Applecross @ the National Trust
I spent a few days in Manitoba for Transcon’s National Trust in early November. The sale had a large number of quality animals, and showcased the breed well under the big lights of the Brandon Livestock Expo.
I have attended all five of the National Trust sales, and really enjoy the concept. The idea that the best in Simmental genetics can be brought together in one sales event, in a ‘showcase’ type format, has a lot of merit, and over the past 5 years I think it has proven to be a resounding success. We were fortunate enough to be able to showcase a bull at each of the last two events, and with the success we experienced we thought it important to continue to support the sale in its new location.
While we weren’t successful purchasing any live lots, we did acquire 10 more doses of Anchor D Viper semen. We watched this bull sell, and originally acquired a semen package in the spring of 2011. This year Viper sired a couple of our top heifer calves, and we admired how his bull calves looked in the Beechinor string in Red Deer. With Viper’s passing away this summer, leading to questions around future availability, we thought it made sense to invest now in increasing our semen bank.
We are also impressed by Viper’s genomic profile that the John & Stephon Beechinor were willing to share with us. He has tested to be very feed efficient (top 1% of the breed), while still remaining above the breed average for ADG. Our two heifers also tested well, showcasing his ability to pass these genomic indicators to his offspring. While great genomic markers don’t mean a whole lot if you don’t like the calves, the combination of outstanding physical traits with great genetic potential is something that was worth the additional investment.
I really enjoyed the Brandon facility – having the barns, hotel and restaurants all under one roof was a pleasure – especially considering the 6 inches of snow we received on Friday. It is a concept that deserves merit at other locations (Agribition in Regina, Westerner Park here in Red Deer).
One of the hidden benefits of moving the Trust to Manitoba this year, was that it also allowed us Albertans an excuse to go and tour farm operations while we were in the province. While in Manitoba, we got to see both Kopp Farms and Big Sky Simmentals.
Kopp Farms had a tremendous group of about 100 bull calves; nicely weaned, all tie broke(!), and already strutting their stuff. I am far from being an expert in red Simmental genetics, but I thought the Crosby and Walker sons really stood out. On the heifer side, I really liked the Virginia Santiago calves. We really appreciated the time and Edmund and Pauline Kopp spent showing us their program.
Despite all the snow on the ground, I also really enjoyed touring Big Sky (at Amy and Trevor’s). While it wasn’t the home ranch, there were a lot of impressive bull calves and an awesome group of big, powerful Fleckvieh cows just finishing up on pasture. I have always admired the performance in the Big Sky cattle, and after seeing some of their cows and bull calves, it is clear that the power is backed up deep on equal sides of the pedigree.
Both of these herds have high quality cattle, from which I could envision acquiring genetics in the future, so it is great to be able to visit and get a closer insight into their operation. It was certainly a lot easier to get away in early November, than to try and juggle calving with attending their respective Feb-March bull sales. As both breeders had cattle in the sale itself, it was great that that they were able to take the time to tour us around their farms, despite being so busy. There are a number of other operations I’d like to visit in Manitoba, so here is hoping that I will be able to make it back to tour some more in the next few years.
While it was a short visit to Manitoba, it was great to see such great cattle and visit with such knowledgeable breeders – both in Brandon and on our tours in the countryside. I look forward to seeing what excitement the next edition of the National Trust brings.
I was originally going to title this ‘Spring’ update but, while the snow has mostly gone, sub zero temperatures, random flurries and lots of wind hasn’t made this season feel too much like spring yet. Not that I am complaining. After the warm temperatures we enjoyed this winter I have nothing to complain about. It is truly special to walk out to the straw pack and see that a calf was born unassisted, and is up and drinking on their own, without having to worry about it freezing. While the mild winter can create its own set of challenges, we are truly thankful for the great calving season. The final tally has us with a 2 heifer to 1 bull ratio, which definitely means that the first Applecross females will be marketed this fall.
April brings ‘Spring Fever’ to our house (which is more than just me chasing Jeanne around the kitchen!). Perhaps cabin fever is a more apt description. Since the daylight hours are so long, and those pesky night checks are done for the season, there seems to be more time and energy to get those ‘after supper’ chores done in preparation for spring. Those ‘to-do’ lists that were made during the winter months get transferred into action. It is also great just to be outside more, without the heavy clothing, working away at those endless number of things that need done around the farm.
We have been able to get the cows out of the corrals behind the barn and onto our ‘shoulder season’ pasture that we use for December and April-May. It is a three acre paddock, complete with an old horse ‘round pen’ they can utilize for shelter. It is great to see them more relaxed; out of the mud and using their feet and legs more. I think the exercise is good for the calves too – they sure change in the few months since birth. It doesn’t take long for the bulls to start looking like bulls, and the heifers to start ‘princessing’ around the yard.
Speaking of ‘Princesses’; that is a great word to describe our Anchor D Viper calves. We only got heifers, but they sure are easy to pick out. They all seem to have the certain intangible ‘sass’ about them that is really neat to see. If there is going to be a calf to follow you around when you’re checking cows, looking for some attention, it will be a Viper heifer.
Dad has always said that the key to a successful breeding season is to make more ‘good decisions’ than ‘bad ones’. Sometimes a genetic combination works out; other times it does not. Hopefully each calf crop yields more of the ‘good’, and fewer ‘bads’. For the 2012 edition, I think I am firmly on the ‘good’ side of the ledger, though there are a few matings that didn’t work out quite the way I hoped. I always try to treat mistakes as something to learn from, instead of constantly second guessing myself. That is one of the great things about the cattle business: there is always next year to plan for.
To help me plan, I really try to keep detailed notes; some days those notes morph into a journal. It really helps the memory, and can be referred back to; little details can be remembered. Everything from calving tendencies and gestations, to a genetic cross that worked (and those that don’t). We live in such an information society, being able to go back and refer to notes – and have an accurate record of what you were thinking at the time, instead of relying on an increasingly bad memory (or just whatever you have heard recently) – is a great help when making decisions.
We are thick into AI season. I have a detailed chart of who should be bred, and to what; but that doesn’t always stop me from changing my mind when Donna McMurtry drives in the lane to breed them. Having Donna available is a great resource. As she has bred thousands of cows over the years, her level of expertise is tremendous. Having been around the breed for 35+ years, she also has an interesting perspective on what genetics work.
The biggest addition to our 2012 AI line-up is IPU Bronson. I really admire the Bronson females that Harry and Michelle Satchwell have working down at Virginia Ranch. They really are a sight – I think at one point they had something like 17 daughters working there – and they are all tremendous big volume cows. As we didn’t manage to get any daughters bought, we are excited to hopefully develop some for our own over the next few years.
We will also be AI’ing more to Dora Lee Eclipse this year; specifically on our heifers. His first daughters that I have working (now aged 4) are really impressive – and I have a really nice heifer calf this year too. There is a lot to like about Eclipse – he has both calving and maternal calving (a Fleckvieh rarity), he is coloured right, puts square udders on his females, and he can take the horns off. There is something to be said about keeping a semen bank around to re-visit 5 years down the road after you know a genetic combination works.
Spring is also when our bulls are introduced to their new homes. One of the great things about delivering bulls is the opportunity to tour the operation, and see what management techniques and genetic direction different herds are taking. I haven’t toured a herd yet where I haven’t learned something. This held true when we had the opportunity to tour the Langer and Wa-Na-La-Pa herds when delivering APLX Santana in a mid-March snow storm. One of the many things that stood out for us on this visit, was the work they had done with their new panel set-up that replaced old wooden corrals. The panels provide lots of flexibility and allowed multiple confined breeding and AI groups, all close together without the bulls seeming to bother each other; despite several cows being in heat that day. I see more panels in my future!
We also quite enjoyed our visit to Lone Stone Farms in February. One of our conditions in selling Envoy at the 2011 National Trust in November, was that we wanted to winter him prior to delivering him to Lonnie & Karen. So, on another snowy winter day, we travelled to Westlock to enjoy a wonderful lunch and most of an afternoon visiting. Even though it was only 4 days prior to their annual bull sale (and with plenty of jobs still yet to get done), they were more than happy to spend a lot of time with us showing us their program. One of the things that stood out for us on the visit, was the uniformity of the cattle. For the past 30 years they have developed a clear vision of what they want their cattle to look like, and that was clearly evident by how consistent their cow groups were. The success of their approach was clearly proven in the success of their Friday Bull Sale. Improving the uniformity of our cow herd is something that I look forward to, now that our herd numbers are almost to where we want them to be.
A last closing comment on bull season: while it has been a great year for bull sales overall, I would also suggest that it has been an amazing year for the ‘best of the best’. I don’t recall another spring where I have seen or heard of more bulls sell for $10,000+, $20,000+ or $40,000+. In some ways, it is not surprising; a rising industry should lead to reinvestment by both commercial cattlemen and by breeders. It is just great to see so much dedication / enthusiasm throughout the entire industry again in 2012. Here is hoping it continues on for the next few years.