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,
March 22nd was another great day to hold the Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale at the Westerner Grounds, in Red Deer, Alberta. Despite a snowstorm threatening to move through the north of our region, and a lot of construction at the Westerner itself, a strong crowd was on hand to see a diverse group of bulls sell. Astute cattlemen had the opportunity to have a hot beef lunch, visit with consignors, and inspect a high quality group of bulls, before watching them strut their stuff in the sales ring.
In what has become a sale tradition, consignors Starwest Farms led off the sale with Lot 22, ‘Starwest Pol Eagle Eye’, one of several impressive Spitfire sons that they had on offer. ‘Eagle Eye’ sold for $9,000 to Northern Lights Simmentals in Manitoba. Only a few lots later, it was another Spitfire son, Lot 23, ‘Starwest Evidence’ who, after some spirited bidding, ended up topping the sale at $31,000, with MI Simmentals / Mike & Allison Imler of Okotoks being the successful new owners. On the purebred side, the high seller was Lot 1 ‘OH KAY Edgar’ who was selected by Zadunayski Farms / Darcy Zadunayski from Vimy for $10,000.
It was a really awesome day for Applecross Cattle, as we were really happy with the condition and shape our bulls were in. They managed to weigh within 30lbs of each other, which created a well balanced pen of bulls (although we may be just a little biased!). 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 two polled bulls were chosen to be the 2nd and 3rd bulls in the ring, with impressive results. After being selected by R-Five Simmentals for $18,000, Lot 47 ‘APLX Wrangler 16E’ is staying in Central Alberta in the fine herd of Jim & Desiree Matson of Bluffton. Lot 48, ‘APLX Rocky 24E’ is Saskatchewan bound, after being acquired by Double G Simmentals / the Goodman’s at Stalwart for $13,000. And finally, a little later in the sale, Lot 49 ‘APLX Wyatt 1E’ was selected by Mullen Land & Cattle / Shaun Mullen at Strathmore for $4,500. It was a tremendous day, and we are excited to see what our bulls can do for their new owners.
Overall, similar to the 2017 Red Deer Bull Sale, 5 bulls ended up topping the 10,000 threshold with the 15 high sellers being split fairly evenly between fullblood and purebred bulls on offer. In total, 48 lots sold for an average of $6,750 – a nice increase from the 49 bulls averaging $6,100 in 2017.
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 Red Deer 2018. Fully 31% of the sales volume was sold ‘Transcon on Order’ – a truly remarkable amount! 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, and the never ending quest to breed better cattle. With the results of Fleckvieh Equation and Red Deer Bull Sale both fresh in our mind, it is validating that our genetics are being accepted by the industry. But 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, the horns will continue to come off our cattle, but we certainly won’t be successful if we single-trait select – so we will continue to keep an eye on feet, volume, udders and temperament to ensure we stay on (what we believe is) the right track (for our operation). We are really excited about the calves we have on the ground – and equally excited about how our bred heifer pen has developed. 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 three herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2018 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale on Thursday, March 22nd at 1:00pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. This is our eighth 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.
This years’ offering can be summed up in a word: three. We are in the middle of three consecutive years where our heifer calf numbers have dramatically exceeded our bull calves, which has resulted in three intriguing herd sire prospects being offer for Red Deer in 2018. This is also the third consecutive year that FGAF WowEffect sons will lead our string, and we have been extremely pleased with his consistency. His calves all show lots of length, great muscling and have tremendous hair coats, and our customers have been very happy with their purchases.
Our three bulls are backed by very strong cow families. ‘Wrangler’ comes from the same ‘P’ line that created waves at Equation 2017, and his dam ‘Poppy’ is our heaviest cow. ‘Wyatt’ is the third straight full brother to be headed to Red Deer – the Cassie x WowEffect cross has been popular in the past – and she seems to be the one cow we can always count on for an awesome bull calf. ‘Rocky’ is also an intriguing individual – a smooth polled head comes courtesy of his sire, APLX Rambo, while the dam ‘Eva’ combines Pharoa and old C&B Western into a real stylish package.
Individual pages (short-cut links are located in the right-hand column) have been created for ‘Wyatt’, ‘Wrangler’ and ‘Rocky’. The bulls have been developed on a ration of free-choice quality first cut hay, combined with a forage based pellet by Country Junction. The bulls are housed in a 5 acre paddock to ensure lots of exercise, have been tie-broke, and have quiet temperaments. On the individual pages, we have also pictured the sires, dams and grand dams. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding cow family. As some people prefer paper copies, we also have individual bull profiles available in PDF format that can be e-mailed and printed, or sent by regular mail. Please let us know if you would like any additional information on any of our animals.
The 2018 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on March 22nd at Westerner Park.
One of my favourite weekly hockey columns is Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts” on sportsnet.ca. Since his days on the Score, Hockey Night in Canada and now Sportsnet, I have always found his articles to be articulate and nuanced; attributes that may come across better in print instead of in the ‘loudest voice wins’ sound-bite discussions that often appear on TV.
While I am far from being an ‘insider’ or expert on anything (other than perhaps writing extremely long blog posts), I thought a ‘31-Thoughts’ format might work to share some opinions on the fall female sales, the start of calving and the upcoming bull sale and breeding season that have been derived from the busy past few months:
- We are still processing our results from Equation. Still shocked. We never expect / try to sell a heifer for that much money. Sure, we thought our ‘Pippa’ was good – but our goal is the same for all of them: find good homes for a fair price where, hopefully, they will all be successful (and profitable) for their new owners. That’s it. That’s all.
- Crazy fun when one goes through the roof though. Once I got past the ‘stunned’ look, I don’t think I stopped smiling for days. (Last time I smiled that long was probably our honeymoon!)
- It was a very busy fall for us… we added a major piece to our calving barn that was completed Dec 7th. I finished lagging the stabling in on Dec 13th; had our first calf on the 16th, while we were busy fancying up cattle in Red Deer at Equation.
- We traditionally don’t start calving until Jan 1, but we did plan an earlier start to calving this year. With a new herd sire purchase, and not wanting to mix bulls and risk injury just before breeding season, we sorted our cows into 3 breeding groups on March 5th – two weeks earlier than usual.
- Our other thought behind earlier calving was that we are already pretty tied to the farm during the holidays. As we both have time off work, why not take advantage of time on the farm to be calving?
- Next year we may move it back a week, but still start early. As my dad (and his dad) would say, ensure you ‘take time to smell the roses’. And with the barn construction flowing into Equation and then calving, we didn’t get the break we needed. Next year there will be a gap before calving starts – even if it is only for a day or two.
- We really enjoyed the additional barn space last week during the extreme cold. Several nights we had 9 cows in at once (and 5 calves arrived in 26 hours), so it was really nice to have ample room when it is -40 outside. Not sure what we would have done during the same situation a year ago when our indoor space consisted of 3, 10×10 calving pens.
- We also took the plunge and put in a camera system this week. We went with a local security company, primarily due to local customer support which ensured Face to Face training to setup camera access on our phones and tablets. We put in four cameras for the cows and then two additional security cameras for the yard. Rural crime has become a major concern in our area, so some 24 hour ‘eyes’ were an inexpensive addition when they were already here wiring cameras.
- With the early start, we were half done calving on the 7th of January. Currently we are running 2 heifer calves for every bull calf born, and already I can see that there will be some tough decisions to be made in September when we whittle down the numbers to the group that will become sale heifers and replacements.
- I am fascinated to watch a ‘Battle Royale’ that should shape up between the progeny of three of our top cows. They each gave us polled bull calves within 24 hours between Jan 1st-2nd. With one each from our Delmonte, Rambo and WowEffect sire groups (and a 5lb spread in BW), the few-day-old bulls are already bouncing around the yard like they own the place. Keep an eye out for the names ‘Dundee’, ‘Riptide’, and ‘Wildcard’.
- We had some tough luck near the start of calving when two of my favourite cows lost their calves within 24 hours of each other. It made for a very difficult day and some (ok, a lot of) second guessing as to what we could have done differently. It happens though. All we can do is try our best, and learn from it so our best is even better next time.
- Not sure of the reason, but this year there seems like there are so many more pregnancies that are exciting. Maybe it is the first Delmonte calves. Maybe it is a sign that there is more depth to our cow herd, that there is more excitement to see what can happen. But half way through calving it is hard to pick a favourite – and there are plenty of great cows left to calve!
- Sure is nice when we don’t have to dehorn a calf – still a work in progress, but with new pain-management regulations on the horizon, keeping things simple and skipping a step (for both us and them) is a good thing.
- I try to keep notes on how each cow calved. Even if it is just ‘unassisted on straw-pack or ‘unsettled for hours before finally calving’, the notes remind me if a cow has never calved inside before, or if she just likes to take her time. Knowing when to intervene always seems to be a judgment call, so having notes on past behaviour helps the decision making process.
- Likewise, the breeding chart also starts to get made during calving – not just for calf size, but also to (attempt to) keep some outcross calving lines in our herd. With our smaller numbers, the whole herd tends to get fairly closely related. Trying to develop our own replacement bulls can then become a challenge. Especially if it is a year like this where ideal heifer bull candidates only give heifers.
- As a result, it is looking more and more like we will be shopping for a heifer bull in 2018. While we don’t ‘need’ one until 2019 (we think Rambo has one more year before he is too big for heifers), we prefer to shop early so we aren’t to a point where we are ‘desperate’ to find a bull.
- What are we looking for in a heifer bull? Strong maternal lines that we think will yield great replacements (more than ‘just’ a heifer bull, but still calve easily). I will be using all 6 of my selection “P’s” from my blog post a year ago.
- While probably unrealistic at this time, we would also love to see a full DNA genomics test prior to purchase, as this is something we follow, specifically for ADG and Feed Efficiency. It isn’t ‘mainstream’ yet, but we believe genomics will happen for beef – and when it does we hope to be ahead of the curve.
- As an add-on to genomics, we have seen an increased interest in a dilutor test. More of our commercial clients are asking us about it (and we do test our own bulls), so it would make sense on a bull purchase. (We tested Delmonte post-purchase, and we were quite happy he came back dilutor free – and his genomics were pretty great too!).
- We are fortunate to be located in Central Alberta where there are plenty of bull shopping options. While Transcon is awesome, and I am comfortable with their understanding of our program if we had to purchase sight-unseen, nothing beats physically seeing the cattle so they can be evaluated in person.
- So I will be keeping a close eye on sales catalogs and social media in the lead up to bull sale time. Jeanne often comments that my ‘news feed’ is ‘all cows’ (unlike hers), but I must admit that I keep a much closer eye on Facebook than on individual websites. (So it is no surprise that, for that same reason, I link all my website blog posts to Facebook).
- The ‘immediate information’ era of platforms such as Facebook has substantially changed how customers consume advertising – but I think that the ubiquitous nature of ‘always connected phones’ has changed it more. More than once at Equation I utilized my phone to grab cow pics from our website to show potential buyers the extended cow families and service sires of our bred heifers – all while standing in the pen with the heifers.
- I hope to dig into that topic deeper on a future blog post, as utilizing social media to market cattle has its advantages, but it can also create challenges. Farmers have always blurred the line between the ‘business of farming’ and the ‘life of farming’, so it’s no surprise that posts can mix personal views and opinions with cattle pictures.
- With my eye on a heifer bull purchase this spring, and the rising cost of elite herd bulls, there seems to be more and more bulls owned in partnership. It may be an approach we need to take in the future, but sharing a bull can be tough when the breeding season is so short (and breeders tend to all calve at the same time)
- And when it comes to partnerships, I am always reminded of a couple more sayings I heard growing up, “Partnerships are easy to get in to, but hard to get out of,” and, “Most people struggle to remain in a partnership with their spouse, let alone anyone else,” as words of caution.
- I also like the idea that people have to come to us if they would like to incorporate our genetic selections into their herd. If there is the right genetic mix, exclusivity does increase demand.
- That being said, with a small herd, we will continue to utilize AI in 2018. As I mentioned earlier, we are pretty narrow genetically, and will need to continue to search for outcross bulls to incorporate into our herd. We are fortunate to have a professional AI expert willing to assist us with syncing groups of cows every spring (Thanks Donna!)
- There are many benefits, being married to Jeanne. Benefit #4,264. She can make sure that I don’t veer too far into ‘banker-speak’ or ‘farmer-speak’ when I am trying to share ideas. When I get passionate about something, I tend to just assume that everyone knows the same ‘lingo’. She provides a fresh perspective that is (thankfully) free of industry acronyms.
- As a teacher, she also fixes my grammar, verb tense and ongoing issues with run-on sentences. Thankfully without using a ruler!
- She also volunteers to do night checks. It does annoy her if I watch her on the new camera while she does them though! I haven’t tried to give her tips through the audio feed yet! (Editor’s Note: If that EVER happens, night checks will immediately become 100% Dennis’s responsibility!)
- It is an exciting time of year. Calving on one hand, scheduling in clipping / picturing our bulls for Red Deer on the other. Facebook ‘bull sale preview’ posts are in full swing, and we look forward to bull sale catalogs in the near future!
Until Next time,
Transcon’s Fleckvieh Equation Fullblood Simmental Sale wrapped up the Alberta Simmental Week-end with a flourish on Sunday, December 17th. Sunny skies and unseasonably warm December weather lead to a standing room only crowd filled with enthusiastic bidders. A great group of consignors brought 38 lots of Fleckvieh genetics to Red Deer to strut their stuff through the ring to a very impressive average of $9,440.
In what is becoming a sale tradition, a consignment from the Beechinor Brothers program led off Equation 2017. Lot 111 ‘BEE Deloriss 620D’ was a very impressive heifer that carried her massive volume across tremendous length. Sired by Double Bar D United, Deloriss was backed by the Beechinor’s renowned ‘She Devil’ cow family. After some spirited bidding from many top programs, the Stout Brothers of Bluffton, AB were the successful buyers, acquiring this foundation female for $41,000.
Our very own lot 130, ‘Applecross Pippa 21D,’ had the honour of being the second animal in the ring. ‘Pippa’ has long been a favourite of ours and she was difficult for us to sell, but at the same time, we knew she would be the perfect representative to showcase our program – her sire, maternal grand sire, dam and maternal grand dam all carry our prefix – which is something we are very proud of. We had quite a number of visitors and complements on ‘Pippa’ leading up to the sale, but we never could have imagined that she would sell for $30,000 to the elite Starwest Farms polled program at Calmar. We are truly stunned by the result!
After several years of very strong bull sales, the number of herd bulls on offer at Equation continued to expand. Long time co-consignors with us in the Red Deer Bull Sale every March, Starwest Farms brought two hairy rascals to town for breeder consideration at Equation. Their lead bull was “Starwest Ember’, a polled power bull sired by Starwest Blueprint – whose offspring have proven to be extremely popular over the past year (including to us – our new herdbull NUG Delmonte is also a Blueprint son). When the gavel fell, Jason McLane / Rich-Mc Simmentals from Manitoba was the successful buyer for $30,000.
Not to be outdone, the selection of heifer calves on offer continues to be very strong. The high seller was Lot 131, ‘Clearwater Desire 27D’ an impressive open from Chad & Shelley Smith at Olds, sired by their intriguing Crossroad Vintage bull. ‘Desire’ was selected by Randmar Management / Randy Ward of Calgary for $14,000.
All four of our Applecross heifers were very well received, and we couldn’t be happier with the great operations that they will now call home. Applecross Cynthia was selected by Dan & Karen Skeels / Anchor D Ranch for $10,000. As Dan has been auctioneering Simmental sales in Ontario for at least the past 20 years, he does have some ‘insider knowledge’ of the cow family. Maternal grand-dam RHY Zamia 40Z was a pasture favourite when she strutted her stuff for both Dora Lee and Gibbons Farms. Applecross Flora ($6,250) will be heading south to Okotoks to join the MI Simmentals program of Mike and Allison Imler, where she may get to become acquainted with APLX Axel 5Z – the high selling ‘bull of the barn’ in the 2013 Red Deer Bull Sale that is still working there. We are also quite excited that Applecross Ivy ($6,000) will also be expanding the presence of our prefix at the highly regarded Eagle Ridge program – where she will be joining past sale features ‘Pearl’ (2015 Equation) and ‘Waylon’ (2015 Red Deer Bull Sale). It is always rewarding when past customers return to make another purchase, so it is rather neat to see an expanded presence at Eagle Ridge and MI Simmentals.
In addition to the above noted high-sellers, I thought we would share some additional thoughts on the 2017 Edition of Fleckvieh Equation:
- While the numbers were down (probably close to 50% from when we were last part of the sale in 2015), the quality remained very strong across the consigners. 7 different operations brought animals to town that topped the $10,000 mark, which just confirms that the group is committed to bringing their best to Red Deer.
- In addition to the high-selling bull from Starwest noted above, the renowned JNR program continued to showcase their diverse line-up of bulls, as they presented LITHIUM for consideration, who sold to Herbert Smith of Irma for $15,500.
- Volume buyer, with the purchase of 3 lots, was Andrew’s Fleckvieh of Pennsylvania, who selected 3 open heifers.
- After getting shut out on our heifer acquisition plans last fall, we were successful in acquiring our pick at Equation 2017. With tremendous volume and a complete outcross pedigree to our herd, Lot 126 ‘Wolfe’s Dawn’ caught our eye in the catalog, and was then studied quite extensively when stabled right beside our own heifers. Shane Wolfe is a fellow 2nd –generation Fleckvieh breeder, so it is unsurprising that I tend to recognize genetics deep into the Wolfe pedigrees. It is awesome to be successful in adding another piece to the genetic puzzle to our herd.
We would really like to recognize the team at Transcon for doing a tremendous job working the phones and managing the sale – they are always a quality, professional sales management team. I think we sometimes tend to take sales management for granted. They tend to take all the blame when sales are tough and none of the credit when sales are strong. At the end of the day, we as consigners bring the cattle to town, and determine the quality of the base product that sales management has to work with. As such, I don’t think I have ever seen the Transcon team as busy as they were this week-end – from National Trust through Equation and Red and Black, there was tremendous interest in the cattle, and all of the sales staff were consistently working the phones both prior to and during the sale for prospective buyers. Certainly not a surprise Transcon is celebrating 50 years in business!
It was another great day to present Applecross cattle at auction, and we are honoured by the compliments received on our cattle from all the bidders and buyers that took interest in our program. With 2018 just starting up, we are already deep into calving season, and clipping bulls for March’s Red Deer Bull Sale is just around the corner. We look forward to showcasing our ongoing efforts to produce high-quality genetics that we can share with the industry.
After a one year hiatus, we are absolutely delighted to present four bred heifers at Transcon’s 2017 Fleckvieh Equation Sale, on December 17th, at 1pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. This is always such a great weekend to market Simmental cattle in Alberta, and we are proud to once again be part of this progressive group of breeders.
At the top of our group, are the first FGAF WowEffect heifers to sell at auction. While we have marketed bulls from WowEffect for several years now, 2017 will represent the first opportunity for the heifers to strut their stuff in public. Since forming a partnership with my parents (Dora Lee Genetics) to utilize WowEffect, we have been very impressed with the balance of his progeny. It is rare that a bull produces both great sons and awesome daughters – so we are certainly excited to present heifers for perusal after the sons have been so readily accepted. As WowEffect is backed by two famous cows – JB CDN Kananaskis and FGAF Barbarella – it maybe isn’t that big a surprise that his offspring are so consistent.
Our lead WowEffect daughter is ‘Cynthia’, a big barreled head turner, who is a direct daughter of Dora Lee Christina 28S. Christina has consistently produced top end cattle for us – daughters, grand-daughters and great granddaughters walk our pastures, and she has developed her own modest list of progeny topping the sales ring in Applecross Candice (our high selling bred at Equation 2015) and high selling bulls APLX Javar and APLX Santana. We feel ‘Cynthia’ has tremendous potential as a front end female.
‘Cynthia’ is closely followed by ‘Ivy’ who is a WowEffect x Gidsco Appollo and goes back to the Beechinor Imperia cow we selected as one of the high selling opens at Equation 2010. This cow family have been consistent producers for us, with an aunt (Applecross Iris) being our high seller at Equation 2013, and a maternal brother APLX Cairo 1C being selected by Gordon Leslie from the 2015 Red Deer Bull Sale. With lots of pigment and a great haircoat, ‘Ivy’ is another great example of the consistency of our WowEffect progeny.
Our third heifer is ‘Flora’, a daughter of the popular JB CDN Hennessey and Anchor D Fergus. Fergus was our pick of the 2014 Pasture Treasures sale, as I was pretty excited when I confirmed that her physical profile matched the depth of her pedigree. Backed by the cow families of Kananaskis (I guess I like her), K2 Fergie and RH Patricia and sire groups that stack Legend, Arni 8M and Jahari, I knew that Fergus would be another great addition to our cow herd. Her first daughter, ‘Flora’ has combined well with Henessey to form a heavily pigmented, dark red beauty.
Our final heifer on offer in 2017 is ‘Pippa’, a double polled stunner that I really struggled to include in our sales string. It is clear to anyone that follows our program, that we are gradually taking the horns off of our cattle, while striving to retain all the power, performance and mothering abilities Fleckvieh are known for. We still breed horned cattle horned (‘Flora’ is a perfect example), but polled is the direction that we are committed to moving the cow herd over the long term. Breeding polled has been a slow process, and selling concrete building blocks like ‘Pippa’ will make it slower yet. That said, I do think it essential that we showcase the progress we have been making, and ‘Pippa’ is the perfect example to do just that. Pippa’s sire, dam, grand-dam, and maternal grand sire all carry our prefix, so she should give a pretty clear indication of what our program is all about.
Individual pages (short-cut links are on the right), have been created for each of our four sale heifers: ‘Cynthia’, ‘Ivy’, ‘Flora’, and ‘Pippa’. On the individual pages, we have also pictured their sires, dams and siblings. With maternal lines so very important to us, we hope pictures that support the extended pedigree will help provide an idea of how the sale heifers will look as cows.
The heifers all have quiet temperaments and are used to being around people. We enjoy spending time with our cattle, so they are used to attention, and some of them do not mind a ‘scratch’. We preg-checked in late September and the vet feels that all four are safe to early breeding dates. The Heifers are also vaccinated with ViraShield and Covexin Plus. They will be treated with Dectomax and given Scourguard prior to sale day.
The 2017 Fleckvieh Equation promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great day on December 17th at Westerner Park.
Fixing Up or Falling Down
As the head-gate swung open for the final bred heifer, it was a great feeling to be done processing all of the cattle for another year. Jeanne and I looked at each other in relief that another lengthy (and warm – 30 degrees!) day was complete, with minimal stress on both us and our cattle. Each August, we combine annual herd vaccinations with the first part of our quiet-wean process (that also includes weighing, tattooing, pulling hair for DNA testing) on all of the calves. This sets the calves up to be weaned in full / separated from their dams 10-days later on Labour day. As I’ve blogged before, the quiet wean process works well for us (as long as the calves don’t figure out how to remove their ‘bling’), as it helps ease the stress of weaning on both the cow and the calf. After the cow-calf groups have been worked, we finish off the day with the bred heifer pen, and get a close up view of just how well they are developing. It is great to see all the cattle – but also rewarding to be ‘done’ for another year.
Our ‘Processing Day,’ and the countdown to weaning that it starts, really brings into focus how little time there is left in the summer, and the clock ticks a little louder as all of our projects need to be done so the pens are ready for weaning. When I was growing up, one of my dad’s favourite sayings was that with cattle ‘you are either fixing things up, or they are falling down’. The combination of cattle and climate is tough on stuff! Cattle have to find their favourite spot to rub that itch – or try to test their theory that the grass really is greener (or the heifers prettier) on the other side of the fence. Fences get busted, boards fall off corrals, high traffic areas get worn, and the combination of wind and a 70-degree swing in temperature over 12 months, wreaks havoc on everything. Each year, there are always things that need fixing, just to maintain the farm in good working order.
On top of taking care of maintenance are the improvements we like to make. Every year we try to make our farm ‘better’ – which is a vague enough descriptor to cover plenty of different items. ‘Better’ can mean easier (re-hanging a gate so it swings instead of drags), simpler (adding more bunk space so the cows can be fed less frequently), addressing OCD issues (re-boarding a fence so that gaps between the boards are identical instead of varied – and it stops bothering us every time we drive in the lane), or simply making the property more aesthetically pleasing (removing old corrals that are not in use, falling down and look terrible). But the end goal is the same – to complete improvements that increase our enjoyment of our farm. Each spring our ‘wish lists’ get made, and then get divided into the ‘need to do’ and ‘nice to do’ categories – with an estimated time (or cost) to completion attached.
Formally planning things out may seem like overkill (I sometimes think we put ‘get organized’ on our to-do list!), but it really helps us with our time management. With both of us working full-time off site, plus Jeanne’s Highland Dance Studio, we only have a finite number of hours that we can invest in the farm while still maintaining a healthy ‘life’ where rest, relaxation and family togetherness are also in balance. This schedule obviously flexes during different times of the year (Jeanne’s summers off from school / the hectic lead up to sale days, etc.), but we try to be very cognizant of where we spend our time. Our ‘need to do’s’ (the general annual maintenance like corral cleaning) always have to be scheduled first, with the ‘nice to do’s’ then added, dependent on both time and budget. This way, if our maintenance schedule (or budget) doesn’t allow us to get to the improvements, they can be deferred into next year – while still having the ‘necessary’ done. We can live through another year dragging a gate through mud and snow, but the corrals really do need to get cleaned! So being organized really helps us to make sure our priorities are clear when working around the farm.
The other area to consider with the project list is the time/budget balance. Now that we have the base of our cow herd (mostly) established, they (theoretically) should be (relatively) cash flow positive (I am not sure anyone in the cattle business would be comfortable making that statement without a few qualifications!). We have purposely built our herd slowly, without debt attached to the cows, so that (in theory) there is a little more cash left over once the bills are paid. This decision should allow us to re-allocate some of those funds for hiring in professionals to complete improvements that are either larger jobs, or ones on our list that we simply don’t have time to do.
Since establishing Applecross Cattle in 2006, we were fortunate enough to have a separate source of water for our cows via a secondary dug well. The only drawback for the well was that the pump and electrical were located in a culvert that descended 10 feet below ground. As is usual when combining the words: water, Alberta, old system and winter, we found we were spending a lot of time clambering down a culvert in less than ideal weather conditions to ‘fix’ a variety of problems that showed up. We got an estimate back in April to have it raised up to ground level (which coincided with another improvement – trenching in two more water fountain locations), and the project was completed last week. The two of us then assembled a ‘garden shed in a box’ package around the well-head to create a ‘pump house’, and the entire project is now (less a coat of paint) finished. (As an aside, building a garden shed as a couple certainly provides the opportunity for some interesting conversation. Not that our minds are always in the gutter, but ‘wood’, ‘screw’, and ‘hold this’ were often in the same sentence, leading to numerous looks and raised eyebrows back and forth!). It is a really neat feeling to be able to walk from the house to the shop, and instead of seeing an eyesore culvert sticking out of the ground, there is a nice tidy garden shed in its place – and knowing that all the components for the well are tucked neatly inside. We are almost looking forward to winter!
The phrase ‘fixing up or falling down’ can also relate back to the cow herd itself. While I mentioned earlier that we now have the cow herd ‘mostly’ established, it is that ‘most’ word that is key – the whole goal of a purebred breeder is to produce better cattle, so I don’t think a breeder can ever be ‘done’ and content to rest on what they have. There are always cows that ‘need an upgrade’ or a herd doesn’t move ahead. This time of year, with every cow and every calf walking through the chute and weaning weights fresh in hand, there is a great opportunity to complete a close up visual inspection while also having the numbers to back up the ‘gut feel’. Which of the cows are producing to expectation, which are lagging, and what do the weights tell us once adjusted for age? With our two best ever heifer calf groups back to back in 2016 and 2017, we have a lot of younger genetics vying for a spot in our herd (not to mention that ongoing search for outcross/different genetics!) As much as it would make our cash flow look much stronger if we marketed as many of the bred heifers as possible, retaining some of the top end to make a stronger and more uniform herd for the future has a lot of long term benefits. And it should lead to a nicer walk through the cows – more positives and less negatives – just like that walk past the new pump-house.
So with our countdown to weaning now on, our ‘improvement’ projects have been mostly wrapped up for the year. Time is blocked during evenings this week to spend finishing the corral cleaning. The to-do lists are getting shorter (or maybe evolving with the changing season is more accurate); preparing for fall always precedes the start of preparing for winter – the hay is stacked in the bale yard, but straw is still left to come. But what doesn’t change is the sense of satisfaction that we feel – from gates that now swing, windbreaks that have had their missing panels replaced, and a cow herd that is slowly improving. A process. A journey. Fixing up, so we aren’t falling down.
Until next time,
2017 Spring Update – Our Cattle Circle
One of our favourite warm weather Sunday traditions is a late morning walk. Starting out the back door, we make a big circle around the property – striding the hills and the valleys – across lowland and wooded areas – until we end the circle at the garden behind our house. It is a great way to spend an hour, and not a walk goes by without both of us talking about how blessed we are to have found Applecross.
The cows went to grass yesterday, so there was even more to see on today’s tour. We are very fortunate to be able to pasture all of our cattle here at home, and keep a nice and close eye on how they develop. All three groups – the bred heifers, the bull calf group and the cows with heifer calves – each have their own multi-paddock grazing rotation, where they got to take their first taste of the season yesterday (finally… in their opinion).
Calving and breeding seasons were both very successful for us. After a couple of harsh weeks of winter right at the first of the year, the weather become milder and we were able to monitor numerous births outside on the straw-pack. We pastured our cattle later last fall, so birth weights were lighter to start the season, but picked back up by early February. We also had great luck with colour – not that it makes a difference from a quality perspective, but it does aid in marketability. We finished our calving March 12 and moved immediately to breeding.
Breeding season represented a major departure for us. Although our herd bulls have traditionally carried our own prefix, we were successful in acquiring NUG Delmonte 81D to join our walking bull battery this spring. His purchase creates such a unique combination of stress and excitement. Stress because we can only wait to see how he passes along all the characteristics he possesses as an individual. But excitement in what we believe he can bring to our operation. He has been thoroughly tested this year – he got some young cows, some older cows; some tall cows and some smaller cows; some that were polled, some horned; some with lots of hair; some tan coloured; some that throw birth weight, some that don’t. We should have a great idea what he is all about early next year.
We walked three bulls total in 2017 – Delmonte was joined by Rambo (our heifer bull), and FGAF WowEffect, who made one final turn with the girls. With Delmonte on the prowl, we did limited AI (mostly heifers), but did manage to get a few cows synced for recips.
Now that breeding is over and everyone is in their pasture groups, calves can be evaluated side by side. It is an exciting time to start the assessment process and debate over which ones will make the cut at weaning. Calves can just change so much as they grow. They tend to shoot up and get ‘leggy’, then fill out their frames (and look awesome), and then go through the process again. It all depends on the day as to what I tend to think of them – sometimes they are looking amazing, other times more on the ‘green’ side. There do always seem to be outliers though; some calves always seem to be at the top of the group – ones that have the potential to become special. (Our picture girl ‘Brittany’ falls into this category).
For the second consecutive year, we have our best heifer calf crop ever (which, as someone who strives for ‘genetic improvement,’ is a pretty cool thing to be able to say). In both of the past 2 years, we have skewed to a 60-40 heifer-bull calf split (so there are more to choose from), but we have also got more genetics bounces (where my hair-brained ideas actually seemed to work) in the heifer side. We will need to make some really tough decisions at weaning to get our heifer calves down to a more manageable number.
Likewise, in the bred heifer group, there are some difficult selections to be made for Fleckvieh Equation. We wintered 14 heifers this year (quite a lot for us – and we may need to winter as many or more next year), so after a year ‘off’, there should be some exciting options for Equation. The first WowEffect daughters will sell, and now that the entire group is back together, there are some pretty cool younger heifers that managed to catch up in size to their older pen mates during breeding season. It is still a long ways from fall sale season, but it is sure fun to start thinking of the choices we will need to make (and of course which ‘veto’ we will each use).
With all my glowing commentary about heifers, I don’t want to imply that our bull calf crop is lacking. While fewer in numbers, there are some neat bull calves we are keeping our eyes on as well. For the third year in a row, it looks like our bull pen will be anchored by WowEffect sons. Anchor D Viper and Rambo calves are also strong candidates to winter and make the bull sale. It is early yet, but there certainly appears to be promise.
So, that’s our cattle circle. We tend to walk it the opposite direction to my description, though – bull calf group first, followed by our walk through the woods, and then on to the heifer calf group as we start our turn for home. As we cycle back towards the buildings, our bred heifers greet us (with Jeanne at my side, they greet us both figuratively and literally. Several of her favourites need their scratches!). On the genetic front, it seems like a constant period of evaluation. We have lots of thoughts as to future combinations. There is some satisfaction, but also thoughts on where we need to be better – and refocus on my 20-60-20 rule. Overall though, there is a general sense of contentment. We are truly blessed to be able to pursue our passion in the cattle business, and to spend our Sunday mornings watching them work in their natural environment – turning grass into meat and milk.
Until next time,
2017 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale Report
March 23rd was another great day to hold the Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale at the Westerner Grounds, Red Deer Alberta. A little bit of fog cover started the day, but the sun soon poked through and combined with mild temperatures to create beautiful travelling weather to see a great group of bulls sell. Customers had the opportunity to have a hot beef lunch and inspect a high quality group of bulls presented by a number of great consignors, before watching them strut their stuff in the sales ring.
In all, five bulls ended up topping the $10,000 threshold at this years’ event with the high-sellers being a pair of Fleckvieh bulls. Lot 18: Starwest Density is Manitoba bound after this dark red meat machine was selected by Triple T Diamond of Lundar for $15,000. ‘Density’ was closely followed by Lot 65: Keato Pld Directors Cut, a moderate birth weight rascal selected by Swantewitt Simmentals for $14,000. Overall 49 lots sold for an average of $6,100.
The highlight of the day for Applecross Cattle was the return of one of our commercial clients, Barney Beechinor. Barney had selected APLX Edge from us at the 2013 Red Deer Bull Sale, so it was pretty special to watch him pick up two more bulls from us this year. First Barney selected Lot 49: APLX Pharaoh 2D from the opening group of fullbloods, and then later on in the sale, Barney also selected Lot 51: APLX Wagner 10D. It is always a great feeling when, after having success with their previous purchases, clients return for a replacement (or in this case two). We look forward to watching Pharaoh and Wagner’s genetics contribute to the really strong Beechinor commercial herd.
It was also fantastic to see Lot 52: APLX Raider 22D head south to Glen Ball at Millarville. Glen was looking for a new heifer bull to walk the foothills south-east of Calgary, so we are quite happy he found the traits he was looking for in ‘Raider’.
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. 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. We have some recips this year, a couple of new 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.
We are pleased to present four herd bull prospects at Transcon’s 2017 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale on Thursday, March 23rd at 1:00pm at Westerner Park, Red Deer, Alberta. This is already our seventh 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.
This year’s group consists of two FGAF WowEffect sons (Wagner, Weston), and one from each of Sanmar Polled Pharao (Pharaoh) and APLX Rambo (Raider). All four bulls showcase our program very well – we strive to produce bulls that are highly maternal and will calve out moderate birth weight progeny, while still having strong performance numbers.
We have been very happy with how FGAF WowEffect has worked for us – he has proven to be extremely consistent regardless of what type of cow he gets bred to. The WowEffect sons both combine their sires’ explosive performance and maternal strengths, and each are backed by outstanding cow families. Both Wagner and Weston have maternal brothers working in purebred herds.
Pharaoh is also a really neat individual; pedigree and BW suggest heifer bull, but both the scale and visual inspection certainly suggest a lot more than ‘just’ heifers. We are also excited to introduce the first progeny from our junior herd sire APLX Rambo in ‘Raider’; our youngster in the group that also showcases curve bending performance backed by two strong cow families. All four bulls show lots of muscling, have tremendous hair coats, and have been tested for the dilutor gene.
Individual pages (short-cut links are located in the right-hand column) have been created for ‘Pharaoh’, ‘Weston’, ‘Wagner’, and ‘Raider’. The bulls have been developed on a ration of free-choice quality first cut hay, combined with a forage based pellet by Country Junction. The bulls are housed in a 5 acre paddock to ensure lots of exercise, and all have quiet temperaments. On the individual pages, we have also pictured the sires, dams and grand dams. Maternal lines are very important to us, and we feel that behind every great bull is an outstanding cow family. As some people prefer paper copies, we also have individual bull profiles available in PDF format that can be e-mailed and printed, or sent by regular mail. Please let us know if you would like any additional information on any of our animals.
The 2017 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale promises to be another exciting event. We look forward to a great Thursday on March 23rd at Westerner Park.
How We Select Cattle: Our Five Six P’s
Fall sales season is in full swing and there has been a steady diet of catalogs released online and arriving in the mail. Perhaps it is because we aren’t marketing our own females this fall, but it does seem like I am spending a lot of time looking at catalogues and figuring out a schedule that can get me to as many cattle sales as possible, prior to the onset of calving season. Taking a step back today, I started thinking about my own selection process and the criteria we use when selecting an animal to join our herd. I think the following ‘5 P’s’ (and in our case 6 P’s) can be utilized to determine our interest in an animal available at auction.
The first “P” is picture. Thumbing (or these days clicking/scrolling) through a fresh new catalogue, it is usually the pictures that jump out first. A good picture may not make you buy an animal – but a bad or mediocre picture can sure make you pass over one without spending any time on them. This is an area we really focus on when selling our own cattle. A few years ago, we were told by both a fellow breeder and a cattle marketing rep that our cattle were a better quality than what they showed in the pictures – and that it was something we needed to improve on. We really appreciated the honest feedback, and ever since then we have tried to focus on how to get better pictures. We schedule time for ‘re-shoots’ into our pre-catalog deadline calendar, and hire a 4-H kid, who the cows are unfamiliar with, to assist with pictures. We love walking our cattle, so since they ‘know’ us they tend to keep their heads down – which isn’t very ideal for pictures. A new person in the pen (that still knows cattle), tends to be just enough to help get their attention, and often leads to a quicker, better picture. Hopefully, we take a picture that makes our animals worth a longer look in the catalog.
With a good picture at the top, our gaze tends to shift to the Pedigree below. I think every breeder has genetic lines that they follow; often either new genetics they wish to incorporate or genetics that they know just work in their herd. As we have been around the Simmental breed for a long time, there are also quite a number of cow families I recognize (and while most people have either a good/bad/indifferent opinion of a sire, when you recognize a cow family it is usually a good thing). So if I can find desirable outcross or proven genetics stacked across a pedigree it certainly piques my interest. Thanks to the CSA database, I also spend a fair bit of time tracking some of the animals I was interested in but wasn’t successful in acquiring in the past. Sometimes if you watch closely, there is the opportunity to acquire descendants in the future. Back at the 2010 National Trust sale, I was really drawn to an awesome lighter coloured open heifer from the Big Sky string. We didn’t end up getting her, as she landed at Virginia Ranch, but just last December we were able to acquire a grand-daughter – this time from the fine folks at Parview (who had purchased a daughter from Virginia Ranch at National Trust in the interim). It doesn’t always work that way – but keeping an eye on genetics I really like can certainly help trigger interest. EPD’s also get a glance – but I’ll delve into them in a future post. Overall though, the pedigree plays an important role when we consider an animal.
The next step is validating Phenotype – most often in the form of a visual inspection in the time leading up to the sale itself (and ideally in the form of a summer tour when we can take a peek at the cow family behind them). We have had good fortune in utilizing order buying ‘sight unseen’ in the past, but we are much more comfortable and confident (and have a willingness to bid higher) when we get a chance to view the cattle in person. What are we looking for? Generally, we mostly look at temperament and feet (getting them out to walk away from that straw pack if possible), and then look at the udder development or scrotal area. The fact is, for most consignment auction sales, the conditioning/fitting can hide a lot of potential faults in an animal – so it is no surprise that I did have a fellow breeder tell me that they ‘trust pedigree almost more than visual inspection’ when selecting animals. I think there is a lot of validity in this statement – but I still need to really ‘like’ an animals’ physical appearance/style in order to bid. (Jeanne also always asks if the heifer in question is ‘Pretty’ so maybe that is the 7th ‘P’).
Probably the most complex ‘P’ to accurately articulate is the prefix or people behind the cattle. Let’s face it: Breeders develop reputations – good and bad – for customer service and the quality of their cow herds. Your own personal experiences (and past purchases) shape that reputation, and it certainly can contribute to interest in adding genetics from a herd. I also think that it is important to recognize breeders that have supported your program in the past, which is something distinctly different from simply ‘trading cattle’ back in forth with another breeder. If an excellent customer of yours has a really strong animal on offer, it only makes sense to take an extra hard look to see if there is an opportunity to add another piece to your program.
Polled (our 6th P). We are gradually taking the horns off of our cattle. I don’t think that statement is a surprise to anyone who follows our program or blog. I think that in 10 years there will be substantially more polled cattle, so that is the direction we are taking our operation. It is absolutely something we look for when evaluating animals. But just because an animal is polled, it doesn’t mean it is better than the horned one on the page beside it – and improving the overall quality of our herd is our absolute goal. In 2015, we were successful in purchasing 3 heifers – 2 of which were horned. We absolutely bred horned cows back horned this spring. It is important to us to keep our focus on quality, and the polled will happen over time. Not everyone will agree with selecting with this ‘P’ (and that is perfectly cool), but polled is certainly an aspect we include when assessing cattle.
Price is obviously the final determining factor when purchasing an animal. How much is that animal worth to you? What is your budget? I am very fortunate that Jeanne is supportive of my cattle habit – but the trade-off is that I try to be very clear on what our budget is, so that there aren’t any surprises (and I don’t have to find a couch to sleep on) when the gavel falls and I am the high bidder. The other component with price is in being ‘ready to bid’ – something I have learned (much to my chagrin) over the years. Earlier in my career I would ‘give up’ on an animal (or even worse a prefix) thinking they’d be too expensive to bring home and move my attention on to the next one on my list – only to see on sale day that the original animal I had picked out did indeed fit within our budgeted price range. As a result, now I try to take a hard look at every animal I am interested in and be ready should an opportunity arise. We priority rank all the animals we are attracted to; and as long as the sales order co-operates, pick away starting at the top of our list. At an auction sale you just don’t know how it will unfold – so being ready, and being clear on budgets has paid dividends.
While we are fortunate to be in a position where we aren’t really looking to expand our herd numbers, I think our fellow purebred breeders would agree that there is always room for ‘one more’ (and then ‘one more’, and then one more after that). So after all my P’s have been evaluated, the final question before deciding whether to bid or not, is one of my dad’s favourites: “Does she make your herd better?” I think that this a great question – as if she doesn’t either improve your herd or diversify your genetics – what value does she add? If she doesn’t pass the ‘make herd better’ test, I am simply better off re-allocating or saving those funds for a future sale.
So I think that is the list. Picture. Pedigree. Phenotype. Prefix/People. Price. (and then, in our case, Polled). And ‘Pretty’ (Jeanne checks my grammar before I post these, so I CAN’T forget ‘Pretty’). Lots of P’s in the process to possibly pick potential purebred purchases!
See you at the sales (I’ll be minding my P’s)