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,