We are saddened to share the passing of my dad, Ross Small, on Thursday, April 21st. Dad and my mom (Betty) founded Dora Lee in June of 1973, with the first Simmentals arriving in the spring of 1974. Mom and Dad had a mixed farm that consisted of purebred Duroc and Landrace hogs alongside the Simmentals, but it was the cattle that were truly Dad’s passion. With the purchase of ‘the farm next door’ in December 1992, the cow herd expanded, the pigs wound down, and Dad was able to focus on his goal of building his Fleckvieh herd.
Dad was always focused on the future, and would regularly ask the question ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ He always believed that true cattle breeders focused on where they thought the breed needed to go, instead of chasing what happened to be popular at the present time. Genetic improvement is so slow in cattle, the five year window ensured that steps taken now would align with those longer term goals. Dad’s own focus for Dora Lee was on three things: He was dedicated to the idea of 100% Fleckvieh, and spent hours going back through pedigrees to ensure they all originated in Germany or Austria. He was confident that polled cattle were the future, and began incorporating the gene into his program shortly after the first polled Fleckvieh import bulls arrived in Canada in the late 1990’s. He was also a believer in ‘keeping on top of change’, and utilized DNA technology to measure for feed efficiency / RFI. He was convinced that this would be the next, long term evolution to the cattle industry, and as always wanted to be there when the time came to have already genetically selected for the future demands of the market. While the priority of Feed Efficiency may still be in the future, the sales results from this past spring would certainly suggest that his early ideas regarding polled was right on the money. Those five year plans may take more than five years, but they give focus and shape to the direction of an operation; allowing it to move forward.
Mom and Dad enjoyed the opportunity to travel for cattle, and meet new people along the way. For many years, Dad really enjoyed ‘Fleckvieh Week-end’ in Alberta – but it was always the Friday night social (prior to Fleckvieh Fest the next day) that was his favourite part of the week-end. The opportunity to visit, socialize and break bread with his fellow breeders was something not to be missed! He enjoyed his visits to the United States, Scotland, and the World Simmental Congresses in Germany, Australia and Calgary. As much as those trips revolved around cattle, it was always the people they met that made the lasting impressions. Dad enjoyed a good joke, but also really enjoyed getting to know people, especially those just starting out with Fleckvieh. Even as they stuck much closer to home over the past few years, he continued to study catalogs, making ‘his pick’ of every female sale, and always noticing when ‘Dora Lee’ would appear in a pedigree. He was quite tickled to see our high selling bull from this spring be a ‘Dora Lee’ grandson, and reminded me several times, (both before and after the sale) that it was also ‘his pick’. It only took a pedigree or a prefix to trigger a conversation on the people behind the cattle with whom he built lasting relationships.
One of the cool things about cattle is that the prefix’s in quality cattle stand the test of time. While we will miss my dad, a consistent reminder of his passion and legacy will live on in the name ‘Dora Lee’.
March 12th was another great day to hold the Red Deer County Bull Sale at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta. Unseasonably mild temperatures created beautiful travelling weather to see a great group of bulls sell. Customers had the opportunity to have a hot lunch and inspect a high quality, diverse group of bulls presented by a number of great consignors, before watching them strut their stuff in the sales ring.
In all, eight bulls ended up topping the $10,000 threshold at this years’ event which included bulls from each of the Fleckvieh, Purebred Simmental, Black Angus and Hereford divisions – truly a strong multi-breed sale! The overall high seller was a polled Fleckvieh bull from Keato Meadows – Lot 49 – that sold for 21,000 to Lakeview Simmentals of Meacham, SK. This is the second consecutive year that Jonathan & Ebony Kittlitz of Keato Meadows have brought the high seller to town. As we have worked beside their program in both the Fleckvieh Equation and Red Deer Bull Sales for quite a number of years, it is awesome to witness their continued success! Overall 68 lots sold for an average of $6,899, with the fullblood bulls averaging almost $8,500.
While our own string suffered some setbacks during semen testing, the highlight of the day for us was our Lot 42 bull – APLX Coach 37J. We think very highly of the potential of this homo-polled, herd builder, and were excited to have him sell to the deep south of the United States! ‘Coach’ was acquired for $15,000 by a partnership of Red Oak Farm / Josh & Hilarie Gardner of Greenville, Alabama and Little Creek Cattle / Jason & Nikki Gress of Starkville, Mississippi! It is always a great feeling to have your genetics selected for international use, and we look forward to seeing how ‘Coach’ performs for his new owners.
Coach wasn’t the only bull who got enjoy a lengthy truck ride, as our lot 41 bull ‘Impulse’ is New Brunswick bound after being selected by Mike Groom / Kenridge Farm, Leverville, NB. Our other two bulls both stayed close to home. John and Terry Matheson of Red Deer County selected our lot 47 bull ‘Wrigley, and Dallas Phillips acquired our Lot 40 bull in ‘Intrigue’. Dallas was a repeat buyer for us, after selecting ‘Dundee’ from us back in 2019. It is always special to see customers return for more bulls!
Once again we need to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale. The Red Deer County Bull Sale is part of an extremely busy stretch of events, and we appreciate the time and energy Jay Good and his team invest to ensure we have a successful sale. We look forward to working with them again later in the year at Fleckvieh Equation!
With both the bull sale and calving now behind us, our thoughts move directly to breeding season. While we haven’t been successful in adding a new walking bull this year, we do have a couple of new options for AI so that we can continue to diversify our offering. It is an exciting time for Applecross Cattle to continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.
We are pleased to present nine herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2022 Red Deer County Bull Sale on Saturday, March 12th at 1:00pm at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta. This is our twelfth 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.
Our 2022 offering will be our deepest and most diverse 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 continue to slowly incorporate the polled gene into our herd, as our goal is to add this genetic trait while maintaining the strong performance and mothering ability the Simmental breed is known for. In a sector that continues to operate with compressed margins, we think our bulls offer low maintenance, highly maternal characteristics that will produce both tremendous replacement females and heavy steers.
Maybe the most intriguing bull we have on offer this year is ‘Coach’. A homo-polled, dilutor free Double Bar D Confidence son, this mid-February calf is a real head turner. His dam manages to combine two of our founding cow families, that we have enjoyed the privilege of working with since the early 1990’s. The proven maternal of Antonius and King Arthur combine with the outcross of Rangemore Carrousel to create a truly unique individual that is loaded with potential. With endless ways he can be utilized, Coach is definitely worthy of consideration as a program changing breeder bull.
Rare for us, is also a pair of Anchor T Impact embryo herd sire prospects. One of the early lessons my father taught me, was that while ET could be a valuable tool, it should only be used incredibly selectively – it was his opinion that it was utilized too often to simply multiply genetics, when instead we should focus our efforts on breed improvement. We have tried to take this lesson to heart, but simply couldn’t resist a long-term goal of incorporating Anchor T Impact into our polled program. The dam, Applecross Diana is one of the young ‘stars’ of our herd, and we are confident you will hear a lot more from this moderate framed female in the future. These two Impact sons offer stacked maternal pedigrees backed by multiple generations of calving ease, all with a unique genetic twist!
The largest sire group is that of our home raised, homo-polled head turner, APLX Wedge 6F. With his first daughters now in production here, we have been very happy with his progeny to date. These five sons all showcase their sires incredible volume and shape, but are also very much defined by their dams. ‘Warner’ and “Wildcard’ were both born a little heavier, and pack a little more punch; while ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Wrigley’ both stack highly maternal Spruceburn Starfire dams to provide a little more balanced profile. Finally there is ‘Wheeler’, a true curve bender. His moderate birthweight, combines with a strong top and massive hip, this beauty of a buckskin is projected to be our ‘heavyweight’ on sale day. Together, we expect these five ‘W’s’ to create a really neat feature pen in Innisfail.
The five Wedge sons on offer are joined by Wedge’s maternal brother in ‘Duke’. We are incredibly high on Applecross Piper, but with so many relatives around it is incredibly difficult to figure out which way to breed her. For this years’ model we reached deep into our AI inventory to an old school Fleckvieh in JB Doctor Duke, to create our own ‘Duke’, and offer a little different polled twist with this classic line.
Individual pages have been created for all nine of our bulls on offer. Short-cut links are located in the right-hand column; alternatively, mobile users can also simply put the bull’s name in the search bar. On the individual pages, we have also pictured the sires, dams and often multiple generations of the genetics behind the bulls. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding cow family – and we have been working with some of these cow families since the early 1990’s! Links to the CSA database and current EPD’s have also been profiled, and we would be more than happy to provide any additional supplemental information.
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 nine 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.
The 2022 Red Deer County Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 12th at the Innisfail Auction Mart.
December 19th was another great day to wrap up 2021’s ‘Alberta Simmental Week-end’ with Transcon’s Fleckvieh Equation and Red and Black, 2 in 1 Sale Extravaganza at the Innisfail Auction Mart. Despite the onset of ‘full winter’ impacting travel earlier in the week, temperatures moderated for sale day to allow for steady traffic through the legendary Innisfail Auction Mart cattle facility. In what was the last ‘live’ Simmental sale in Alberta of 2021, astute cattlemen had the opportunity to have a hot lunch, visit with consignors, and inspect a high quality group of open and bred females, and a few herd sire prospects, before watching them pose for viewers in the sales ring.
In what is sure to become a sale tradition, consignors Skywest Farms led off the sale with Lot 103, one of several impressive Kuntz Duramax daughters that they had on offer. ‘Skywest Hope’ sold for $22,500 to Lockhart Valley Simmentals / Lee & Tina Robson of Rimbey, AB. A few lots later, the sales order turned to open heifers and. after some spirited bidding, Lot 119, BLL Lady Jane 53H ended up the top open heifer at $15,000 as Gail Gerein of Unity SK was the successful new owner. On the purebred side, the high seller was Lot 4, ‘City View Hawaii 37H’ a really impressive SVS Tycoon Daughter, who was selected by Circle 7 Simmentals of Shaunavon, Sk.
It was a really awesome day for Applecross Cattle, as we were really happy with the condition and shape our heifers were in sale day. We had a tremendous number of inquiries leading up to the sale, and were humbled by the number of compliments we received on our program. Our lead two polled heifers were selected to be the 3rd and 4th heifers in the ring, and both went to first time customers. After being selected by Mike McCart / Alliance Simmentals, for $6,400, Lot 117 ‘Applecross Liesel’ is Ontario bound. Lot 116 ‘Applecross Paris’ is staying right close to home here in Central AB, after being acquired by OH Kay Farms / the Lougheed’s of Red Deer for $5,000. And finally, a little later in the sale, Lot 114 ‘Applecross Olivia’ was selected by Jayme Hunter of Caroline, AB. and lot 115 ‘Applecross Carly’ by Justin Wagner of Leslieville, AB. It was great to see four new customers acquire Applecross genetics, and we are excited to see what our females can do for their new owners.
We were also successful in making two acquisitions during the sale. Our eyes were certainly drawn to Lot 118 ‘BLL Hocus 51H’, and with both ‘Sibelle Sugar Ray 25F’ and ‘Brinks Bullet Proof’ being outcross to our herd, we jumped at the opportunity to add this promising female to round out our open heifer group. We were also able to add Lot 105 ‘Skywest Harmony’. We have been very impressed with the Duramax progeny, and were quite interested in the Twenty X bull when he sold at Anchor D back in 2011, so it was pretty cool to add this larger framed female to our walking herd. We are always on the look out for new or different genetics that can add different dimensions to our herd, and we believe we have been able to accomplish that goal again in 2021!
Once again we need to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale. Jay Good and his team are always a quality sales management group – constantly on the phone while inspecting cattle for prospective buyers. Since interest and bids don’t always result in a purchase, you can’t always see their work – but that certainly wasn’t the case for Equation 2021. Between the onset of winter weather and the continued impact of Covid, fewer people are able to attend the sale. Having a professional, reputable sales team inspect animals and provide advice on behalf of potential bidders and buyers is simply irreplaceable .
With the heifers sale a now behind us, we are full into calving. With some new AI options and the first Black Gold Battleborn 44H calves set to arrive, it is an incredibly exciting time of year. Being a purebred cattle breeder is always a journey – and there are so many ways that we can still work to improve both our herd and sale offerings. Yes, our trend of offering more polled genetics will continue, but we certainly won’t be successful if we single-trait select – so we will continue to keep an eye on feet, thickness, udders and temperament – while also continuing to mix back in different horned genetics to continue to diversify our genetic base. We are really excited about both our open heifer group, and the yearling bulls that are only days away from being clipped up for bull sale pictures. We are truly fortunate (and very blessed) to own and operate Applecross Cattle where we can continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.
We are pleased to present four bred heifers at Transcon’s 2021 Fleckvieh Equation Sale at 1 pm on December 19th, at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta. We really enjoy the group of consignors that join together in what has become the last ‘live’ Fleckvieh sale of the year in Alberta. Every year seems to bring a few new faces, and this year we are excited to have moved ‘down the road’ a few miles to our new location in Innisfail. The last two versions of the Red Deer County Bull sale have enjoyed great success at the Innisfail Auction Mart, and we look forward to more amazing hospitality from the Daines family.
Our 2021 sale string really showcases the importance of our cow families. We have taken a slow approach to building our herd to ensure that multiple generations of cow families all walk here. This way, the maternal lines can develop, and we can watch and compare as the younger generations work alongside their matriarchs. We are very selective in adding females – typically only circling a few each fall with the goal of adding only one or two neat outcross females that have the potential to found a legacy cow family of their own, and simply make our herd better. So in that vein, it is not a surprise that all four of our bred heifers on offer trace back to three of our initial founding lines. Our ‘Christina’ (or C) cow family, our Pauline (P) cow family, and Lady Western cow family (who has founded five different lines – D’s, B’s, L’s, G’s and I’s (!!!)). Why have naming guidelines if you can’t break them occasionally!
The easiest place to start is with the youngest and last of our founding matriarchs, Dora Lee Christina 28S. We selected Christina as one of our ‘founding four’ females from Dora Lee. We knew that one of the priority cow families from my parents was RHY Zamia 40Z, so we jumped at the chance to obtain this grand-daughter. Christina is one of those seemingly rare females that can produce both top quality sons and daughters, while also moderating birth weights. She is a moderate framed, no nonsense cow, still working here as she enters her 16th year; having never taken a year off. From a progeny perspective, she is probably best known for producing APLX Santana, who put on the miles spending time walking in three different Fleckvieh herds: Wa-Na-La-Pa, Gibbons Farms and Virginia Ranch. She was also the dam of APLX Javar 18A who worked at Troy Cerny’s / Diamond T, and is the dam of high selling daughters Applecross Candice (to Sunville in 2015) and Applecross Cynthia (to Anchor D in 2017). With all the balance to her progeny, it is not that surprising that Christina shows up in the sire side of our Lot 114 heifer, Applecross Olivia, and then as the maternal grand dam to our lot 115 heifer, Applecross Carly. Both of these heifers are moderate framed, solid dark red in colour, and project to have the same versatility that Christina has provided us.
For the Pauline Cow family, let us count the P’s. Poppy, Paula, Piper, Panda, Patience, Pepper & Penelope are all slated to calve in 2022. All of them originate with one of our earliest selections, Spruceburn Pauline, who was our pick of Bill & Donna McMurtry’s heifer calf crop way back in 2009. Bill and Donna got to know my parents from a number of Fleckvieh events over the years, and being one of the original supporters of Fleckvieh cattle, it was great to have them located close by when we relocated to Alberta. Donna is legendary for her knowledge of pedigrees, and was willing to not only provide advice as we first started out, but also AI some cows for us each spring while also allowing our girls to date Spruceburn Starfire for a few years. While we still walk a couple Starfire daughters (and Starfire himself shows up in Olivia’s pedigree as he combined with Christina to produce ‘Santana’), it was the acquisition of Pauline that really stands out as carrying on the Spruceburn legacy at Applecross. Despite a relatively short career, she left us with two daughters. Applecross Poppy 1X and Applecross Paula 13Z. Both have been very prolific and popular! Poppy is an amazing looking female, and cruises around our pastures as a 2,000lb working girl. Her progeny has topped both our bull sales (APLX Wrangler) and heifer sales (Applecross Penny). Paula is one of Jeanne’s favourites (as our camera roll would attest), and as such her daughters seem to be vetoed more often than not whenever Transcon is here selecting calves. One look at our lot 116 heifer, ‘Paris,’ and you will see why we are so high on this cow family.
As much as I like to tease Jeanne about consistently vetoing progeny from the ‘P-Line’, I will readily admit to having a soft spot for ‘Lady’. DLD Lady Western 48R was one of my dad’s favourites; a direct King Arthur from SRN 2Y, one of his founding Fleckvieh lines. She was the toughest one for him to part with when he gave us full rein to select four cows to come west with us when we started Applecross Cattle. Lady Western is probably best known for being the dam of APLX Envoy 2Y that left his mark at Lone Stone Farms / Lonnie & Karen Brown, as I hoarded all of her daughters here at Applecross. Over the years, she left us five daughters to start cow families with: ‘Diva’, ‘Bella’, ‘Grace’, ‘Isobel’ and ‘Frauline’. As we already have an ‘F Cow Family’ (started by Anchor D Fergus), we promptly decided to name all of Frauline’s daughters L’s. Frauline has given us three full sisters in a row: Lyanna, Liesel and Lydia. This years model Lot 117 ‘Liesel’ is an absolutely massive, big volume homozygous polled bred heifer, that we originally planned on retaining – there is simply so much breeding potential in this heifer! She certainly carried the volume of her grandma through the generations, and will provide endless genetic possibilities for her new owner.
Individual pages (short-cut links are on the top right), have been created for each of ‘Olivia’, ‘Carly’, ‘Paris’ and ‘Liesel’. We preg-checked in mid October and the vet feels that all four are safe to their AI breeding or early exposure. The Heifers are also vaccinated with ViraShield Gold and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Scour-Guard prior to sale day. On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings. We hope to have videos of our sale heifers completed next weekend.
The 2021 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event, We look forward to a great day on December 19th in Innisfail!
Take Time to ‘Smell the Roses’
The title tonight is one of my dad’s sayings. An idiom as a reminder to take time, to do the things that we enjoy; even when our schedules may seem busy. A pause on the farm – for a few minutes – an hour – an afternoon – an evening. Just to enjoy the blessings we have been given, and to be thankful. It has been a tough six months for us at Applecross Cattle. The continuation of a world wide pandemic, combined with personal loss and some family health challenges, has had a material impact on our mental health. So practicing self-awareness, and focusing on our own communication skills, have become essential. It is also a reminder that I am very fortunate that I have a partner I travel through life with, that I can share / talk to / be with / be a source of strength and remind me (or I can remind her) that sometimes we just need a break; to take time to ‘smell those roses’.
We are very fortunate to be able to have a cattle operation. We do this by choice. And a lot of people, in a lot of professions, can’t say that. There are certainly lots of great things about having the cows, but at the same token there is simply no escape from them. As one of our great friends mentioned when we were visiting the other day ‘the best part of the place is the cows / but it is also the worst part’. Cows demand attention; and more often then not, when it isn’t convenient! If the bull calves decide to push through a fence and get on the highway in the dark one night, or the resident senior herd bull decides that 2am is a great time for exploring the flowerbeds, neither situation is something that can be deferred to more accommodating daylight or even business hours between 9-5 in order to be resolved. Nothing impacts a Saturday night ‘date night’ cow-tour like noticing an animal with a limp, or simply looking ‘off’. Having cattle reinforces the suggestion that while for many days of the year they can exist perfectly healthy (in the pasture they are supposed to be in), that we are still on call 24-7-365. So a pause, spontaneous or planned, can remind us of all the great reasons we do choose to spend our life in the purebred cattle business. Outside, with nature, watching our cattle turn grass into milk and meat.
This year both of us have tended to operate with a higher level of emotion, so we have made a conscious effort to take these breaks to remind ourselves why we do what we do. A pause on a hilltop to watch the cattle work their way through a new pasture. A Saturday night gator ride that stops for no reason, other than to watch the cattle grazing, backdropped by a glorious sunset. A pause to reflect, a reminder that we are fortunate enough to do what we do, and that billions of people in our world have life so much worse. We are fortunate in so many ways. We need to take time to reflect, give thanks, and enjoy the moment while blessed to have each others company. And as the world turns back toward “normal”, time with family and great friends also returns to become moments that are cherished. Cherished because of what was missed; but also cherished because there is that sense of sharing; of openness and the awareness that everyone has their own demons. Together we can give each other strength – while also (often) enjoying some great cattle to boot!
When life becomes more challenging, it is often the deep rooted pillars that have always anchored our lives that move towards the fore. For us growing up, Sunday was always a time for our faith, and a pause (as much as possible) from ‘farm work’ so that we would have time for reflection, restoration, and rejuvenation. I was also blessed to grow up in a house of music. My mom sung in the barn during chores (and sometimes – if it wasn’t stupid early in the day – we would even join in!). My dad would play the same ‘Sunday Songs’ before church every week. And with two siblings that played the piano (one of whom is a now church pianist), music was never far. So between scripture and song, they continue to be inspirations that keep us grounded, sane and settled. A couple readily come to mind: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) and also ‘Trust I seek, and I find in you. Every day for us something new’ (Metallica). Reminders that while still planning for the future, try to stay in the “today” without worrying unnecessarily about things that might not even happen tomorrow. And also that we are fortunate the have someone to share our burdens with; hand in hand as we journey through life.
For Applecross Cattle itself, the farm has done very well for us this year. Despite widespread drought across Western Canada, some timely rains in June and again in late August allowed us to stretch our pastures a lot longer than anticipated. The cattle have moved closer to home and were put on feed 2 weeks earlier than usual, so we count our blessings that we have been so fortunate. As we were short grass, we did pivot and double the usual number of cull cows that went to town after weaning. The entire cow herd is mapped for performance of their progeny, with a simple test of whether their offspring was retained into our herd, became one of our sale animals or were culled. The combination of lack of performance, some flaws (I really like to clean up udders and feet), alongside some older cows that simply aged out of our program, meant quite a number went to town. It is always a sad day to see some trusted mainstays leave the yard, but at the same token having the opportunity to clean up the bottom 20% of the herd should never be passed up. The bonus is that I am much happier touring the cow herd!
We enjoyed a balanced calf crop and were able to continue our progression with polled genetics. I have said this fairly frequently over the past 5 years, but we are blessed with the strongest set of open heifers we have ever raised – there are some really neat, different genetics in the pen – and some of our more impressive matron cows (finally) gave us daughters. We also retained more bulls in our development paddock than we have ever had in the past, and have selected four bred heifers to present at Equation 2021. We won’t spoil the details, but between our walking bulls, some AI, and (rare for us) embryo calves, we are pretty excited for the potential of our 2021 calf crop.
In closing, this blog post may be a bit of a departure from our usual musings. Everyone has days they struggle with internal demons. And in Agriculture, I think there has always been a stigma to acknowledging them; confusing a public persona of ‘toughness’ and resiliency with experiences and challenges that every person faces. Mental health is just too important, so we decided to share a small snapshot of our journey. We are so fortunate to be able to live our dream of Applecross Cattle, while having each other to rely on when times are a challenge. So on Sunday night, we pause. To reflect, and to just ‘smell those roses’. We are so grateful. For friends. Family. Scripture. Song. Partnerships. And (of course), plenty of time to talk cattle.
Until next time,
Our 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale Report
March 13th was another great edition of the Red Deer County Bull Sale at the Innisfail Auction Mart, in Innisfail, Alberta. It was a gorgeous spring day, with unseasonably mild temperatures in Central Alberta which, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the current pandemic, led to a robust crowd enjoying comfortable weather to inspect bulls in their large outside pens. Customers had the opportunity to have a hot lunch and preview a diverse group of bulls presented by a number of great consignors, before watching them strut their stuff in the sales ring.
The three lead bulls in the ring were all from the Keato Meadows program / Jonathan and Ebony Kittlitz of Ft. Sask. Despite being regular consignors at this sale for more than a decade, this was their first time being selected to lead the sale! Their headliner status did not disappoint, as their lot 34 bull ‘Keato Pld Ben Hur 951G’, both led off the sale and ended the day as the overall high seller, for $18,500 to Lakeview Simmentals at Meacham, Sk. One of the cool features of the Red Deer Bull Sale is that, over the years, numerous breeders have been given the spotlight in the lead-off spot, so it was great to see Jonathan and Ebony’s program showcased and recognized with the high selling bull!
Over the past few years, the Red Deer bull sale has evolved from one devoted exclusively to Simmentals, to one now involving both Angus and Herefords. It has been great to meet and get to know these up and coming breeders, who also bring different perspectives and a whole lot of enthusiasm to the sale. In this regard, we would specifically like to recognize the Bricker’s from Chestermere Stock Farm – their Hereford string was very impressive, averaging a very strong $8,228 across their nine lots.
In all, nine bulls ended up topping the $10,000 threshold at this years’ event, with the high-sellers split fairly evenly across all breeds, including both fullblood and purebred Simmentals. Overall, 62 lots sold for an average of $6,630.
The highlight of the day for Applecross Cattle was the selection of two lots by Arthur Smith of Smith Simmental Ranch from Ft. Sask. Arthur has been a long time supporter of the Lone Stone Farms Simmental program at Westlock, where he had acquired several ‘APLX Envoy’ daughters over the years. This year they turned their attention to our curve-bending lead bull, APLX Daytona 55G, who they acquired for $11,250. Later on in the afternoon, they were also successful in acquiring our heifer bull candidate, APLX Cairo 14H, for $6,500. We hope these two youngsters perform just as well for their program as their ‘Envoy’ daughters have.
It was also great to see the return of two of our previous clients. Frank Deur of Crossfield selected ‘Diego’ at last years’ Red Deer Bull Sale, so it was awesome to connect and have him select our homo-polled youngster, APLX Watson 29H. We were also super excited to see Linda Bingeman / Conestoga Farms successful in acquiring APLX Dalton 50G. Linda had been to Red Deer in 2013 to select ‘Ajax’ from our program, so it was nice to see her back looking for another APLX bull. Repeat buyers are the foundation of any successful bull sale!
APLX Denzel 9H is Ontario bound, after being selected by Brian and Lynn Vail, of Clarksburg. Vailview Farms have been long time customers of my parents operation (Dora Lee Genetics), so with Dora Lee winding down, it is pretty cool to see the Vail’s decide to connect with the Alberta based Smalls! It is not a surprise that Denzel goes back to one of our founding Dora Lee females, DLD Lady Western 48R.
Our final bull, APLX Dillon 57G, stayed right here in Red Deer County, after he was selected by Ryan Layden of Layden Farms, just east of Innisfail. It is always neat to send bulls long distances, but having our prefix on bulls in the ‘neighbourhood’, is also a great experience.
Overall it was a tremendous day for Applecross Cattle at auction. Our 6 bulls all found great homes, and it was fun to meet new people and visit with old friends on a gorgeous afternoon in Innisfail!
Once again we need to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale. Jay Good and his team are always a quality, sales management group – constantly on the phone while inspecting cattle for prospective buyers. Bull sale season is a tough gig – there is a different sale every 48 hours, across three provinces, so it can be easy to lose focus – but we always admire their professional approach. We look forward to working with them again later in the year to market our females at Fleckvieh Equation!
We also want to give a big shout out to the Innisfail Auction Mart. It is simply a great venue for marketing bulls. The Daines and their team are awesome hosts, provide first class service, and are great people that showcase a strong desire to host successful agricultural events. We are super supportive of the sales’ decision to relocate to Innisfail!
With both the bull sale and calving now behind us, our thoughts move directly to breeding season. We have a couple of (new to us) high profile options for AI and a brand new walking bull to test out. It is an exciting time for Applecross Cattle to continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.
Until next time,
We are pleased to present seven herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale on Saturday, March 13th at 1:00pm at the Innisfail Auction Mart, Innisfail, Alberta. This is our eleventh 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.
Our 2021 offering continues to showcase our philosophy of highlighting the maternal strengths of the Fleckvieh Simmental breed. 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. In a market that suggests continued strong demand for beef, we think our bulls on offer all provide the maternal characteristics that will produce tremendous replacement females.
At the top of the pen is the third set of sons to be offered from NUG Delmonte 81D, who has clearly left his stamp on our herd. Dark red, smooth polled, non-diluting, amazing gain to feed efficiency ratio, and a quiet temperament are the adjectives that immediately come to mind when we think ‘Delmonte’. Loaded with hair and heavily pigmented, plenty of power yet moderate birth weights are common across the group of ‘Dalton’, ‘Dillon’, ‘Daytona’ and ‘Denzel’. These four Delmonte sons all bend the curve, with very intriguing EPD profiles, that balance calving and maternal strength with strong performance numbers.
We have tried something a little different this year, by bringing a couple of calving ease bulls to town. It has always been a struggle for us to evaluate sons from first calf heifers, as they typically just don’t have the performance to stand up to our strict bull pen selection criteria. This year we have two bulls that made the grade, ‘Gideon’ and ‘Cairo’, who both present as intriguing options for the heifer pen. Joining these two bulls in our ‘junior division’, is ‘Watson’, who is a unique youngster with potential, having only a February 20th, birthday.
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 of the 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.
Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right), have been created for each of the bulls. (For those reading this on phones, the bulls name or lot number can also be entered into the search bar, to locate their individual page). On each of the pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings – hopefully, sharing pictures will provide a better glimpse into the extended pedigree. It is also not unusual for us to have walked 4 or 5 generations of each respective cow family. As 2021 has been an eventful spring, we also plan to have videos of each of our sale bulls the next couple days. Please check our Applecross Cattle Facebook page for up to date info on our sales offering.
Transcon’s 2021 Red Deer County Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 13th at the Innisfail Auction Mart!
A gorgeous late December day, with mild temperatures and sunny skies, created ideal weather for Transcon’s 2020 Fleckvieh Equation Sale on Sunday, December 20th, at the Westerner Grounds in Red Deer, Alberta. Despite all of the uncertainty due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, a respectable (socially distanced) crowd was on hand, supported by busy phones and robust internet bidding. As usual, Equation was held in conjunction with Transcon’s Red & Black Event, to create ‘Super Sunday’ with 80 total lots on offer.
We were incredibly honoured to have our lot 115 Applecross Cabernet 14G heifer selected to lead off the sale. Cabernet had turned a lot of heads all week-end. Her dark red colour combined with tremendous depth of body and a stacked Virginia-backed cow family, generated a lot of excitement. When the gavel fell, it was RichMc Simmentals / Jason Mclean & Mylia Richards who had successfully acquired Cabernet for $15,750. This is the second Applecross female for RichMc, who also acquired Applecross Blossom 11E back at Equation 2018. Blossom has produced back to back sets of twin heifers for RichMc, so while we do wish them as much success with Cabernet, it will be a substantial challenge for her to be as prolific!
The Skywest string of bred heifers never disappoints, and it was lot 101 Skywest Freedom that led off their 2020 offering. Freedom was the heaviest, largest volume heifer in the barn, so it was no surprise that some very spirited bidding led to her being the overall high selling bred heifer at $25,000. I admit to having my eye on her, so it is convenient that she is headed to Beechinor Bros at Bentley, where I will hopefully have the privilege of watching progeny sell though either their on-farm bull sale or their annual Western Harvest female consignments. John Beechinor continues to re-invest heavily in top notch genetics, so it will be pretty neat to see how Skywest Freedom fits into the Beechinor Bros program.
While the Fleckvieh bred heifers created tremendous excitement, it was an open heifer that really stole the show. Lot 117, BLL Cece 952G was a stone cold stunner that combined feminine neck extension with tremendous length of body, a strong top and plenty of hip. There was a rousing duel to take her home which, despite the moderate crowd, created a palpable stir in the building. Century Simmentals / Jesse Pukalo will be taking ‘Cece’ to Spruce Grove, after making a $35,000 investment! Wow! Our excitement was only augmented as Cece’s sire, Double Bar D Confidence 179D, now walks the pastures here at Applecross! We were successful in acquiring Confidence from Beechinor Land & Livestock / Stefon & Becca Beechinor just prior to the 2020 breeding season. While we don’t have near the maternal depth that Stefon has assembled, the recent success of Confidence’s progeny only serves to create another level of anticipation. We expect his first APLX calves in just a couple of weeks!
In addition to our lead heifer, our three other Applecross Females all found great new homes. Lot 113, Applecross Lyannna 26G ($9,000), has made her way north to Lone Stone Farms / Lonnie & Karen, Nathan & Alisha Brown. Nathan stopped in for a tour just over a month ago, so while we visited, we also took the opportunity to get his thoughts on his own heifers (more on that in a bit). Our lot 112, Applecross Paprika ($6,500), and lot 114, Applecross Tanis ($9,000), joined Cabernet on a truck to Manitoba, after both were selected by the renowned Bonchuk Farms program. All of the heifers are now in their new homes, and we look forward to hearing how they calve out for their new owners. We thought our four heifers on offer all fit together nicely as a set, and were pleased with how they fit into the broader bred heifer group on consignment at Equation 2020.
The Fleckvieh Equation portion of Super Sunday averaged a robust $9,169 on 26 lots.
In addition to the above noted high-sellers, I wanted to share some additional thoughts on the 2020 Edition of Fleckvieh Equation:
- The current Covid 19 pandemic certainly impacted Equation 2020. From a good news perspective, the Westerner ensured we had plenty of space; the large pens and numerous alleys allowed for natural distancing between consignors. The downside was that distancing and limiting social interaction is the opposite of why we enjoy cattle sales! The ability to visit, meet new people and talk cattle is one of our favourite parts of the week-end, and it was unfortunate (but understandable) that such activities were reduced.
- In that vein, it was great to see the Red & Black portion of Transcon’s Super Sunday have a number of new consignors. From a breed perspective, it is important to see new people have an interest in purebred cattle and join sales – it was just not as natural a year to strike up new conversations, when distancing and masks combine with a couple of introverts from Applecross!
- Covid also put a fair bit of a damper on the new National Trust Format. We thought the split format with a portion live / portion internet only worked really well. The live portion was over within a couple of hours, which allowed us to adjourn to the barn with plenty of time for some (socially responsible) visiting. The Saturday night has always been one of my favourites, so despite the limited number of people in attendance, we thought the shorter format worked really well – we look forward to a ‘more normal’ 2021 version!
- National Trust wasn’t all just social, as we are able to acquire some frozen genetics in units of both Black Gold Elevation and Virginia Spartan. One of the advantages of being located in Central Alberta is the ability to readily evaluate progeny from the premier breeders in the area. For complementary reasons, we thought both Elevation and Spartan would add intriguing dimensions to the Applecross herd. It is also an advantage for our ‘small’ operation that opportunities like National Trust and the similar New Year’s Resolution Sales exist. We can tap into fairly exclusive AI sires, in manageable increments, in order to add elite options to our herd. We may not be able to ‘compete’ on purchasing a top herd bull outright, but the opportunity to acquire a semen pack is certainly very tempting!
- We were also successful in adding lot 110 in Keet’s Princess Grace 15G during Equation. We have long admired Brett & Naomi Keet’s work in developing polled genetics, so we were pretty excited to add this moderate framed, homo-polled BEE Vortex daughter to our walking herd.
- We also stepped out on a limb (for us), and acquired Lone Stone Miss Haley sight unseen in late November. As mentioned earlier, we quizzed Nathan Brown on his ‘Cashmere’ heifer calves when he visited us this fall, and reached out to Cody Haney of Transcon to also inspect the heifer prior to the sale. Cody knows our program, and has evaluated both our bull and bred heifer offerings over the past number of years, so we trusted his judgment as to whether Haley would fit in here. He thought she would, and she sure does!
- As people who follow our operation are aware, we are moving to gradually take the horns off of our cow herd. While this goal hasn’t changed, 2020 was a bit of a switch for us. In the past couple years we have typically sourced horned females while adding polled genetics on the sire side. This year, more by accident than design, we ended up adding polled females and horned genetics on the sire side. We still find the polled gene pool very narrow (specifically within our own cows), and feel it is important to incorporate our picks from the best horned genetics in order to continue to diversify and improve the quality of our walking herd.
- In reviewing prices of the sale, it was also apparent that open heifers had themselves a day, out averaging the Fleckvieh breds by $164. While there were a couple high-selling outliers that boosted the numbers of each group, open heifers more than held their own and, when adjusted for a year less in development and breeding costs, were probably more profitable for their consigners. In addition to Beechinor Land & Livestock high seller noted above, the Langer Fleckvieh and Keato Meadows open heifers were very well received. I think part of the reason is the late sale date, with breds often being heavy in calf, and substantial risk in any sort of lengthy transport vs. moving an open heifer. Open heifers also fit into more programs as breeding dates can be aligned to match the buyers program. The downside is that breds tend to show up to sale day looking a lot closer to the cow they will become, while Opens still have a fair bit of developing to do – while also potentially being in that awkward teenager phase that can change appearance substantially within just a couple weeks. As our own numbers continue to increase, we will need to look at the option of including Open heifers in our sales string. We simply need to ensure we pay attention to what the market and our customers are telling us.
- We would also like to give an extra shout out to our sales facility, the Westerner Grounds in Red Deer. The Westerner has really struggled over the past year as virtually all of their events have been cancelled. It was great to see their increased willingness to work with the Agricultural community to safely host Super Sunday 2020. Over the past number of years, it has felt like the Westerner had treated AG events as more a nuisance than a source of revenue, so 2020 was a refreshing change. A number of these facilities were originally built with the intent of hosting AG functions as their primary purpose, so keeping Agriculture top of mind as an avenue to improve revenues going forward should be a priority. Nothing beats a late December sale than a quality indoor facility that accommodates lots of socializing while inspecting cattle!
Our final comment is 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. Jay, Darren, Glen and Cody spent the weekend inspecting the cattle while consistently talking on their phones, making evaluations for prospective buyers. I am sure that the shift to digital and an increasing number of (very successful) online, timed auctions may be creating some angst regarding the future of in-person sales. At the same token though, there is nothing better than being able to physically inspect a purchase. And second best, is being able to have someone you trust inspect them on your behalf. And that is where our sales management team has a potential niche that simply can’t be replicated by technology. Our own experience from the Lone Stone sale this fall that we outlined above is the perfect example! Sales Management may need to pivot a bit – but there will always be a need for trusted independent experts who know cattle and understand the needs of their clientele.
Overall, despite the uncertainty heading in to Equation 2020, tt was another great day to present Applecross Cattle at auction. We are honoured by the compliments we received on our cattle from all of our fellow consignors, the sales staff, bidders and buyers that took interest in our program. Our calving season is underway, and we are set to start clipping bulls for Red Deer County 2021 this week-end. As we pause to celebrate the New Year, it creates a natural opportunity to reflect on the past, while equally anticipating an exciting future – in furthering our goal of producing high-quality genetics to share with the cattle industry.
Until next time,
We are pleased to present four bred heifers at Transcon’s 2020 Fleckvieh Equation Sale on December 20th, 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.
This year we are showcasing progeny from four of our young cows that each have lots of potential. In addition to the bred heifers selected for Equation 2020, all four dams weaned off big calves again this year that have subsequently been retained for further development in either the bull or open heifer groups. Three of the dams are FGAF WowEffect daughters, a bull who has not only left a legacy here, but whose progeny has also impressed in the sales ring. The fourth dam is an intriguing Banker daughter, who was our selection from the Virginia Ranch program at Western Harvest 2018.
It is Virginia Ms Chardonnay’s first daughter who will lead our 2020 string to Red Deer. ‘Cabernet’, is a dark red, heavily pigmented, head turner that already carries massive volume. There does not appear to be many Kuntz Gudas daughters on offer this fall, so ‘Cabernet’ will represent a unique combination of Seldom, SouthSeven Mr Adonis, Jeremiah and Laredo spread across the four quarters of her pedigree. And she sure has the looks to balance her depth of pedigree!
‘Tanis’ and ‘Lyanna’ are three-quarter sisters that combine WowEffect with NUG Delmonte, and represent two of our proven cow families. ‘Tanis’ traces back to our foundation HEMR Tasha 8T, who sired a sale topper in APLX Axel 5Z, while also giving us daughters that have built an extensive cow family here. ‘Lyanna’ is the granddaughter of one of our ‘founding four’ females in DLD Lady Western 48R – of whom we have 5 daughters working here. ‘Tanis’ (cherry red) and ‘Lyanna’ (brown), each follow their dams colouring, but have their sire’s heavy pigmentation and non-dilutor status. As is evident, we are really happy with the WowEffect-Delmonte cross, and that combination will be featured heavily in our Red Deer 2021 Bull Sale Offering.
The final heifer on offer this year is Paprika. Our P-Line, that was founded with our original purchase of Spruceburn Pauline back in 2009, has been very popular over the years. This is somewhat surprising as Jeanne consistently uses her veto on a ‘P’! Now that we have six ‘P females’ in production (Poppy, Paula, Piper, Pepper, Panda, Patience), a seventh vetoed (Penelope) to be added in 2022, and APLX Wedge (a P son) as our junior herdbull, she will continue to have trouble vetoing them all! ‘Paprika’ will also be one of the final Dora Eclipse daughters to sell, as his semen is now very scarce. We have successfully utilized Eclipse on heifers for the past 12 years, and have been impressed not only with his calving, but also in the daughters he has provided. Paprika is a great example of the broody females he has produced for us over the years.
Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right, names can be entered in the search bar on phones), have been created for each of ‘Paprika’, ‘Lyanna’, ‘Tanis’ and ‘Cabernet’. On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings – hopefully, sharing pictures will provide a better glimpse into the extended pedigree. As 2020 has been an eventful year, we also plan to have videos of each of our sale heifers over the next couple weeks. Please check our Applecross Cattle Facebook page for up to date info on our sales offering.
All four heifers are AI only, and were pregnancy checked in mid-October. The Heifers are vaccinated with ViraShield and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Dectomax and given Scourguard prior to sale day.
The 2020 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on December 20th at Westerner Park.
After I turned 16 and obtained my driver’s license, I received an unexpected gift. No, not a new vehicle – like most farm kids, I would now get to borrow the ‘farm truck’. Assuming, of course, that my chores were done, and that my grades and behavior still allowed me vehicle privileges, I could take the truck and head out for a Saturday night with friends. The gift itself was simply a twenty-dollar bill for my wallet. I was told to tuck that $20 away; not spend it, but save it in case of an emergency. I could get stuck on the side of the road or maybe even require emergency fuel. But even if I did need to use it; the $20 should be replaced so that it would be there for next time.
It was a different era 30 years ago – ATM machines and bank cards were just starting to show up in rural areas and $20 went a lot further. There were no cell phones, so the possibility of becoming stranded was a reality. Just think of the panic that sets in today whenever someone realizes they have left just their phone at home!
But with that gift of $20, and at that early age, the practical value of having an ‘Emergency Fund’ was born.
As I grew through my late teens and moved off to university, the concept of an emergency fund only gained importance. Student Loans were arranged at the start of the school year, so then I was responsible for budgeting and managing my own cash flow throughout the year. Like most students, it was easy to get ‘sidetracked,’ not worrying about running out of money later in the year, and splurge on fun things like a killer new stereo for my dorm room. (Editor’s note – some of us did budget VERY carefully because we did worry we wouldn’t have enough to make it through the year.) My second year brought my own vehicle to also budget for – but also a ride to go on dates with my cute new girlfriend! (26 years later, she’s still pretty hot!). As I evolved through the different stages of life most kids go through, my need for an emergency fund increased from simply a $20 in my wallet, to include the unexpected costs of vehicle repairs and maintenance, while also trying to manage school costs.
I have been very fortunate to always be aware that my parents were there to help, and that home at Dora Lee was always a haven of quiet and comfort (something we have tried to emulate here at Applecross). Like most college kids, coming home on the weekend for a visit and meals (and laundry! and farm fuel!!) was always a pleasure – and an escape from the responsibility of being an ‘adult’, if only for a day or two. And it was comforting to know that if I had a financial emergency, my parents would always be there to help. So they did help – and always ensured that ‘us kids’ knew that they could help if we needed it. But at the same time, while it was amazing to know that my parents were always there to assist, I knew it was incredibly important to me to build my own emergency fund. Maybe this goal was a product of my own independent streak, or the (sometimes) uncomfortable questions that I needed to answer about my current situation. But in any event, despite knowing that they were in a position to provide support, it simply reinforced the need for having my own contingency plan.
There is an old adage about lending money to friends (or family): be prepared to lose either one or both. Money issues are the number one cause of family relationship stress, and a leading cause of divorce. Parents, kids and siblings can all argue over different interpretations of a ‘helping hand’. What was the intent: is it a gift? a loan? Did a sibling get treated better? What is fair? What is equal? From a friend perspective, if a loan doesn’t ‘work out’; the situation gets awkward in a hurry…for the lender, if the loan isn’t repaid as expected, it is something that always gets remembered. For the borrower, constantly knowing that you haven’t been able to repay the loan from a friend is also an issue. This awkwardness often leads to the loss of friendships. While family ties are not something that will break as quickly as a friendship, there are certainly plenty of family situations where members may not talk to each other for years. It can be a tremendous asset to know that friends and family are there for financial support if needed, but it always seemed uncomfortable to rely on them as a backup plan. Developing our own, independent solution seemed to be a better option.
Debt is another tool that people often rely on for emergency funds. The majority of farmers have an operating loan of some sort, and personal credit lines / VISA cards can also provide emergency access to capital. The challenge with debt though, isn’t only that it has to be paid back; it also may not be available when times become challenging. The first thing a lender looks at when it comes to increasing credit facilities is a client’s ability to repay the loan. If there is an ‘emergency’ and little to no income being earned, then how does the loan get repaid? This was the case for a lot of people in Alberta who have experienced job interruptions during the current downturn in the oil & gas sector…going to the bank after a job loss and trying to qualify for additional credit, without income to support, is going to be a challenge. And that is the banking conundrum. Banks are investors in your life or in your farm – and they make that investment as long as they are comfortable they can get repaid as agreed for an acceptable return. There is some truth to the statement that it is easy to borrow money when you don’t need it – and tough to borrow it when you do. Reality is a more complex matter, as any lender who understands agriculture is aware of the cyclical nature of farming, and that there may not be profit earned every year. So banks (and bankers) certainly make a reputation on whether they support their farm clients during ‘good times and bad’. But regardless of the trust you may have with your advisor or financial institution, debt may not be the most reliable source of funding in an emergency – especially when it may be needed in a hurry!
There are other challenges with debt, or having someone else as an investor in your life or farm. Usually as a condition of their investment, they negotiate terms. It could include interest rate, collateral, credit limits and a schedule on repayment. There may also be other terms and conditions that need to be followed, such as providing annual financial information in a certain format, or achieving specific results. If the terms of the agreement aren’t followed, then the loans (and limits) can be reduced or due in full. Or, potentially even cancelled outright if they aren’t being utilized.
This last situation happened to Jeanne and I when we were first married. Having just graduated from university, Jeanne was excited to get accepted into teachers’ college. I had just started as a banker, and we both had our fair share of student loans (we joked that there was no use having a pre-nup as we had a negative net worth when we got married!), so while Jeanne was going to school, we knew cash flow would be in short supply. I wasn’t worried, as I had a credit line from my time as a student that we had been able to pay down to zero, and I figured that if we got tight, that we could just tap into that. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that because it was a student loan, and I was no longer a student, since my loan had a NIL balance, it had been closed. So several months later, when we went to use it, we had a bit of a surprise! We were welcome to apply again for a ‘regular’ credit line (that we might have access to ‘in a week or so’), but not having ready access to our ‘emergency credit line’ did create some short term panic. It certainly was an early life lesson, when the banker didn’t even know the terms and conditions of his own loan!
So again, as a person with an independent streak, it seems only prudent to have at least some of our own resources available to provide some flexibility in the case of emergencies. Agriculture is big-business though – so I don’t know how realistic it is to tuck away a huge amount in an emergency fund – but at least having some money put aside does provide some time and space until more fundamental changes can be made.
The question becomes: How much money should be in an emergency fund? The general rule of thumb is 3 months worth of expenses – which can be different than 3 months of income! In our case, as we both have off-farm pay-cheques, having a 3 month buffer suggests that we could both be unemployed for 3 months or, more realistically, one of us could become unemployed for 6 months, and we would still have sufficient funds put away that we would have some flexibility to make alternative plans.
Sounds easy, but what about farmers who can have such variable income streams throughout the year? I still think 3 months (or 25% of annual cash expenses) would be a good number – the challenge, of course, is remembering that an ‘emergency’ fund should be treated significantly differently than day-to-day cash flow management. Emergency funds are just that – to be used in the case of an emergency, such as a crop failure or drought, that puts an ‘extra-ordinary’ stress on cash flow. Agriculture can be so variable and cash flow depends on both weather and markets – both of which are outside of farmers’ control. It can be easy to confuse market cycles with ‘extraordinary events’, and get tempted to dig into that emergency fund. (We have a saying in banking: if ‘extraordinary events’ happen every year, then they really aren’t that extraordinary!) While an Emergency Fund is supposed to provide time and space, it also starts a clock ticking. Once funds start getting utilized, it does add pressure as to what happens when the emergency fund runs dry. But the alternative option, of not having reserves at all, can create substantially more stress, and lead to knee-jerk reactions that may not have been the preferred approach if a little more time and space was available.
The other big question is how to establish an emergency fund. I am a firm believer of the pay yourself first concept. By taking a small amount (10%) of money off each pay-cheque as soon as it hits the bank account, saving can be relatively painless. My understanding of this methodology dates back to an early read of ‘The Wealthy Barber’ in my late teens – it was a bit of a slog at that age, but it certainly helped shape my habits. And since it was a gift from my favourite uncle (thanks Uncle Jim!), it actually got read! Being surrounded (and influenced) by people who have good financial habits is a huge help – especially as habits can be started so young! The concept I recall is partly based on an understanding of human nature. If there is money in a bank account, (or room on an operating line), it provides a sense of comfort – and that comfort often means that money simply gets spent on ‘stuff’. By paying yourself first and transferring funds right off the top to a separate savings account, the primary chequing account may stay a little ‘tighter’ than what would be preferred (which does help with spending habits), and the savings account will grow over time. This same concept can be utilized by farmers. By taking a small percentage of sale proceeds (the grain cheque / cheque from the auction mart) and transferring it directly to a savings account, an ‘emergency’ fund can slowly be built. As my dad would say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ – so an emergency fund is something that can be built gradually over time.
One other point to make on an emergency fund is making sure the funds are available when you need them. Financial Institutions typically pay very poor interest rates on savings accounts, but regardless, this is typically where your emergency fund should be located. There are (slightly higher paying) options like ‘e-savings’ that may require electronic transfers, that are also great options. However, I would hesitate to lock an emergency fund into a GIC or other fixed term investment just to generate a little more return – in case it was ‘locked in’ right when you needed it. Emergency funds are just that – for use in an emergency – you never know when you may need it, so keeping that deposit ‘liquid’ so it can be accessed is more important than a little more interest.
A contingency fund provides time and space. As readers of this blog would be familiar with, ‘time, space (and communication)’ is my favourite problem solver. Whenever there is a shock to the system/operation, having emergency reserves allows for adequate time to allow the best decisions to be made. This is something the recent COVID outbreak really brought home. As a banker (and consumer), I was astounded by how many people and businesses needed payment relief within 2 weeks of the outbreak shutting down our economy. And to be clear, the financial impact of COVID has been devastating. Fortunately, the agricultural community has (so far) been spared from the worst of the impact. But it does say something about our society, when a significant portion of the population is running that close to their financial edge. Farmers are rather used to the concept of disaster striking – so having reserves that provide some time and space, so the best plan to move forward can be determined, just seems like prudent planning.
At the risk of diving into political theory, self reliance is a powerful concept! It is so important to know your own family/farm financial position, and then take responsibility for managing it! Understand that those marketing jingles that include any sort of idea that you ‘owe’ it to yourself (or your family) to purchase whatever trendy item or experience that is being marketed can safely be ignored. We don’t ‘owe’ ourselves anything – except taking responsibility for our own financial position, and making sure that we know exactly where our money is being spent. ‘Don’t pay a cent events’ on furniture / electronics, a new vehicle, well-deserved (!) vacations, the latest phone, and dining out are all luxuries. And in farmer speak, luxuries are luxuries whether they are tax-deductable or not – farmers sometimes focus so much on NOT paying income taxes, that the ability to ‘write things off’, doesn’t necessarily make a discretionary financial decision a good one. Yes, farmers work hard – and this is a unique industry with extraordinary challenges. And I would suggest that it is equally important to ‘live a little’ and not be solely guided by a profit and loss statement. But, the point is, we should all know our financial position BEFORE proceeding with discretionary purchases, so we understand the consequences to our bigger financial picture.
The last point (I promise,) that I’d like to make on the concept of emergency funds, is the importance of being on the same page as your significant other. I am extremely blessed to have met Jeanne early in life (editor’s note: correct). And even more fortunate that she is more frugal than I am. Everyone has a unique upbringing and, as mentioned earlier, habits start young. So being aligned in the household on the importance of saving (and having an emergency fund), was something we discussed in our pre-marriage counselling, and a topic we have certainly had to revisit over the years. It takes discipline to be financially prudent – and we have certainly been tested along the way. And frankly, purebred cattle is a crazy industry when you think about the logic behind spending (tens of) thousands of dollars on ‘genetic potential’. Finding the right partner, and having an open, honest and collaborative conversation on finances is just such a huge advantage when it comes to managing the bumps on life’s journey.
So, my long, rambling message is actually pretty simple. As tough as it may be to begin, set aside some money. Start small, but make it a regular habit. If you need to dip into the emergency fund, make a plan for replacing it (note to self: not exactly an emergency to ‘buy just one more heifer’). Sacrifice a little discretionary spending today, for a little extra cushion in case things don’t go as expected. Have a candid conversation with your spouse/significant other about money (and where it goes) in both your household and farm operation. Give yourself some time to manage the curves that life throws at you. And balance the needs of today, with the promise of (an uncertain) tomorrow.
Until next time,
March 26th was a bit of a surreal day to hold the Red Deer Bull Sale at its emergency location of the Innisfail Auction Mart, in Innisfail, Alberta. It was a gorgeous, late winter, sunny day, but it was with mixed emotions that only a handful of people were on hand to see a great group of bulls sell. The social distancing measures required for everyone’s safety meant only a trickle of bull buyers toured through the bulls over the three days prior to the sale. Thanks to digital technology, a great facility, and a hard working sales team, despite a lot of trepidation, the sale turned out to be a tremendous success.
The first bulls through the ring were from our good friends at Skywest Simmentals, who presented two contrasting sire groups in ‘Duramax’ and ‘Spartan’. With ‘Spartan’ being an ‘APLX Santana’ son, we have always kept an eye on his highly appealing calving-ease progeny, but once again it was the ‘Duramax’ string that pushed the scale down and started the sale with a bang. It was lot 19 – Skywest Gridiron, a 1615 lb behemoth that measured 44.5cm, who led off the day, and ended up as the high seller, after being selected by Leewood Ranch for $11,500. Overall, 61 lots sold for an aveage of $5,810.
The highlight of the day for Applecross Cattle was the return of one of our commercial clients, JNJ Simmentals, Jim and Janet Woynorowski of Westlock. Jim & Janet selected APLX Dakota at the 2019 Red Deer Bull Sale, so it was pretty special to watch them pick up two more bulls from us this year in Lot 41, APLX Durango, and Lot 43, APLX Mayhem. The Woynorowski’s are also home to APLX Rambo and APLX Clancy, so it is pretty neat to have 5 bulls carrying our prefix all working at one operation.
Our other four bulls all found great homes as well. Garnet Marshall was in to tour the bulls on Tuesday, and was the successful bidder on Lot 38: APLX Dodger, while Frank Deur drove up from Crossfield to select the calving ease of Lot 42 in APLX Diego. Both APLX Dynamo and APLX Delgado were selected by online buyers in Gerry Smith and Ashley Perepelkin respectively, both of whom are located not that far from Applecross Cattle! All in all, despite all the nerves of the day, we are quite happy with how our bulls showed up, and how they were received by their bidders and buyers. Complete buyer information and prices have been added to the individual bull pages located to the right.
For ourselves and our fellow consigners, the 2020 Red Deer bull sale was incredibly stressful. With the Covid-19 outbreak, our original sales location shut its doors, resulting in a bit of panicked scramble. We cannot stress enough, the value we found in Transcon calling in a favour and organizing the relocation of our sale to the Innisfail Auction Mart. Danny and Dusty Daines were incredible hosts, and welcomed us to their facility with open arms. There was such a starkly different contrast between our regular location at the Westerner Grounds (where we have increasing felt like a nuisance more than a customer), and the hospitality, authenticity and professionalism of the Innisfail Auction Mart. It is not a surprise that it was announced to lead off the sale that the Innisfail Auction Mart with be the new home of the Red Deer County Bull Sale!
Buying bulls is also something that is typically done based on physical inspection. Pictures and videos certainly help, but there is nothing better than actually seeing a bull to determine whether he is a ‘fit’ for everyone’s respective program. With attendance restricted due to ‘social distancing’, it was once again Jay Good and his team at Transcon, who stepped into the void and helped get the bulls sold to ensure a successful day for all the consignors. Bull sales are a big source of income for all the consignors – and the results of 2 years of hard work, planning and developing genetics. It is pretty surreal (and stressful), to be sitting in the auction mart on sale day, with only a handful of people in attendance when there are 60 bulls to sell! So it was a very reassuring feeling that ‘Transcon Online’ and ‘Transcon on Order’, did the bulk of the heavy lifting. Glenn, Darren and Cody all had front row seats with a phone in one ear and bidder orders in hand, which led to a steady stream of bids and buys throughout the day. Considering the situation and circumstances, it was an incredibly successful day, and we really appreciate the hard work that our sales management team put in to make the 2020 Red Deer Bull Sale so memorable. We must admit though, we are already looking forward to a more ‘normal’ 2021 version!
With both the bull sale and calving now behind us, our thoughts move directly to breeding season. We have some recips this year, have dusted off some old proven options for AI, and have a brand new walking bull to test out. It is an exciting time for Applecross Cattle to continue in our quest to provide new, better, and different genetics to share with the industry.
We are pleased to present seven polled/scurred herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2020 Red Deer Bull Sale on Thursday, March 26th at 1:00pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. This is our tenth 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.
We are proud to say that our 2020 offering will be our most consistent 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. In a market that is always searching for ways to add value and build margin around the edges, we are also quite proud of the strong carcass traits projected in all of our bulls on offer. EPD’s certainly aren’t the ‘end all / be all’, but it is pretty cool to see the amount of ‘green’ across our CSA bull profiles.
Individual pages (short-cut links are located in the right-hand column) have been created for all seven of our bulls on offer. The individual pages also include pictures of the sires, dams, siblings and grand dams. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding cow family.
Our bull pen in 2020 is dominated by a great cross section of NUG Delmonte sons. With his third calf crop now on the ground (and his first daughters calving), Delmonte has done exactly what we have asked from him. Sired by the very popular Starwest Pol Blueprint bull, Delmonte is adding some frame while still giving moderate birth weights. He has developed into an impressive mature bull with an excellent gain to feed efficiency ratio, great carcass numbers and an amazingly quiet temperament. He stamps his calves the same way, but you can still see the variances added by the respective maternal cow families. Be sure to check out ‘Dynamo’, ‘Durango’, ‘Diego’, ‘Dodger’ and ‘Delgado’.
Joining the ‘Delmonte boys’ are two polled/scurred herdsire prospects that represent slightly different genetic twists from the bulk of the existing polled gene pool. ‘Mayhem’ comes backed by one of our top cow families and is sired by the US bull FSS Maximus. ‘Rockton’ will be the last bull sired by APLX Rambo to be presented at auction – Rambo was our ‘heifer’ bull for a number of years – and while he produced very successful progeny for us, simply got too big to use on heifers. Finding ‘different’ is becoming a challenge within the polled Fleckveih population, so we are pretty happy with how both ‘Mayhem’ and ‘Rockton’ have developed.
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 of the 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 would also like to thank Stefon Beechinor and Mackenzie Stout for taking pictures of our bulls again this year. While they don’t watermark their work, we are quite happy with the quick and efficient high quality pictures they provide us. They certainly reduce our historic stress of taking pictures!
The 2020 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 26th at Westerner Park
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.
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.
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 tested, they’re not values: they’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 lyrics. But 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 Ottawa. But 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,
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.
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,
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,
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
A gorgeous mid-December day with mild temperatures and sunny skies created ideal weather for Transcon’s ‘Super Sunday’ on Sunday, December 16th. This ‘Three in One’ Simmental Event featured the Red & Black / Fleckvieh Equation and SIBL Half the Herd Extravaganza. With the addition of the ‘half the herd’ event, there were an impressive 110 lots to sell, which averaged a robust $5,489.
In a shift from previous year’s sales, it was a string of really impressive red and black Simmentals that led off the sale – headlined with two impressive bred heifers from the renowned Skor program. Lots 152 and 153 were very consistent in type, and it showed, as the gavel fell within $500 of each other. Lot 152 brought $11,000 to Leewood Ranch, Manville, AB and Lot 153 is travelling to Manitoba has she sold for $11,500 to Dana & Megan Johns of Kenton. The lead-off group of 7 breds was very strong and showcased the diversity of the consignors, with 5 consignors combining to average $9,000+.
The bull sale portion of Sunday’s sale continues to draw a lot of interest; with the most diverse offering of purebred and Fleckvieh Bulls on hand in 2018. The high-selling bull was from the up and coming Red Top program, who presented ‘Red Top Fireball’ which sold for $15,500 to OK Farms. On the Fleckvieh side, three really expressive bulls from Starwest Farms showcased the diversity of their program. New consigners, Brooks Simmentals from Turtleford, SK, had the high selling Fleck, with Lot 5 ‘Brooks Flex 53F’ selling for $9,500 to Janjie Inc, Lake Alma, SK. Based on the results, ‘Super Sunday’ continues to be a place astute cattlemen turn to evaluate breeder quality bulls.
Our lot 23 heifer, Applecross Hannah was selected to lead off the Fleckvieh portion of the Sale. She was selected by Clearwater Simmentals / Chad & Shelley Smith of Olds, AB for $10,250. Applecross Abigail ($3,250) will be changing provinces after being selected by Section 17 Livestock, the Rathegerber’s, at Mellville, SK. We are quite excited that Applecross Chelsea will be making her new home not too far from us in Didsbury – she was selected by Skywest Simmentals / Jolene & Riley Edwards for $5,750. Applecross Blossom ($7,250) has already ‘bloomed’ for her new owners – Rich-Mc Simmentals / Myla & Jason Richards in Pilot Mound, MB. She arrived at her new home on Monday the 17th and delivered a set of twin heifers on December 23rd! Talk about an early Christmas gift! We were quite pleased with how our four bred heifers represented our program – and look forward to hearing how the other three calve out in early January.
In addition to the above noted high-sellers, I thought we would share some additional thoughts on the 2018 Edition of Fleckvieh Equation:
- The Wolfe Fleckvieh string never disappoints. Their three bred heifers on offer this year were all extremely well received. We have been very happy with our purchase of Wolfe’s Dawn from last year’s sale, and the consistency of cattle that Shane & Shannon bring to Equation every year is truly remarkable.
- The other program of note would be the continued evolution of Keet Simmentals / Brett & Naomi Keet. Brett has been firmly focused on polled Fleckvieh for the past number of years, and his dedication to this segment of the industry has really paid off with a diverse set of females on offer.
- As Fleckvieh Equation / Red and Black is a consignment sale, every year brings a few new consignors to the group. Maybe it was the SIBL half the herd event, or the increasing number of breeders presenting both Flecks and purebreds, but there seemed to be a greater mingling of breeders, buyers and people throughout the barn than in previous years. This was especially notable on Social Saturday night, and I think it is important to see this continue to evolve. Simmental is the most diverse beef breed in the world, and it is important this is recognized as a strength and not as a competition. It was great to see lots of visiting; helping hands with gates; in the wash rack and sharing tack through-out the weekend.
- Overall, sale numbers increased year over year from 70 lots to 110. The significant increase, combined with a severe feed shortage in Central Alberta, resulted in significantly different market conditions in 2018.
- That being said – quality cattle still sold. Across the three sales on ‘Super Sunday’ there were 10 head that averaged more than $10,000 vs. 16 in 2017
We would be remiss not 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. Jay, Darren, Glen and Cody spent the weekend inspecting the cattle while consistently talking on their phones, making evaluations for prospective buyers. Over $115,000 was sold on order!
It was another great day to present Applecross cattle at auction, and we are honoured by the compliments we received on our cattle from all the bidders and buyers that took interest in our program. With the first calves of the new calving season on the ground, we look forward to the balance of calving season, and another step in that ongoing effort to produce high-quality genetics that we can share with the industry.
We are pleased to present four bred heifers at Transcon’s 2018 Fleckvieh Equation Sale at 1 pm on December 16th, at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. After an eye-popping 2017 edition, we are proud to showcase the diversity of our program at this prestigious event.
Our 2018 sale string really showcases the genetics that form the core of our walking group. Four different sires, and four different cow families, are represented, and showcase a mix of genetics we have developed alongside some of the ones we have sourced over the years. We have taken a slow approach to building our herd to ensure that multiple generation of cow families are present. This way, the maternal lines can develop, and we can watch and compare as the younger generations work alongside their matriarchs. The progeny from our ‘heifer’ bull APLX Rambo has made an impressive debut over the past 12 months, so he will again have a feature daughter in the form of Applecross Chelsea, who on the maternal side is also descended from our Dora Lee Christina cow family. We will be offering a rare opportunity to acquire a polled FGAF WowEffect daughter in Applecross Hannah, as we lost her sire after breeding season last year. Not to be outshone by their running mates, we are also offering Applecross Abigail who represents progeny from the JD CDN Amethyst cow family, as well as Applecross Blossom, who is certainly not lacking in the eye-appeal department. All four heifers are solid coloured with moderate frames, yet tons of volume – exactly the types of females we think will turn into awesome cows.
Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right), have been created for each of ‘Abigail’, ‘Blossom’, ‘Hannah’ and ‘Chelsea’. We preg-checked in mid September and the vet feels that all four are safe to their AI breeding or early exposure. The Heifers are also vaccinated with ViraShield Gold and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Scour-Guard prior to sale day. On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings. Maternal lies are very important to us, and we feel that behind each outstanding female, is an outstanding cow family. Please let us know if you would like any additional information on any of our animals.
The 2018 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on December 16th at Westerner Park.
One of the joys of breeding purebred cattle is the summer evening pasture tour. August is the perfect time of year to see the cows and make an honest assessment of the work they are doing with their calf. The weather starts to cool off in the evenings, but there is still light to see. For the cows themselves, udders and feet can be inspected. Body score can be assessed – are the cows putting it all (or too much/too little) into their milk? And then there is the calf at side. Do they follow the dam more? Or is it the sire? Are the heifers starting to turn into miniature versions of their moms? Are the bull calves developing the swagger that future herd bull prospects tend to get this time of year? Is there a creep feeder in sight? Or is it all milk and grass? Not questions to judge. Rather questions to evaluate, mentally tally, and provide context for future breeding decisions. But it starts with that tour – and it is a gorgeous time of year to be out walking cattle.
It was on one of these evening tours with friends that the topic of farm finances came up. Considering my off-farm occupation happens to be a banker, this topic wasn’t exactly a surprise. It probably also wasn’t that surprising that I wasn’t part of the conversation. As my friend and I were walking the herd, discussing cows, calves, bred heifers and pedigrees, our wives were discussing some of the challenges of farm finances.
The discussion concerned budgeting and cash flow. Our friends had considered every possible expense when they wrote their budget for the year, but they hadn’t considered that the cash flow would be so lumpy. Farm revenue varies greatly with the season; cattle are only sold a couple of times a year, and there are months (and months) without any farm revenue at all. Their overall budget was still good but, as a result of cash flow not being very evenly spaced during the year, they were going to make some different business decisions than what they had originally planned.
When Jeanne relayed the conversation to me later on that evening, it got me thinking (even while on vacation) about farm finance, and all the different variables farmers need to consider when making decisions about their operation. In my more than 20 years as a farm finance professional (aka an ‘Ag banker’), I have been able to experience, tour and get to know a lot of amazing farm families. I have learned a lot about both good and bad situations that have helped shape our own financial progress. While I could talk about finances for hours, in the interest of keeping this post at least somewhat concise (for me), I will attempt to limit my thoughts to the Cash Flow of a purebred beef operation, and save some related topics (Budgeting, Working Capital, Contingency Planning) for another time.
Managing cash flow is one of the biggest financial challenges for cow-calf operations. As a purebred breeder, we receive the vast majority of our revenue in three fashions: from cull animal sales at weaning, from heifer sales, and from bull sales. In our case, for all three of those areas, we sell by auction; which essentially means we receive three Cheques a year: one in September for our post-weaning cull cows and calves, one in January (after late December’s female Equation Sale), and one in March after the Red Deer Bull Sale. Those three cheques need to be sufficient to cover not only our direct sale expenses, but also our expenses in the other nine months of the year when we don’t have any farm income. Because of this, we have to be dedicated to our cash flow and budget, and plan accordingly – specifically when we are looking to acquire genetics. After a sale that exceeds expectations, it is very easy to get distracted and bid ’just a few more times’ when that ‘donor-quality’ outcross replacement heifer or a new herd bull that would be a ‘total game changer’ strolls through the ring. But as I value the trust Jeanne and I have with our finances, I always try very hard to stick to budget parameters so that there are as few surprises as possible. Communicating about the buying decision, and linking it back to the budget and impact to cash flow, makes every one more comfortable about the upcoming months with no cash flow coming in. (and while our couch is comfy – not exactly somewhere that I want to spend my nights!)
Cash flow is especially important when trying to grow the operation organically from within. As mentioned in previous posts, I tend to be rather ‘barn blind’, and as such, I really like our group of 25 heifer calves this year. I would love to retain the vast majority of them but, even if we did have the capacity to develop them all, that decision would have a massive impact on our farm cash flow.
For each (quality) heifer calf, we have four realistic options:
We can sell her as a cull heifer through the auction mart for $1,000 this September
Or, we could sell her as a purebred open heifer this December for $3,000
Or, we could sell her as a bred heifer next December (2019) for $5,000
Or, we could retain her into our herd, generate zero cash from her, and then go through the exact same decision making process starting in September 2020 with her first calf.
The prices I have used are fairly arbitrary (and can clearly be substantially lower in a down market), but regardless of price the concept is the same. It only makes sense that a ‘sale’ heifer in December should be worth more than a cull in September. And if you carry a heifer an additional year to sell as a bred, your costs (for feed, pasture, breeding etc.) are going to be higher, and so you ‘need’ to get paid more in order to (at least) break even. It is these first three options that are different methods of being able to turn what you have produced into ‘cash’.
The greatest challenge is the fourth option – that heifer that is retained to expand the herd. She doesn’t turn into cash until she is culled – hopefully many years in the future. She will also generate zero positive cash flow for the next 24 months, and will only incur costs. If both the costs and the lack of income are not planned for, then cash flow will be considerably tighter than what was originally expected. And 24 months is a long time! So when planning for expansion – it is important to remember that awesome replacement heifer(s) takes a long time to generate any income.
For cattlemen looking to expand, the retention decision and its impact on cash flow is only multiplied. Even for a small operation like ours, making the decision to retain 10 of our 25 heifer calves to increase the size of our cow herd can impact our gross revenue (when utilizing the above illustration) by $10,000, $30,000 or $50,000 over the next two years. Obviously this isn’t a net number, as there are a lot of costs to selling cattle in auction sales, but being aware of the cash flow impact of retaining additional heifers to grow the operation has to be accounted for. From an accrued accounting perspective, the increased herd will show up as more animals held in inventory (thus the farm will still have generated ‘income’; since it ‘created’ those 10 replacement heifers), but since they are being retained and not being sold for cash, the actual cash in the bank account will not reflect the actual value generated by the farm over that time period. This is why, during growth phases, farms often feel ‘tight’ as those heifer are eating hay, getting AI’d and increasing pasture stocking rates – all costs that will be higher when there are more animals owned – but not yet generating cash flow.
For buyers, I think part of the reason bred heifers have become so popular to purchase is that they are a year closer to actually generating cash flow. Open heifers have that extra year, when they need to be bred, fed and then calved, whereas bred heifers only need to be calved out – and are a year closer to generating a return. It is always nice if you can ‘clip the coupon’ of a bred heifer and sell the calf for enough to recoup the majority, if not all, of your investment. This actually happened to us when were purchased Virginia’s Ms. Zillow as a bred heifer back in 2013 – she promptly gave us a bull calf that we sold for more than what we paid for her. It can also be a (relatively) inexpensive way to luck into your new herd bull. When we selected BEE Vendetta 243Z at Equation in 2014, she was bred Radium, and her subsequent calf turned into APLX Rambo, our current senior heifer bull who has done quite well for us. There certainly are situations when acquiring that bred heifer pays immediate dividends!
I also know of buyers that prefer purchasing open heifers. My dad has long maintained that it didn’t make sense for him to source a bred heifer in the west from a fall sale. There are a lot of expectations put on a bred heifer if she needs to be transported 3000kms to Ontario, calve out a month later and then breed back in a timely fashion! Selecting open heifers, when they have a year to adjust and can be bred to match his own breeding goals, has always been his preferred approach – even if it takes them longer to generate a return. From a sellers perspective, I would also suggest that during periods of high demand (or rapid change in an industry), open heifers have at times sold for a premium over bred heifers. If I recall correctly, this was the case during the height of Fleckvieh Fest in the mid-90’s, and also occurred in the dairy sector once the Genomics craze created upheaval. Getting new genetics to market earlier (and potentially allowing buyers to multiply them quicker), meant quicker returns.
I can’t call myself a banker and not talk about debt as an option to assist with cash flow. The challenge I find with debt, isn’t so much the borrowing of it, but that it has to be paid back. The cow-calf sector is historically low-return, highly cyclical, and dependant on variables outside of a farmers’ control. So while borrowing money might be an immediate solution, that commitment to a payment for the next number of years may make cash flow that much tighter in the future. This year is a great example – cattle prices have remained strong, but with most of Alberta in drought conditions, winter feed is scarce and expensive, and the cows will be coming home much sooner than originally expected. Adding a payment to the equation, would just add that much more stress (and potentially force more of those ‘retained’ animals to market early). With borrowing money, there are exceptions to every rule (my team would suggest my favourite answer to questions is ‘it depends’)! There may be situations like a dispersal/ability to purchase a package privately where it makes sense for genetic reasons to take on debt in order to make a substantial investment – but always remember that there is a future payment coming that needs to be built into ongoing cash flow.
The last point I want to mention about cash flow, is that since the industry has such low returns, it makes communication that much more important. It is extremely rare that 100% of operational revenue is generated solely from the cow herd. The majority of cow-calf operations are supplemented by non farm income (like in our case, where both of us work off farm), or they have another farming enterprise (generally crops) that helps make farm cash flow at least a little less lumpy. Here in Alberta, surface revenue cheques from oil/gas well leases also tend to be timely! It is still important to evaluate the cash flow impact of an expansion decision though – and have that conversation with all the key stakeholders in the farm. Communication is so important in farm businesses, and it is essential that everyone is on the same page when the operation is evolving. No one likes surprises involving finances – and communicating when one line of business (or off-farm job) may need to help support the cattle business is helpful for everyone. No one wants to have to worry about how groceries may get put on the table, simply because the impact of an expansion plan wasn’t fully thought through or clearly communicated.
That is one of the downsides of the purebred cattle business. Purebred cattle aren’t ‘liquid assets’ that can be sold quickly for what they are worth. In theory, the animals retained as breeding stock have genetic potential that should make them worth more than a typical commercial animal. It is always an option to run them to the auction mart – but once weaning has passed and additional costs are incurred; those costs are not recouped from liquidating the animals at the weekly sale. Selling them tends to need to be planned, so they can be marketed appropriately, interest obtained and a fair return received. A private treaty sale could happen unexpectedly, but even with that option it is essential to ensure the touring farmer doesn’t think there is desperation for a sale. It takes time to orderly market purebred cattle for what they are worth – and time might be in short supply during a cash flow crunch.
In our friend’s case, they recognized an upcoming challenge early and were able to start the conversation with each other as to what impact and direction they would need to take – all before even talking to a banker! It has long been my experience that given time, space and communication, seemingly complex (or difficult) decisions can get made with all parties being satisfied. It really is that simple. Plan. Communicate. Revisit. Recognize that things will never turn out exactly as you originally intended . Be willing to adapt. But most of all – enjoy. This is a great time of year to be a cattle breeder. So let’s enjoy our summer nights – and fill them up with cow tours, great friends and awesome conversation.
Until next time,
Setting the Scene: March 1998. Seated around my parent’s kitchen table at Dora Lee, we were finishing up another wonderful home cooked meal of “meat and potatoes and such”; savouring the last crumbs of mom’s incredible fresh baked pie. Directly below the Simmental bell hanging in the window, on one corner of the table, was where all of the key reference material for cattle discussions was located: the 1998 calving sheet, (hand printed on a yellow file folder, listing all of the cows and their calves, with descriptions and name suggestions), our semen inventory listing from United Breeders (the twice a day AI service in Ontario – available for beef cattle! It sounds pretty weird when described to an Albertan), the February Simmental Country, and the Alta and Semex Beef Sire directories. The conversation had flitted all around cattle during the meal, and now everyone was settling in for a deeper discussion.
Jeanne and I, married almost a year by then, were up visiting the farm for the week-end. We always looked forward to escaping the confines of our one-bedroom apartment in Brantford, where my first-job-out-of-school as an AG banker had taken us. While I was learning the ropes at the bank, Jeanne was making the 200km round trip daily commute from Brantford to the University of Western Ontario in London to finish her teaching degree. We were still young, still getting into the rhythm of our fresh, new partnership. But I suspect our kitchen table was similar to a lot of farm tables across the country – once the meal finished, the chairs would be pushed back (tea would be poured), and opportunity of having everyone together would be leveraged to engage in conversation that shaped the future of our farm.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but the discussion that day turned out to be a momentous one – should we try and incorporate the polled gene into the Dora Lee cow herd?
The spring of 1998 rounded out a 12 month run of success for Dora Lee that suggested an incredibly promising future. Our first ever ‘AI bull’ Dora Lee One was working for CIAQ and had developed into a 4-star trait-leader. The summer of 1997 had led Mom & Dad to PEI for the Canadian Simmental AGM, where they discovered RH Patricia working for Robblee’s. They promptly arranged to purchase her calf at side, and lease Patricia for a flush – the flush that would turn into Dora Lee Native Son. September’s Fleckvieh Forum sale saw an awesome open heifer by the name of Dora Lee Franchesca selected by Master Breeder Barry Labatte. In November, the legendary Bob Gordon stopped in for a visit and selected Dora Lee Jake on behalf of Alta Genetics. All in all, a very transformative 12 months!
So the question and debate really became one of why? If we were just starting to enjoy some success – why should we shift our focus to polled? Why not keep to the path that we were on?
The answer to our query was found in the questions that were starting to be asked by our customers. Beef herds in Ontario (and Quebec, where Dora Lee One was working) are generally smaller and often had to be supplemented by off-farm income. As a result, we were starting to get requests for both moderate birth weight and polled bulls; both of which would make management of the calving process significantly easier. Neither of these traits was present in the Fleckvieh of the day! In fact, the BW/Calving Ease issue was probably the biggest concern we had with Dora Lee One – he had a ton of performance, and his daughters had lots of milk, but we were getting feedback that calving was an issue – so this was an area we thought we needed to focus on. Our goal thus became both – to leverage our highly maternal herd to not only take horns off, but also use moderate bulls that would ensure additional calving ease.
Dad has always been adamant that, as a purebred breeder, we need to see where the industry is going and move there first. This would ensure we had cattle that were in demand when commercial interest caught up. Trying to project the future is always a daunting task (right Oilers fans?), but the alternative – multiplying popular genetics today with the hope that they will still be popular tomorrow – didn’t seem to be a successful approach either.
That day, we decided to flush Dora Lee Fraline (dam of Franchesca) to Eisenherz, the ‘new’ polled bull being offered by Alta Genetics (if I recall correctly, our other option at the time was ‘Holburg’, and Eisenherz seemed to be the ‘least-bad’ option). We hoped that we would get a polled heifer calf that we could start building a polled program around. We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy journey, but thought that given time, and multiple generations of offspring, the challenge of successfully integrating the polled gene into our program was one we could accomplish.
And thus, our polled journey began:
In 1999 Dora Lee Electra (Fraline x Eisenhurz) was born.
In 2002 Dora Lee Elexis was born (Electra x Dora Lee Jake)
In 2004 Dora Lee Evangaline was born (Elexis x Sim Roc C&B Western)
And in 2005 Dora Lee Eclipse was born (Elexis x Smithbilt Molson)
In 2006, Jeanne and I moved to Alberta, to follow our own dream of Applecross Cattle.
In 2008, we convinced Mom & Dad to allow us to pick 4 cornerstone females to build and establish our own herd around. One of the females to travel west? Dora Lee Evangaline.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been stops and starts along the way. We were extremely fortunate to be able to move from Fraline to Eclipse in just seven years, while adding two generations of proven horned genetics to his pedigree. Eclipse was a tremendous step forward for us. Having access via AI to a privately owned polled bull we were comfortable using, allowed us to multiply genetics much more rapidly throughout the herd. Eclipse also had the added bonus of being a great heifer bull, which meant more places that we could use him. He also gave an early homozygous son – Dora Lee’s Equinox – who possessed a little more power, but was guaranteed to take the horns off. We were very lucky to have been able to utilize both of these bulls so early in our polled journey.
We have also been constantly reminded that this is the cattle genetic business, and stuff happens – even a 50-50 chance at polled offspring is not that conducive to expanding and diversifying a nascent polled division. At Applecross, our first 8 Eclipse progeny were all horned. Only 2 of our first 12 Equinox calves were heifers – which delayed herd building but did yield us Envoy (who has left his mark at Lone Stone) and Escalade (who we utilized as a heifer bull for a number of years and have progeny walking here). It is sometimes very difficult to be patient!
As it is known to do, the industry also swung on a pendulum. The first polled Fleckviehs that were marketed simply didn’t have the quality and performance required to stand beside their horned contemporaries. (I seem to recall a phrase ‘if you take the horns off, you take the butt off too’). Once burnt, both purebred and commercial breeders shied away from polled cattle and a perception grew that having polled genetics in a pedigree make it weaker. Phrases like “100% horned pedigree” or “polled – with 97% horned pedigree” – popped into the vernacular of Fleckvieh Enthusiasts. (I would also suggest that I have seen some pretty mediocre 100% horned cattle over the years, but that is a conversation for another day). Even the compliments came with a qualification: “looks pretty good…for polled”. Over time though, as the polled genetic pool continues to widen and get more diverse, there has been a significant amount of progress made. Quality and consistency has improved, and once again (anecdotally at least) we are seeing an increased interest from both commercial and purebred cattlemen in polled genetics.
For 2018, almost half of the females we bred at Applecross this spring are polled (and the walking herd at Dora Lee is now more than 90% polled). So, while we are well along in our journey, there is still plenty of work to be done. We still source outcross horned genetics to continue to widen our polled gene pool, and we are still breeding horned cows to horned bulls. I am a firm believer in the concept of being ‘barn blind’ and just because a calf comes out with a polled head, doesn’t mean it will be good. We absolutely have to keep checks and balances in place to ensure the quality is there to compete in our marketplace. Single trait selection has never been a winning strategy in developing cattle, so we continually remind ourselves that this journey will be a very slow process. It sure is nice when we don’t have to dehorn a calf though!
As I reflect on a decision made 20 years ago, it has been a pretty cool trip that will have plenty of twist and turns (and great scenery) still yet to come. I am extremely fortunate to share my passion for genetic improvement with my parents – and that those discussions about cattle have continued – they have just shifted from the kitchen table to a weekly Thursday night phone call. 13 years after he was born, I am still utilizing Eclipse on heifers – which may be as much a statement about the bull, as it is about the challenges in finding bulls that meet all of our heifer bull criteria. Dora Lee Evangaline was a cow I always struggled with, and never thought I was able to breed her to her potential (The silent heats didn’t help either!). But in hindsight, she has 6 progeny still working here, and she shows up in the pedigree in two of our recent high sellers (Applecross Pippa and APLX Rocky), so maybe my perception during her stay here doesn’t match reality now that she is gone. This is the cattle genetic business. Stuff happens, both good and bad. But the challenge is worth it – to reflect back – and see progress. It keeps us going; and makes us strive to be better.
Until next time,