The Applecross Year In Review
2012 was an incredible year for Applecross. We hit a lot of milestones and are very pleased with how our operation continued to grow and evolve during the year.
We had some mild weather to begin the year, and that certainly made calving easier. It is not every year that calves can be born outside on the straw-pack without losing their tails or freezing their ears! We were almost three-quarters heifers to bulls in 2012 – which is great when you are trying to increase your herd numbers. While the mild weather created its own set of (health) challenges with the calves, we were quite happy with how they developed.
Bulls sales in 2012 far exceeded our expectations. Unexpectedly, at the end of 2011, Envoy was selected for the National Trust sale. As a result, we began the year with a visit to Lonnie & Karen Brown in late February, to deliver him to his new home and tour their operation. Not long after that, we got the chance to deliver Santana up to Edson, giving us the chance to see both the Wa-Na-La-Pa and Langer herds (and check out APLX Ensign in his home). Touring herds is one of my favourite things to do, so it doesn’t matter if it is February – seeing good cattle and visiting with great people is always a great way to spend a day. We were also pleased by how our bulls sold at auction in 2012. We were both honoured and humbled to see both Jackson (who sold in March at the Red Deer Sale for $12,000 to Westgold Simmentals) and Santana (who Wayne sold in the 2012 Cow-A-Rama sale for $11,000 to Vaughn Gibbons) represent the APLX prefix so well. It always takes time for bulls to make an impact in a breeders program, but we look forward to visiting all of these operations in 2013 to see how Envoy, Jackson and Santana are doing.
Lots of moisture in June and July led into a warm August and plenty of grass for the cattle. We didn’t vacation this summer, so there was plenty of time to halter break calves in July and complete farm improvements in August. We added space to winter mature bulls this year, so that was a major accomplishment for us. We also spent time improving our rotational grazing program, and making more efficient use of space and labour to help us manage additional cow numbers.
Heading into the fall sale season, it was great to see such excellent results, and see our fellow breeders having the success that they enjoyed. On the home front, we were successful in aquiring an additional bred heifer privately from my parents operation. Dora Lee Martina is a big, strong Broadway daughter that I think will fit in nicely with our young herd. The sale season also brought the opportunity to travel to Brandon to the National Trust sale, and while there I really enjoyed both visiting with fellow breeders and touring some world-class purebred operations. The sales seemed to get stronger as the year went on, and we weren’t successful purchasing females closer to home. The market for quality cattle has become very strong, and it is a great sign for the Simmental breed as the cattle market takes a much needed turn for the better.
I commented last year on the success of our website – and I thought it only fitting to provide an update again this year. 2012 brought additional visitors; with almost 10,000 views from over 87 countries during the year. We also worked with my parents to launch an updated Dora Lee website (www.doraleegenetics.com) utilizing the WordPress platform. Mom and Dad are able to manage and post updates to their site themselves, so it is another example of how easy establishing and maintaining a current web presence has become. We look forward to another exciting year in 2013 of providing updates on our operation, and sharing our perspective on topics that interest us.
Looking forward to 2013
For 2013, we are excited about what should be our largest, most uniform calf crop yet. We start calving about the 10th of January, and thanks to some good luck with our AI program, and having our walking bulls go right to work, we should be done calving in 2 months. We are expecting calves from 10 different sires, so there should be lots of diversity, but the similar ages of the calves should allow us to effectively compare the genetics. We have a number of cows bred to sires that have proven to work here in the past (Eclipse, Equinox, and Pharao to name three), but have also added some new sires, including a group bred to the great Bronson bull, as well as the first calves from our two young walking bulls – APLX Escalade and APLX Samson. It should be a awesome 2 months.
Early in the new year has also become the time of bull sales, and it appears like several events have moved earlier in the season. Based on how purebred heifers sold this fall, strong cattle prices, and the gradual rebuilding of cow numbers in the industry, I expect bull sales to be exceptional. Getting a different catalogue in the mail (seemingly) every day, is an exciting part of our search for new and outcross genetics. We also look forward to watching our three bulls develop in preparation for the Red Deer Sale in late March. We think Axel, Edge and Ajax all have something to offer the industry, so it will be great to watch them continue to develop.
Hard on the heels of bull sale season, comes some tough breeding decisions. While we still plan to AI extensively, we are planning on increasing our use of both of our walking bulls. With Escalade and Samson wintering here, they have continued to impress, and I think they will be more than up to the challenge of breeding a few more cows each in 2013.
In a lot of ways, the next few months are critical to the success of an operation. Getting healthy calves on the ground (and off to a good start), followed immediately thereafter by breeding decisions that can shape a program for years to come. Those night checks might get old after a few weeks, but the excitement that comes with seeing that healthy new-born calf, from a mating that you had such high hopes for, will make it all worthwhile.
As 2012 wraps up, and 2013 is about to begin, we pause during this holidays season to reflect with family and friends on the challenges and successes we have enjoyed over the past year. We are blessed to live in an amazing country, with fresh air, clean water and the means to put food on the table. We have a passion for breeding quality Fleckvieh cattle, and we are very fortunate to be able to pursue this dream through our operation here at Applecross. We look forward to an awesome 2013!
New Addition @ Applecross
We have been successful in acquiring ‘Dora Lee’s Martina’ during my recent visit to Ontario. Tremendously long and thick, Martina is a powerful Broadway daughter out of Bar 5 Maria – a South African female that Dad selected as an open heifer back in 2008.
There were a lot of factors that drew us to Martina, not the least of which was her sire, DDD Broadway. During our tours of various breeder’s operations, I have seen a number of Broadway cows that I really like, and he has also shown up in the pedigrees of several sale animals I have been interested in. Vaughn Gibbons has kept Broadway’s semen very exclusive, and while we have been successful in obtaining a couple of doses (and have a heifer calf of our own), we have been impressed with the bloodline, so adding this outstanding heifer made a lot of sense.
We usually prefer to purchase open heifers instead of bred heifers, primarily due to younger animals having more time to get integrated in our program. That extra year, combined with getting to breed them to the bull of our choice, ensures that they are set up ‘our way’ for that critical first calf. We feel that this approach gives them the best chance of having that first calf successfully, which more than offsets the added costs of feeding/breeding them for an additional 12 months compared to a bred heifer.
When we are seriously interested in adding a bred heifer such as Martina, the earlier the sale date the better. As with opens, bred heifers that have more time to adapt to their new surroundings and management program will calve out better, with a higher probability of breeding back on the first service. As such, as we move deeper and deeper into fall sale season, our focus shifts more and more towards open heifers.
Martina arrived here at Applecross on Thanksgiving, and fits in very nicely with our bred heifer group. With similar management programs, plenty of time to adjust, and bred to a calving ease specialist in Sanmar Pol Pharo, we look forward to an exciting calf in January. We are confident Martina will add some outcross performance to our cow herd for many years to come.
I had the opportunity to slip back to Ontario for a week-end in September. It is always great to visit family and the farm, and September is a wonderful time of year to do so. At Dora Lee, harvest finishes in August (when the barley and second cut hay finish up), and with the drought, weaning was also completed early, so there was a lot of time to both visit and spend with the cattle; evaluating and reflecting on the current calf crop and how the bred replacements are developing. While the farm and cattle have changed a little around the edges, the core of the operation remains essentially the same since I left for university 20 years ago.
I am very fortunate to share my passion for cattle with my father. We often act as a sounding board for each other to discuss the merits of new ideas that can generate a lot of great discussion. While we don’t necessarily agree on everything, I have learned an tremendous amount from Dad over the years, the majority of which I am trying to incorporate into our operation here at Applecross. We also both really enjoy spending time with the cows – just out among them, checking and evaluating, planning and appraising, debating the merits of what the next step in the evolution of the herd should be. In hind-sight, I guess it was no surprise that late Friday night, when we got in from the airport, we checked the cows before bed – despite it being full dark. This must be the reason that Gators have lights!
Dora Lee is ideally situated for cattle. The spine of the farm is a meandering creek that runs the length of the property, complete with river flats, rolling hills, and predominantly cedar bush. The grain and hay ground surround the pastures, and together make a nice balance for a cow calf operation. Similar to most of the American mid-west, Ontario suffered through a serious drought this summer. With no moisture for almost 2 months, both the hay and pasture land suffered significantly. While they had some rain in August (and it rained 2+ inches the day I was there), I was surprised at how ‘green’ the pastures were. I think the big gain was in the rotational grazing program. As I discussed previously, Dad has been a long term proponent of rotational grazing. With the drought this year, he took his program a step further, dividing all of his existing pastures in half again, which effectively shortened the grazing period and increased the rest time. As rotational grazing takes years to improve the pasture conditions, the hard work in improving the grass stand had already been completed, but the even shorter grazing was essential for stretching grass in this drought year, and will continue to pay dividends in the future.
One of the other neat tools that Dad utilizes to improve the pasture is to add grass seed to the mineral. The rolling hills and river flats are not conducive to a seeder, so by adding birdsfoot trefoil seed to mineral, the cows ingest the seeds and then excrete them in the manure all over the pastures. Dad has always joked that cows had a forage harvest on the front and a manure spreader on the back, so I guess this step just hooks on an air-seeder as well. I do think digging deeper into that concept has a lot of merit. The cow-calf sector has always been a low margin business, with feed being the number one expense, and with equipment requirements traditionally a major capital cost. Any opportunity to maximize the natural grazing ability of cows, and reduce the amount of confined feeding that requires intensive management – whether it be ‘prepared’ hay/feed or manure removal – should be seriously considered. This is also a great trait in Fleckvieh cattle – their natural ability to perform on a forage based diet, provides a significant advantage compared to other breeds.
That combination of an extensive natural habitat combined with great childhood memories has always made Dora Lee a very peaceful place; and something we have tried to emulate here at Applecross (It should be no surprise that Applecross derives from the Gaelic word ‘ A’chomraich’, which means ‘Sanctuary’). As a result, the visit back to Ontario provided the perfect opportunity for stepping back and reflecting; not only on the goals Mom & Dad are still trying to achieve at Dora Lee, but also on the things we wish to accomplish here at Applecross. I think the strength of Dora Lee has always been in the cow herd – Dad has always focused on maternal lines, and has consistently stacked strong cow families to make sure the walking herd formed the backbone of the operation. Now that our numbers have grown closer to where we want them to be, I think it is important to follow this example and focus on making the core herd stronger from top to bottom. To accomplish this, we will need to retain all of our top bred heifers and not sell any females this fall as was originally intended. In the short term cash flow will certainly be tighter but, down the road, a stronger herd will result in a more uniform bull calf group, and more consistent females.
From a longer term perspective, one of my goals as a purebred breeder is to get the Applecross/APLX prefix on the bulk of our walking herd. When I look at bull and female sales for some of the top programs I admire – whether it is here in Alberta with Virginia Ranch or Anchor D – or my parents Dora Lee in Ontario – their own breeding prefix is very prominent in their program; often going back deep into extended pedigrees. Obviously an operation always needs to acquire new and different genetics to their herd in order to add some diversity, but I would like to think that if our herd is progressing, then generally our own replacements should be just as good as ones I could buy. I think it also can showcase your own breeding philosophy as it develops, hopefully, into a nice uniform group of cattle. This process obviously takes some time, but I also think that it creates a roadmap that showcases how a program evolves to create their current genetic offerings. Spending time in Ontario just enforced the importance of this goal, and provided yet another reason as to why our bred heifers should stay home this fall.
Lest you think I spent all my time thinking and talking cattle in Ontario, I did also enjoy some great time with family – not to mention several pieces of mom’s legendary pie (about the only advantage of visiting Ontario by myself – I got my favourite (Raspberry) – we usually get Jeanne’s favourite when we are both there). Living 4,000 odd kilometers from family can be tough, but we are blessed to live in a time when they are only a phone call/email/Skype away. We are fortunate to have both the opportunity and ability to visit, and we both look forward to an extended trip east next Summer. While the focus is always to visit family, I am sure there will be plenty of opportunity to see the cattle, and take that important opportunity to step back and reflect on where our own operation is headed.