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.