“That Isaac Lancaster, I bet he’s never milked a cow…….!” If that’s your first impression upon meeting the third of four Lancaster siblings from I-Cow Holsteins in North Yorkshire, UK you would be very wrong.
Although this comment makes Isaac smile when he travels to North America, he does prefer to set the record straight. “I have three siblings, two older sisters, Rebecca and Jennifer, and a younger brother Luke. We all worked on the family farm with our parents, Richard and Ann Lancaster, from a young age helping to milk before going to school and again when we returned. Running a dairy farm is something I’ve been involved in all my life.”
Growing the I-Cow Possibilities
I-Cow Holsteins fully represents the dairy passion of this young family starting with the pre-fix selection. Perfectly named I (for Isaac), C (for Claire), O (for Oliver) and W (for William) the I-Cow passion for detail and family planning continues with their dairy herd. “We feel that to milk as many cows as possible for the size of your farm is the only way forward in today’s dairy farming industry as your set costs remain the same. We are currently milking around 160 cows three times per day at I-Cow, but plan to increase to 300 as quickly as we can. Since my brother went to work at Ponderosa Holsteins in Spain, I have taken over the running of the farm along with my wife Claire and our sons William & Oliver. I also buy elite cows for different clients as well as dealing in commercial cattle which brings in extra income. My parents are partners in the farm and they work on the farm too, helping to rear the young stock in the winter months. They spend the summer in the south of France where we have a villa that we rent out for holiday lets.
A “Model” Plan and Sire Stacks
When you strive for dairy excellence, your breeding philosophy shapes the growth of the business. Isaac confirms this. “My breeding philosophy has always been breed for the true type model. When you have 300 cows in one herd they need to be functional. You need good udders, stature, dairy strength and most of all sound feet and legs because, if they can’t walk, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the animal is. Also sire stacks are very important. I feel that they do not get enough attention. We have always used high type sires but now and again we throw a higher production sire into the pedigree to maintain the production. If you look back at the great sires throughout time, you will find it in their pedigrees also.” Looking ahead Isaac outlines future plans. “We will use mainly high type sires on our herd. It doesn’t matter if some are a bit old as I will milk the daughters through the herd and I like to know what I am getting. Therefore, Atwood, Goldchip, Lauthority, and Sid. We will use a high genomic sire on the genomic cows but still have to like the pedigree, so we are using Cashcoin, McCutchen and Colt 45 at present.”
“It’s hard to pick a favourite cow”
The question of choosing a favourite cow is difficult. Part of the reason for that is that passionate breeders are always looking ahead to the perfect one that is yet to come. For Isaac choosing his favourites presents problems for him as well. “This is difficult. I have been lucky enough to own some world famous cows in partnership deals. Lylehaven Lila Z, Wabash Way Emily Ann and Drakeview Leduc Allure to name a few, but to choose one I would have to say Lila Z at this time. She wasn’t the greatest show cow ever, but the way her daughters have bred now with high type and high Genomics I will have to choose her. Her sire stack was great. Durham x Formation x Starbuck x Astrojet. And now with Goldwyn, Planet, Snowman etc. added to the pedigree, is why they are high in the genomic listings and still remain high in type.”
Bovines Beyond Borders
Also I have to mention taking a string of U.K cows to Fribourg, Switzerland to the European show. Myself, Mark Nutsford and Ben Yates made the decision to go even after the members of our breed society had been told it could not happen. This was due to different government health regulations but with meetings, various discussions and perseverance, we made it happen and took seven head to the show. (Read more: GB Line-Up for the European Championships Announced!) The results were very good. One 1st placed animal, two 5th placed animals and some 7th and 8th placed too.(Read more: Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra Wins Grand at the 2013 All European Championship Show) So we proved our point. Remember, we only had three herds to choose from whereas all the other competing nations had their whole country’s herds to choose from. I believe that we did pretty well considering that we only had six weeks to organize it. In addition, the Spanish team that won the group competition consisted of two animals from the four that I bought in the UK for Ponderosa Holsteins: Huddlesford Duplex Medora (Intermediate Champion) and Wyndford Atlas Winsome (2nd place 5yr old). Again, this is something the UK can be proud of. It is something that I feel does not get the promotion or recognition that it deserves for such a large accomplishment.”
Mapping a Bigger Marketplace with UK Records
When it comes to accomplishments, those who organize cattle sales are well aware that it takes 110% commitment and loads of hard work. It takes even more to set benchmarks. Isaac describes the logistics behind the Global Glamour Sale at Arethusa Farm. “The average of $97,500 at that time (pre-genomic) was a great result and I don’t think that this will ever be surpassed now for animals without genomic data. I spent nearly seven months of my time in the U.S. and Canada that year organising the sale animals with Ernest and Terri and enjoyed every minute of it. We had three unanimous All- Americans in the Sale (Apple, Hazel and Dundee Mona) and also a number one TPI Animal in Wabash Way Emily Ann. Also, we sold an R.C Shottle Heifer (Riverdale Redrose from Lavender Ruby Redrose that was born in England to Willsbro Holsteins of the UK for $255.000 (£127,000 at the time) which is still a breed record price for a U.K animal to be sold. Unfortunately, this never gets a mention which is typical U.K policy not to promote animals on an international level………..anyway don’t get me started on that one.” From an appreciative point of view, Isaac turns to those who provide outstanding support. “I would like to give special mention to Wayne Stead, our head Herdsman, and Nathan Smith who do an excellent job in running the farm on a daily basis. Without them as part of the team it would not be possible for me to have the free time to travel and concentrate on other business.”
Genomics and Genetics. Setting our GPS for Future.
Always prepared to accept change, including his beard going grey, Isaac weighs in on the impact of genomics. “In the last five to six years it has turned into the be- all and end- all of the future of the Holstein Breed. Having said that, I find it strange that herds and individuals who sold only a few bulls to AI are now supplying large numbers of AI bulls to our industry.” This raises a further question for Lancaster. “Is it that all the clever cow men and sire analysts were not breeding or selecting the right bulls in the pre genomic era?? I think the idea of genomics is correct and we cannot and will not stop progress in any way, shape or form, but let’s hope that the people responsible have set the correct formula to move the Holstein breed in the right direction. That is the question we should be asking and only time will provide the answer.”
“Genomics is a great tool if it is not abused.”
Isaac feels genomics hasn’t changed things that much for I-Cow because they use it as a breeding and information tool. He explains. “If I buy a high genomic heifer for myself or a client I have to appreciate the pedigree and the individual animal not just the highest heifer in the sale which I feel some people get suckered in to. The number one GTPI heifer should not necessarily be bred to the number one GTPI bull. Check out the type linear on the heifer to see if she compliments the linear on the bull you are using on her. If this is not the case, you may have to use a sire further down the list because, if you don’t, you will get found out eventually.” Using genomics correctly as a tool is important but there are other considerations for Lancaster. “The biggest problem I can foresee is that the genetic pool is getting smaller and we won’t know what to use. The polled bulls will be used more I feel because there are different sires in the pedigrees that give us that option to gain entry to different bloodlines, so I can see the polled animals becoming more prominent.”
Projecting The Prominence of Polled
Looking deeper into the impact of polled genetics Isaac foresees changes. “I feel the polled business will get larger because in the modern world that we live in, animal husbandry and welfare will get to be a major issue. Some countries are now speaking of banning dehorning. This could be a major change we see in the next 10-20 years. Also, and I hope I am wrong, but the way show cows are presented may change because of the same reasons which will be a disaster for everyone. I love showing cows and there is nothing better than seeing the Grand Champion at Madison stand there with the spot light on her in the centre of the ring chewing her cud. She doesn’t look that stressed out to me. But some people don’t understand and make ridiculous decisions.”
Mentors Pave the I-Cow Pathways to Success
Dairy breeders have long recognized that four areas have tremendous impact on dairy success: marketing, business decisions, personal connections and family support. Isaac feels well served in all these areas. “I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with some of the biggest players in the industry through my time spent working in North America.
On the marketing front I will say Albert Cormier. He was great with me when I ran the A.D.I Edition Sales and gave valuable advice on how to market and discuss individual cows and different families when talking with potential clients and also offered expertise on advertising in breed magazines and forming syndicate groups on high priced animals.
On a business front I will say Ernest Kueffner. We worked together on the Global Glamour sale. Ernie is an individual that will never be replaced because of his way with people and his thought towards business and having the best financial results. His attention to detail on a daily basis is second to none and with Terri Packard they make a great team.
On a personal level Dan Doner is the best family man I know and someone that we can all learn from. Life is not just about cows and money all the time, this can sometimes get in the way of what really matters in life, so special mention to him.
Also all of my family, especially my brother. He’s my best friend and I am very proud of the job he is doing at Ponderosa Holsteins. I hope that one day we can work together on the same project in the same country.
Positive publicity. Shared conversations.
Keeping the I-Cow name in the minds of the right people at the right time is an ongoing priority for Isaac. “We advertise in different Magazines at the moment and will advertise more in the near future. I like using Facebook because you can see who likes your posts and receive positive feedback (most of the time!) I feel that we do more business through Facebook than we would do through a website and it seems to work well for us. I think that it is an easier and more fun way to communicate rather than through e-mail and with today’s technology it’s a much faster way of communicating as many farmers now own smart phones.”
Meeting the Marketplace
The marketplace is always right. Isaac describes their philosophy. “We try to cover every potential market but use breeding sense. If you have something for everyone you can always sell. We are currently working with a number of different animals to cover every market. Genomic, Outcross, Showring and Polled. Willsbro Emily Angel VG 86 2yrs (Planet x Emily Ann), Broeks Elfer VG 87 2yrs (Outcross sister to Snowman), Highpoint Golden Rose (Goldwyn x Damion – 1st 4yr old Ontario Spring Show 2013) and Rainyridge URW Ella P Red (Laron P X Destry x Mr Burns x Shottle) from the Tony Beauty family. I have to fall in love with the animal’s type when I buy them and like to think they can all show no matter what market they will cover and all these cows do that for me. Also their sire stacks are what I like for their prospective markets.”
6 Steps to Success According to Isaac
There are really five… but only Isaac can claim the good fortune of having his wife for a partner. After that he shares these five steps. “1. Keep your options open. 2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because if one basket breaks then you’ll need to have another to fall back on. 3. Remember every day is a school day and you can always learn something new however clever you think you might be and whatever your age may be. 5. Be friendly with everyone and don’t try to be something you’re not.” The most important thing to keep in mind is number 7 – last but not least. “There has always been an art to cattle breeding and that will never change so you have to ensure that you use the information correctly.”
The Bullvine Bottom Line – “Cheers to I-Cow”
With passion, hard work and humour Isaac Lancaster looks forward to a long and rewarding career in the dairy business for himself and his family. The Bullvine and our readers wish the I-Cow all the best and assure Isaac that, upon hearing his name, many are already saying, “That Isaac Lancaster! Isn’t it amazing how passionate he is about the dairy business…..?”