever’ female calf crops between 2016 and 2018, we have certainly been able to reshape our herd – making it significantly younger while also improving the quality from top to bottom.  With so many young cows, part of the process involves visualizing how they will continue to develop, but we are quite happy with how the herd is progressing (noting that there is always room for improvement!).  Part of our fall work is in making selections for Fleckvieh Equation.  Cody Haney of Transcon was out a couple of weeks ago, and with the massive set of bred heifers we had as a group this year, it was (relatively) easy to dig deep and select eight pretty cool bred heifers for Equation 2019.

I am not sure whether it was the weather or the genetics (or some results from more than a decade’s work on genomic feed efficiency testing), but without a doubt, our bred heifer group is the heaviest, most consistent set of females we have ever walked.  The eight heifers selected for Equation represent a great cross section of our herd, with the first three Delmontes, three WowEffects, a Rambo, and a Kittimat being the sire groups of our sale heifers.  Five of the selections are polled, with one Homozygous.   As you will notice in the picture, they came off grass very heavy so they won’t need a lot of TLC to be sale ready.  The heifers were all pregnancy checked this week, and we clipped heads yesterday, so sale pictures should follow in the relative near future.  We really look forward to showcasing them at Equation in late December!

The 2019 calf crop has also settled in well to their new routines.  We finalize our weaning process Labour Day weekend, so Thanksgiving usually represents the six week mark post separation, which makes this an ideal time to take another look and see how the calves are adjusting in their respective development areas.  Weaning weights averaged almost 50lbs heavier than last year and again, whether that was nurture or nature, it made for some tough decisions over which heifer and bull calves to keep.  We had a lot more balance in our calf numbers this year, and while we did have more bull calves to choose from, we are retaining a similar number to last year.   We are also really happy with the heifer calves, and although there won’t be as many strutting their stuff as last years’ group, they are a nice uniform bunch.

So with the smell of turkey (and fresh baked pumpkin pie) shifting my thoughts away from the page and back towards food, family and great conversation, it is also a reminder that there are evening chores to be done – a shorter walk through the calf groups and the sale heifers.  Our cows may leave my train of thought, but never seemingly for very long (I call it ‘re-fleck-ting’).  But the tour today and tonight provides our daily reminder:  To give thanks for the bounty we have been given and for what we are about to receive.  To be mindful of the needs of others.  We are truly thankful.

Until next time.

Dennis


The Importance of Feedback

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One of the benefits of selling cattle by auction is that our cattle get to be put on display to the general public for several days.  While our primary goal is to market the cattle we have brought to that particular sale, there is also the opportunity to paint a picture of our operation, and showcase what we do, not only to try and sell our cattle on that particular day, but also to attract future customers.  By showcasing our operation at an auction sale, we get substantially more visitors through our pens than those who pass through the farm gate – so it is not only a sales tool, but a method of marketing and increasing our exposure as well.

The question becomes, though, how do we evaluate whether we have been successful at any given sale?  Clearly, we can look at our sales results and determine the financial side of the equation (I tend to have both a ‘budgeted’ number and ‘goal’ for the amount of our sales proceeds), but focusing just on sales results, can obscure what a successful auction looks like. That is where constructive feedback has its place.

It may seem simplistic to state but, auctions sell to the higher bidder.  It takes at least two bidders to push a price higher.  Because of this, if two people are interested, an animal can sell for (far) more than expected.  If only one party is interested, that same animal could sell for significantly less than the maximum that person was willing to pay. So judging the success of a sales season by only considering results (or a consignor’s sale average) leaves a lot of insight on the table – specifically for us, when we market only a few animals per year.   Clearly, generating a return is important (says the banker), but if we can also get feedback on our program and vision, among other things, then we will be much farther ahead than if we just read the sale report.

In my opinion, constructive feedback is a combination of positive and negative.  In our society, we tend to extremes.  It is very common to focus solely on the positive, which does not help identify areas that need to improve.  To avoid the risk of offending, it is often easier to be vaguely positive and move on.  The opposite extreme is also very common, focusing solely on the negative.  We’ve all witnessed this, especially in comment threads on social media – comments whose purpose is to cut, anger or show how clever and witty the writer thinks they are.  However, neither extreme is overly helpful when the goal is to improve.

The best description of providing feedback that I have found is to be ‘candid while caring’.   Simply put, feedback can be blunt, honest and direct, but only once it has been established that the reason feedback is being provided, is because you care enough about their success that you want them to know your thoughts.  Delivery is also important.  Most people don’t object to being offered praise in public, but negative feedback or coaching should always be done in a private, one-on-one setting.  Nobody enjoys being singled out in front of their peers for anything negative, so typically advice is heeded a lot quicker if delivered in private.  The short of it is that we can all provide constructive feedback without flitting to either end of the spectrum – life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.  But feedback can also be provided without being an ass.

We appreciate receiving constructive feedback from several sources – the Sales Management Team, our peers, social media, and from our own observations.

The easiest place to start is with Sales Management which, in our case, is Transcon.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I do seek out Jay and his team to get feedback both before and after each sale.  In any given season, Transcon gets to inspect a heck of a lot more animals (and programs) than I do.  They also have a great understanding of what type of cattle are in demand and, at the end of the day, they are paid on commission.  They have a rather vested interest in maximizing their returns from a sale.  They also need to be honest in their assessments of the cattle on offer because they would like all prospective order buyers to be happy with their purchases.  Because of these perspectives, Transcon can provide great input into everything from quality of catalog pictures to cattle condition.  (All without me having to comment on the sale order – which is another post to talk about!)

Peer feedback from fellow breeders can be a little trickier.  From my experience, there have been a lot of cases of feedback falling into the polite but not value adding ‘looks good’ category, or to the other extreme of ‘I have just what you need to move your herd forward’.  Since we are all selling genetics, there is a natural urge for self promotion, but if we can get beyond the bloodline component, there is so much more to discover.  Over the years, both of us have spent time observing and trying to learn from fellow consignors, and other breeders that we visit for a cattle tour.  We have noticed everything from tack boxes and hospitality areas, to the signage and swept floors around us.  The condition (and temperament) of cattle is also important to us.  As we are small breeders, we are cognizant that we will always be part of group of consignors.  The condition our cattle are in needs to align with the rest of the cattle at the sale.  When a sale is over, we consciously try to sit down and compare notes, identifying things that we might be able to do at future sales.

Another area we try to be hyper-aware of is attitude. Win or lose, we need to be relentlessly positive in public.  Our behaviour, and the image we are presenting, is very important.  If a sale doesn’t go as well as planned, our new buyers should not be aware of our disappointment.  It isn’t their fault, and we would like them to be totally stoked about their new purchase.  Attitude also goes for the night before, too.  We both enjoy a few drinks, but we really don’t want to be remembered as the consignor that got fall down drunk.  We might try not to make judgments about the behaviour of others, but we are very aware that there are others who are willing to judge our behaviour and attitude.

Marketing, and the use of Social Media, is another area to glean feedback.   There are many questions that need to be considered as we share information about our animals.  Are we sharing enough sale info, and are we sharing it in the correct place? Are we sharing to half a dozen different ‘groups’ that all have the same members and are becoming over saturated?  Are we differentiating between our personal and professional (farm) profiles?  Are we taking a few minutes to congratulate someone in person when they consistently publish content we really enjoy (‘I really enjoy the random FB pics you post about your farm’).  There are a lot of different areas for feedback – and probably just as many answers.   With social media it is also sometimes difficult to determine whether there is any ‘value’ to what is ‘shared’.  It is easy to count likes and read comments, but it is also helpful to receive verbal feedback or a private message to help improve the dissemination of information.

There is also a danger both at sales and with social media to only interact with people of shared interest.  In the scheme of things, we have a small herd of cattle that is highly specialized (100% fleck) and trending in a specific direction (polled).  If we limit our feedback loop only to people within that group, I think we would miss a lot of opportunities to improve.  Our quiet-wean process was derived from a visit to a purebred Simmental breeder (that didn’t have a fleck on the place).  A lot of the genomic work we do was built upon the performance testing we did with the purebred hogs we had while I was a kid.  Ensuring we are open to learning from a broad range of sources can only make us better over the long run.  A good cow is a good cow – the hide colour or breed really doesn’t matter.  Getting viewpoints from a diverse group of people is something we consciously try to do.

The final point I’d like to make about feedback is that, while it is importance to receive it, you don’t necessarily have to agree with it.  I think it is important to understand ‘why’ the person thinks the way they do, but everyone is entitled to a different opinion. If everybody thought the same way, life would be pretty boring! (And we would never need elections!)  When it comes to the purebred cattle business, everyone has their own eye for cattle, their own breeding goals and their own definition of success.  If everyone was the same, all of our cattle would look identical – and then how would we make them better?  Having the confidence to listen to others, and then to stick to your own vision, is also an important trait.

So when it comes to reflecting on a sale, we try to do more than simply assessing our high seller and average, and comparing it to where we have been previously.  We try to dig deeper than the numbers – solicit feedback – and aim to be better for next time.   There is so much knowledge and information that can be gleaned from talking with others.  Feedback which is more than ‘they look good’ or ‘yikes’, but thought provoking enough to show care while providing some insightful commentary.  We will all be better for it.

Until next time,

Dennis


Red Deer Bull Sale Report (and a bunch of other bull sale season thoughts)

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It was a gorgeous spring day, with mild temperatures, lots of sunshine, and some really impressive bulls that brought a full house to the Westerner in Red Deer to watch 51 bulls sell on Thursday, March 21st.  After six weeks of punishing winter weather, it was great to see and sense the optimism that a taste of spring can bring to the agricultural community.

First in the ring were a pair of matching Virginia’s Duramax sons from Skywest Simmentals in Didsbury.  Soggy, low-set with impressive shape, these breeder quality bulls resulted in some very spirited bidding.  When the gavel fell, Lot 41 ‘ Skywest Fusion’ was selected by the master breeders of Maxwell Simmentals for $22,000 as the overall high seller.  Lot 42 ‘Skywest Fugitive’ is heading to Manitoba after being acquired by Northern Lights Simmentals for $18,000.  It was a great start to the sale – and set the tone for the balance of the afternoon.

Due to some weather related setbacks with our bull string, we only brought three of our six bull prospects to Red Deer.  All three of our Delmonte sons found great new homes with Dallas & Cindy Phillips of Eckville, AB (Dundee), Chris Young from Caroline, AB (Denver) and JNJ Simmentals  at Westlock, AB (Dakota).  It is always a treat to have new customers acquire their first APLX bull.

Overall the sale grossed just over $335,000 on 51 lots, for an average of $6,562.  We would also be amiss not to recognize Jay Good and the Transcon team for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale.

A few (or maybe a lot of) other thoughts on Red Deer 2019 and this years’ bull sale season:

  • I can’t say enough about how impressive the Skywest string of bulls was. They were penned right beside our bulls, and the amount of consistency in type through-out their seven bulls was remarkable.  Jolene and Riley Edwards & family have been building their Simmental operation for several years now, and it was very special to see them both lead off Red Deer 2019 (and top it) for their first time!  They are great people – so truly awesome to see their success.
  • One of the things I really appreciate about Transcon is the feedback. I do try to have a good honest conversation with Jay or one of his team both before and directly following the sale.  Honest feedback is just so important.   We might not always like what we are told, but it is important to hear the message and have a conversation for long enough to ensure we understand their reasons for thinking as they do.  I hope to expand on this topic in a further blog post.
  • Both the heifer bull and polled bull market were strong in 2019. There were clearly some eye-popping sales of polled bulls, but digging deeper into some of the sale reports, there was also a strong demand for heifer bulls – which may partly be caused by the current feed shortage in Central Alberta.  Heifers eat less, have more future earning potential and should be genetically superior to old cows, so when feed is short, it makes sense to leverage the opportunity to make the cow herd younger – you just need bulls to use on those heifers.
  • Our own shopping needs combined the two, and we were on the hunt for a polled heifer bull this spring. We were disappointed when a couple that we were interested in sold out of our price range.  Heifers bulls are so tough to budget for – they have a limited timeframe that they can be utilized on heifers before they get too big – and in order to stay around after that, they need to be ‘good enough’ to use on cows – so on our smaller numbers I find it difficult to determine a price point that works.
  • In hindsight though – if we are willing/planning to spend $10,000-$15,000 on an elite outcross heifer each fall (who will only give us one calf a year), maybe the budget for a heifer bull should be a little higher.
  • In our case, we ended up moving a different direction. As they say ‘when you are dealt a hand of lemons, make lemonade’, so when one of my favourite bulls in our own pen, APLX Wedge 6F, came up DD on his semen test, we decided to retain him to use on our heifers.  Being both a WowEffect son and from our popular ‘P line’, we can’t use him on every animal, but he should be a real neat addition to our bull battery.
  • I like having options. I joked that retaining Wedge was ‘Plan E’.  (Which is a modification of Plan D, where we AI all our heifers with no clean-up bull).  We did have a ’Plan F’, but (thankfully) no need for it this year.
  • I do think 2019 will reinforce the value of leveraging AI as a herd management tool. With the brutal February weather (which frankly all of Canada experienced), it will be interesting to see how many natural bred calves will be born next January, as I anticipate that despite all the extra care that has gone into them, that bulls simply won’t be as ready to go (but will recover over time – I guess it all depends whether that recovery period is 3 weeks or 6 weeks as to the amount of impact it has on next years’ breeding season).
  • AI takes time and management, but even if you pencil in the cost of semen and (in our case), having an AI breeding technician come to breed heifers (Thanks Donna!), you can sure breed a lot of animals for what you could walk a bull for.
  • I also like the diversity that AI can bring – it allows smaller herds like ours to sample of number of different or new/outcross bulls each spring. The drawback is that sample size is smaller, and it can be tough to draw a conclusion from a handful of calves.
  • I also think exclusivity (or outcross) in owning a bull outright has a value (in that customers would need to acquire those different genetics from one place), which you wouldn’t have with an AI bull.
  • a great example of this would be Starwest Pol Blueprint – two years after a number of his sons were high sellers, there have been both sons and grandsons be readily accepted in 2019 – which potentially leads to people looking for something different if they already have those genetics.  I would expect that thanks to the high selling nature of FGAF Radioactive 030E (and his semen!) and the ready availability of his sire may also lead to a spike in Guererro bull calves in next years’ bull sale season – especially as he ties nicely into the theme of polled and heifer bull.

Over the past nine years, it has been great to be part of the Red Deer Bull Sale and 2019 was certainly no exception.  Public auction is a great forum to get feedback on the program we are building at Applecross, and we were both humbled and honored with the number of compliments our pen of bulls received throughout the week-end, from both peers in the purebred industry and commercial cattlemen alike.  We strive to produce top quality cattle, and can at times be our own worst critic so it is wonderful to hear all the kind words. Not a year goes by that we don’t learn how to do things a little better for next year, and it is equally important to continue to receive tips and advice on how to make improvements to our program.   With the bull sale now in the rear-view mirror, and breeding season underway, we look forward to the challenge of developing more and different genetics for future years.

Until next time,

Dennis


2019 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale: Our Most Versatile Bull String Yet

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We are pleased to present six herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2019 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale on Thursday, March 21st at 1:00pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. This is our ninth year at this event, and we are proud to be included in the strong offering that is always presented by this progressive group of breeders.

While all six of our bulls are polled, our 2019 offering will be our most versatile bull string yet – clearly showcasing our breeding philosophy.  We firmly believe that the future will bring an increased herd size on the same amount of available labour.  This means that with less labour available on a per cow basis, birth weights will come down to improve calving ease, and that gradually more and more horns will be bred off the cattle.  We have moved slowly to incorporate the polled gene into our herd, as our goal is to try and accomplish this while maintaining the strong performance and mothering ability the Simmental breed is known for.  While EPD’s have their limitations, we have noticed that most Fleckvieh genetics are typically either Top Percentile for calving and bottom percentile for growth, or vice-versa.  It has been our goal to move more to the middle and produce bulls who will calve out, that are more than just ‘heifer bulls’, and performance bulls that aren’t ‘hard calvers’.  In a word – versatile – bulls that can be utilized in a variety of situations, without representing the extremes of the breed.

Individual pages (short-cut links are located in the right-hand column) have been created for all six of our bulls on offer, and will provide a deeper look into each individual animal, including multi-generations of the cow families and sires that back them.  Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding cow family.

This year we are rather excited to debut of our first NUG Delmonte 81D sons.  We selected Delmonte from Maxwell’s as one of the high sellers in the 2017 Herdmaster Bull Sale, and have been really impressed by his first two calf crops.  His first three sons will sell in Red Deer in ‘Dundee’, ‘Denver’ and ‘Dakota’.  Dundee has the added advantage of being tested Homozygous polled.  We are confident that Delmonte’s combination of the popular Starwest Pol Blueprint and the South Holden Mira cow family will have a tremendous impact on our herd, and we are really excited to see what his progeny will bring to the industry.

2019 will also represent the last natural born FGAF WowEffect herd sire prospects.  The WowEffect sons have led our bull strings since 2016, with his sons all being highly consistent. Two WowEffect sons will be on offer in Red Deer – both with really cool, proven dams.  ‘Wildcard’ is out of our DLD Lady Western 48R cow (making him a maternal brother to APLX Envoy) and ‘Wedge’ is out of Applecross Piper (making him a maternal brother to Applecross Pippa).  Wedge also comes Homozygous polled.  Thick made, great hair coats, and a unique balance of performance and moderate birthweights have been a hallmark of WowEffect’s progeny.

Our final bull on offer is ‘Razor’, who is a neat combination of our APLX Rambo heifer bull and some old-school Fleckvieh genetics.  Radium, Viper, Arnold’s Image, Bronson, Seldom, Antonius and King Arthur should all combine to make a highly maternal heifer bull prospect.

We want to ensure our bulls will work for many years, so feet, legs and temperament are very important traits for us.  The bulls are housed in a 5 acre paddock to ensure lots of exercise, and have been developed on a ration of free-choice quality first cut hay, combined with a forage based pellet by Country Junction.  All six bulls are quiet and used to being around people. We like working and walking through docile cattle, and feel the herd bull should be no exception.

We also think it is worth mentioning that in order to provide exclusivity to the new owners, we do not retain a semen interest in our bulls.  We think there is value maintaining exclusivity – and use the same approach when we do our own bull shopping. We want the buyer to have the advantage in every way to succeed with a new bull purchase.

The 2019 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 21th at Westerner Park