With so many choices to make when facing breeding decisions, the results we achieve inevitably brand us. For third generation dairy farm, Burket Falls Holsteins, the label “rebel” goes back to ten years after the farm transitioned from Guernseys to Holsteins in the 1950s.
Father Dave and son John Burket give us a summary of the breeding philosophy at Burket Falls Holsteins, “We have always strived to breed eye-appealing, profitable, and long living dairy cattle. Solid cow families were always preferred over jumping on the latest breeding fad.” Some would describe it as ironic that the 80%+ naturally polled herd is right in the thick of today’s latest breeding trend. However, having focused on polled for more than 50 years, the Burket’s definitely move out of the follower column and hold top spot on the visionary list. Dave gives us a glimpse of how it all started.
“Our first polled animal was born on the farm in 1960. That cow, Princess Fayne Houtwje, produced seven consecutive records of 1100 pounds of fat in the late 60′s and early 70′s. It was the unique combination of no horns and high production that got our attention that we indeed had a special cow.” Princess traced back 21 generations to Holland.
Many things in breeding serve to focus our goals and provide a foundation for our breeding plans. For some it’s production. For others it is show winners. For Dave Burket who took over the farm from his father, Frank, after graduating from high school in 1950, it was that productive, horn free purchase of Princess that clarified his breeding vision. Today Burket Falls Holsteins includes approx. 500 acres of corn, alfalfa, and alfalfa/grass mix. They still pasture quite a bit. But there ends the familiar part of their resume. For this farm located in south central Pennsylvania that started with l1 registered Holsteins now milks 100 Registered Holsteins. The herd is 80%+ naturally polled and about 3/4 are red or red factor.”
We hear the above quotation many times when seeking advice from the elite breeders in the dairy industry. Burket Falls Holsteins has followed this motto for three generations and today
Dave and John and their families are involved in executing that vision every day. “Whatever type of cattle you desire, strive to breed that kind and don’t try to appeal to all markets.” Advises Dave. He emphasizes, “The breeders who have stayed focused with a particular goal, seem to be the most successful.”
We all feel justified when the breeding decisions we have made bear results. Such is the case with Burket Falls Holsteins. Developing a herd of predominantly polled Holsteins has attraction national attention and international appeal. The focused approach, combined with red, has yielded animals that have competed at the national show level and produced large amounts of milk. They are sought after in the market place. A good plan is invaluable and takes daily commitment. Additionally, Burket Falls Holsteins feels they have been fortunate in breeding good cows due to advice from a very special mentor. “Bill Weeks, the founder of aAa, (Animal Analysis Associates) has had probably the biggest impact. We were fortunate enough to have Bill as a friend and visitor to our farm. It was Bill’s genius over 40+ years that has made the biggest impact.”
At Burket Falls Holstein they have stayed loyal to their founding family. “We are working with descendants of Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM. They now have more than eight generations of polled from Sophia. Sophia’s lifetime production is 241,000 and 4.1% fat. She is a polled Elevation daughter that was a granddaughter of the original polled cow, Princess. Dave Burket enumerates her successes. “Sophia now has over 150 Excellent descendants in our herd alone and countless others around the world. She is the foundation of the only “all polled” five generation, GMD DOM, all VG or EX, all over 130,000 4.0% lifetime pedigree.” Additionally, Sophia was recently voted one of seven of Pennsylvania’s Favorite Cows by the membership of the Pennsylvania Holstein Association in recognition of their 100 Year Celebration.
The Burkets feel fortunate that in today’s marketplace where the spotlight is on genomics, polled is considered of “added value”. John notes, “Genomics has made the majority of our herd worth less money. Unless you have the very cutting edge of genomics, or the high show ring type, most registered cattle today are worth commercial price.” Although they are aware of the swing of the marketplace, they remain committed to their original vision when choosing sires. Dave confirms.” We continue to try to use the best sires available to incorporate into our polled and red breeding programs. We use many of our own polled sires, plus a few of the top genomic sires from solid maternal lines”
Looking ahead both Burkets see much that is positive in dairy breeding. “The industry has finally accepted that the future will be polled.” John explains their reasoning “This is primarily because of the demand in the market place and prices that polled animals have been commanding.” This is gratifying for the Burket Falls Holsteins breeding program but they see that there are other challenges that polled breeding can provide answers to. “We know that the animal welfare issues are not going to go away. As an industry, we (polled breeders) can be proactive in eliminating an undesirable routine on the farm. “Realistically Dave and John see that changes are coming in all directions. “For breeding we think some of the most beneficial aspects will be disease resistance and feed efficiency. Right today we are in the genomic bubble, but the pendulum will again swing back to a more balanced approach.”
There are many variables beyond the control of our dairy breeding programs and, while we should definitely be aware of them, we can learn from the Burket Falls Holsteins example. “Our breeding goals have never changed. We have always strived to breed eye-appealing, profitable and long living dairy cattle. Solid cow families were always preferred over jumping on the latest breeding fad.” With heartfelt commitment they see their vision being achieved. “We are not sure what the color of the dairy cow of the future will be…But we are sure that she will be POLLED!”
Bullvine writer, Karen Hunt, is a dairy-farm wife who is an author, entrepreneur and champion of all things rural and family farm. Karen loves the wordy side of life. Husband, three children, eight grandchildren, thirty cows and Jack Russell terriers are her inspiration!