2015 Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale Report
After a snowy week-end, sunny skies and mild weather welcomed the 2015 Edition of Transcon’s Red Deer Simmental Bull Sale on Monday, March 23rd, where a very strong group of Simmental Genetics were presented to an enthusiastic group of commercial and purebred cattlemen.
The record cattle prices were reflected in both an increased number of bulls in the sale, as well as much stronger prices. Almost 70 bulls sold averaging $6,753, which was a substantial increase over the 50 and $4,800 from a year previous.
Sale highlights included a very strong lead-off string from Starwest Farms, which included the high-selling Lot 31 “Starwest Bryck” for $33,000 to Black Gold Simmentals. The renowned JNR program also brought a great set of 4 bulls to Red Deer this year – that averaged more than $10,000 each.
Applecross bulls continued to be well received:
The legendary Virginia Ranch program selected APLX Clancy for $9,500. Harry and Michelle Satchwell are no stranger to Clancy’s genetics, and we are honoured to have a bull working in their program. We look forward to seeing Clancy’s progeny in future Western Harvest and Bull Spectrum Sales; not too far from home
Bruce and Marie Eisenbarth from Lacombe selected APLX Encore for $9,000. Bruce looks forward to crossing the tremendous length of Encore on his commercial herd.
We would like to thank all the bidders and the cattlemen who took the time to inspect the bulls we had on offer. Pen traffic has never been brisker. It is our goal to bring a set of bulls to town every year that showcase what our breeding philosophy is all about. We feel we accomplished this objective in 2015, and it is reassuring for us as producers when long time purebred and commercial cattlemen express interest (and are successful) in acquiring our genetics
We would be remiss if we didn’t also recognize the job that Transcon does in working the phones for bids, and managing the Red Deer Bull Sale. Jay Good and his team always put on a first-class event that we are proud to take part in.
With calving done, and our bull sale now behind us, our attention switches to breeding season and our never-ending goal of developing new, better and different genetics to share with the industry.
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.
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.