So many exciting cows have been lost to the international industry too soon.
Misadventure, illness and calving complications have all too often put a fatal full stop on the careers of the high-profile cows the world has loved to love. In the last two decades, the mortality levels of several exciting young cows set to impact the global dairy community have been crushing.
So, it is worth celebrating the incredible career of a Red & White Holstein, who has bucked every trend the industry has to offer – almost as much as one of her owners – when she celebrated her 15th birthday in May.
Everyone knows her simply as Apple, but her official title is KHW Regiment Apple-Red-ET EX96 4E DOM 19*.
So many things have to go right for a cow to become a household name. Most of that rests in the hands of whomever is managing her.
Apple was lucky in that regard. She was bought by one of the industry’s cleverest cowmen – Mike Deaver – as a bred two-year-old.
While Mike couldn’t afford her, he knew people who could and, importantly, he knew how to manage her. Mike, of Sherona Hill at Edgerton, Wisconsin, USA, is at the heart of Apple’s story – and most of her early success.
Mike remains the majority shareholder (30%) in Apple, who lived at Sherona Hill during her early reign and for the past seven years has resided in a prime-time box stall at Mike and Julie Duckett’s Duckett Holsteins, at Rudolph, Wisconsin.
As Mike reflected on his adventures with Apple after selling his farm recently and re-locating to a warmer climate on the other side of the USA in Arizona, this master storyteller brings Apple’s journey into perspective.
SHORT BUT SWEET
It’s worth noting that Apple was only shown eight times in her career – for three historical results at World Dairy Expo (WDE) and seven All-American nominations. Today, she has more than 280 EX descendants all over the world, and is the only cow to have her clone beat her for Grand at WDE and her daughter finish Honourable Mention.
Her sons and grandsons have also had an extraordinary impact on both the Black & White and Red & White populations. And, there isn’t a person on the planet interested in great cows who doesn’t know her.
Apple’s lineage was recently traced back 26 generations and 139 years of registered Holsteins to 1880. She comes from an imported cow from North Holland named “Vriend”, who was number 2439 in the Dutch herd book.
She remains modern, timeless, and in demand. Her ability to cross credit to the genomics market, and the family’s super production records and great components, hasn’t hurt her either.
MARCH TO GREATNESS
The day Apple sold for US$1million at the Global Glamour sale in 2008, she was the reigning All-American for age, the maternal sister to KHW Kite Advent-Red-ET (multiple WDE Premier Sire), the first Red & White in 11 years to win a Black & White in-milk class at WDE, and her pedigree was laden with six consecutive EX dams.
After that sale, Apple would go on to win Grand Champion Red & White at WDE in 2011. She was Reserve Grand at WDE in 2013 to her clone (KHW Regiment Apple-3-Red ETN owned by Westcoast Holsteins) with her Talent daughter in Honourable Mention (Ms Candy Apple-Red-ET EX93, owned by Frank & Diane Borba and Frank & Carol Borba). That year, KHW Kite Advent-Red-ET was again Premier Sire of the Red & White show. It was hardly surprising that Apple was also the 2013 Holstein International Red Impact Cow of the Year.
Much of the credit for her success comes down to the core group of people who understood what she was capable of from the get-go, and then made sure that it happened.
The day Mike met Apple he had visited with Norm Nabholz to look at a Jersey he was considering buying at Kamps Hollow Dairy in Belmont, Wisconsin.
“I was completely obsessed to buy her when I saw her as a bred heifer,” Mike said. “I liked the Jersey that day, but she wasn’t good enough to suit me. Norm and I were talking on the way home and I was going on and on about how much I liked the two-year-old, and he said to me, ‘You’re more excited about this Jersey than I thought you’d be?’. I replied, ‘The Jersey? No, I’m talking about the Red one’.
“He thought I was a bit over the top. But, from the moment I saw her, it was complete obsession – more than any other cow during my career. I didn’t really care about the proof of her sire [a plus proven Rubens sire, Carrousel Regiment-Red-ET], but I really liked the dam of her sire [Stelbro Renita Ranger EX94 8*]. She was a four-time Madison Grand Champion, and it was good blood. I’d never seen Apple’s mother until that day. I’d heard she was a pretty nice cow – and [Kamps Hollow Durham] Altitude was an incredible cow.”
Altitude is today remembered as one of the breed’s most important brood cows. Sired by Durham, she lived to 15 years old, and was classified EX95. Not only was she Apple’s dam, she was the dam of bulls Advent, Acme and Jotan, and the granddam of Amor Red, Absolute, Big Apple and Armani. She, herself, was the Red Impact Cow of the Year in 2009, and every bull from her that was put into stud made the active line-up.
Behind Altitude was Apple’s big-hitting fourth dam – the famous D-R-A August EX96.
RIGHT PERSON ASKING THE QUESTION
Mike asked Norm who the best person was to broker the deal. That man was cattle photographer John Erbson, who would join Mike in the Apple partnership.
“John got to Kamps Dairy at 10am the day we bought her, and I never got the call until 10.30pm that night that they had finally priced her,” Mike said. “John asked me if I was sitting down. It was US$60,000.
“I think they priced her where they thought I wouldn’t take her. I had no idea how to pay for her. I probably had $600 at that point. I said to John, ‘That’s a lot of money for a heifer. Tell them I’ll take her’.”
She was at Sherona Hill by 4.30am the next morning.
Mike said he also asked about housing and working into a partnership on Altitude with Ryan Kamp (one of Apple’s former owners).
“I was inches away from that, and we’d agreed, but Ryan called me the next morning and he said it would break his heart if she left his farm, and I completely understood.
“In the end, he used to drive over to look at Apple at our place and stand outside her box stall for an hour and just smile as he watched her eating. Then he’d turn around and say, ‘Thank you. She could never live like this at my house’.”
WDE 2006 PAVES THE WAY
Apple calved in at Sherona Hill as a junior two-year-old, and was set for WDE in 2006. As always, Mike had put some thought into her campaign. He entered her in both the Black & White and Red & White shows – deliberately building hype on the young cow.
“Everyone wanted to know if I was going to show in the Red & White show or the Black & White show, which was held two days later. And, I didn’t say anything to anyone,” Mike said.
“And, then the word went through the fairgrounds that I had her uddered for the Red show.
“I’d half-bagged her, and I had her prepped, her tail brushed, and, although we didn’t oil her, we wiped her down with a sponge, and she had her show halter on. We went through the whole process like we were going to show her.
“Everybody was still hanging around, looking around at her, waiting for her to head to the ring, but as soon as they did the first call for the junior two-year-old for the Red show, I milked her out.
“That news went through the sheds so fast, ‘He’s gone black. He’s gone black’! I thought it was kinda funny to screw with everyone a little bit.
“I was always going to show her in the Black & White show. Someone asked me why I chose the Black & White show over the Red that year? And, I said to them, ‘If you don’t compete with the best ones, what’s the sense in winning?’”
Mike said he wasn’t nervous when he hit the ring with Apple the sole Red & White entry in a class numbering 31 head under judge Dan Donor.
“No, because I had hold of the greatest young cow I’d ever seen,” Mike said.
He deliberately didn’t enter the ring in order by his class number, hanging back despite the ring steward’s best efforts, and eventually entered the WDE’s coliseum last. And out of order. The ring steward was then forced to escort him to his allotted spot.
“I walked Apple on the inside of every cow in that ring, and when I got to the end and the steward told me to follow him, I knew who Apple went behind, so I just turned right and went straight across the middle of the ring.
“And, then when I got there Dan [Donor, the judge] walked straight to the middle of the ring and I just set her up, and he did a complete walk around her like she was the only cow out there. He said, ‘thank you’ to me, and then I just walked over and put her in her spot.
“I thought, ‘I might get my arse beat, but I do know he’s going to know I’m here’. And, she was the only Red one.
“After he got through looking at her, the crowd started clapping. He couldn’t not win with her because the crowd was already hooping and hollowing, and the damn class hadn’t even started.”
Mike was to have a good day that day, because in the very next class he was exhibiting Quality Ridge Stormi Hazel, who would go on to classify EX96 2E 3* and be nominated All-American seven times in milking form.
“I knew I had Hazel to come next and Dan knew that too. So, we had a nice one-two punch there. That’s the way that day went down.”
The day the four-year-old Apple sold for US$1million in the Global Glamour sale at Arethusa in 2008, the sale manager Ernie Kueffner and a former founding partner in Apple, said the new partnership was smart to include Mike, and for them to continue to house her at Sherona Hill.
“Successful businesspeople don’t buy cows because they want a blue ribbon,” Ernie said at the time. “They buy because they are a good investment. And, truthfully, finding money is easy. The real problem is once people purchase the cows, where can they keep them and who will take care of them. That is the biggest problem in our industry – taking care of animals properly.”
And, while WDE had set the tone for her career, Mike felt she had nothing to prove that year.
“Right after we sold her we had two really good daughters to sell in our Prime Time sale [held during WDE week],” Mike said.
“And, we’d just sold a half a dozen calves for another million dollars. So, I left her at home from WDE that year and put her on display at the sale. I had a calf bring US$140,000 and another one bring US$100,000. I didn’t need to take her down to the show and give anyone the chance to beat the million-dollar cow.”
INTELLIGENT AND FUN
Mike said Apple is aggressive and intelligent, and kept everyone on their toes at Sherona Hill.
“She’s a sneaky cow. If you left the gate slightly open, she’d get out. I ended up having to put a rope and snap on her gate, because she worked out how to open the spring-loaded latches.
“She would fart around until she could flip the latch up, and then pull it over with her mouth and either go and tear your hay stack down or eat a barrel of grain.”
Mike also left her in the third box stall at Sherona Hill so she never had to turn a corner to go to the dairy. At shows, the only person to take Apple to the clipping frame, for show preparation or to the wash rack was Mike’s son, Todd. In the end, they put a ring in her nose to keep her safe.
“She’s not mean, and she’s not mad, but she would make you suffer. Running back to her stall from the wash rack around corners on concrete is not good.
“If Todd did nothing else at the show, his job was to look after Apple. She liked him. No one else was to put her their hands on her except Todd, me or Joe Hoffman.
“It’s not because we were so smart or anything. It’s just she was so inquisitive and so on her own, and she respected really diligent handling, and if we made sure that happened, then she didn’t go out of place.
“And, I didn’t want to be the guy responsible for her going down and breaking her hip. At home, it didn’t happen because we just opened the gate and she had a straight line to the dairy.
“I’ve got a Sid daughter, who is exactly the same. If you have a pail of milk she’ll stop and drink the damn thing on the way back from milking. She’s always screwing around. Instead of fighting her, we just made sure there was no milk there.”
Mike said the ring on her nose also kept Apple on her game in the show-ring.
“I showed her one year and she’d look like a million dollars, and just when it was time to put her game face on she’d drop her shoulders and chine and spread her front legs, and goof around with her head.
“It changed her whole front-end perspective. As soon as I could feel her starting to do it, I’d flick the ring and she’d shape back up. I might have got beaten, but Apple wasn’t going to beat me.”
CLONING, AND WHEN THREE APPLES WIN
Her breeding plan early on was a studied exercise.
Mike said when the partnership won a free cloning session with Trans Ova Genetics when Apple won as a two-year-old, they took the sample right there at the show.
“That’s what got us going on the cloning thing. I always thought when others had cloned a 96-point cow that was 12 years old, that all the resulting clones looked like a 12-year-old cow when they were two.
“So, I believed the cloning had to be done with the genetic information when they were at their best, and they had to be a modern cow that would be modern in another five to 10 years.
“Trans Ova kept that genetic information, and we cloned that same tissue sample three separate times for nine calves. And, they all look like her, and they all looked like young cows.”
Among them was KHW Regiment Apple C-Red-ETN – the dam of popular sire Dymentholm Mr Apples Avalanche *RC. Another clone – Apple 3 – would be the cow to deny Apple her second Grand Champion at WDE in 2013 under judge Michael Heath, of Westminster, Maryland, USA.
Mike has judged many of the world’s biggest shows, and even though Apple was Reserve Champion that day and her Talent daughter was Honourable Mention (detailed above), the historic three-way Apple bonanza wasn’t his fairy-tale finish.
“I wasn’t overly thrilled with the ‘bing, bang…boom’ finish, because I thought Apple should have been Grand that day,” he said.
“If you’re going to get beat, well, your clone doesn’t hurt you. And, I knew her clone was a great young cow. She had been Intermediate Champion in 2011 as a junior two-year-old. But, I thought that Apple’s maturity and complete development could have put her over Apple 3.
“One guy told me that Apple not being Grand that day was my own fault, since I was the one who made the clone.”
COWS WHO SHINE IN ANY ENVIRONMENT
Mike said his coast-to-coast trucking business, which took him throughout the USA and Canada, had given him a lot of experience and perspective about the kind of cows that shine in every climate.
“I see how much the weather and the living conditions will make some cows valuable in one area, yet they have no value in another area,” he said.
“And, just as an example, Fond Matt was a great bull, but he had leg issues. The best Fond Matts were in California and Kansas and there were some great ones in Virginia, but their legs couldn’t hold up on ice and concrete in other states, so his daughters didn’t work there.
“Apple had – for me – all the right angles. Every angle I look for in a great cow’s bone structure is A-framed. All of Apple’s angles were right and symmetrical, so that’s the way I looked at it. In my opinion – and I’d travelled enough roads in North America to know – she’d work on every good farm I’d ever been to.”
SIRES ALL WORKED
Perhaps for that reason, Apple clicked with almost every sire she was joined to.
“We started off with her first flushes to well-proven bulls out of great cow families like Talent, Stormatic and Redliner to see if she was going to be a brood cow. Then we went to Goldwyn – because he was the breed’s greatest bull – and we used the best Goldwyn son at the time, Destry. Every bull worked.
“We didn’t flush her every two weeks to get as many embryos as we could. She had breaks. We’d do two to three flushes for show-age calves and then we’d give her a break.”
One of Apple’s daughters that Mike bought outright is Holstein International’s 2019 Red Impact Cow of the Year (and the sixth member of the Altitude family to achieve the honour in the 12 years the competition has been running), Ms Delicious Apple-Red EX94-2E.
She is also the dam to show specialist Mr D Apple Diamondback *RC at Select Sires and full sister to Absolute-Red and Big Apple-Red.
“Delicious Apple is probably the most proportionate, balanced cow I’ve ever owned. And, when Diamondback was born that’s exactly what he was. He grew at exactly the same rate with everything. His belly came down, as his legs got longer; his shoulder came up, and his neck stayed long. He didn’t shorten in the rump or sway in the back. He’s the best calf I’ve ever had born.”
Today, Apple loves holding court at Duckett Holsteins.
“People will stop by there, and put her picture on Facebook all the time. I was up there several months ago, and she looks superb.
“She lives in a nice, big pen with Treasure [Vangoh Durham Treasure EX96-3E EX(99)MS]. They’ve got the life. Neither one of those cows have a problem with people coming to see them.”
THE BEST OF IT
Mike is now settled in Arizona, with no dairy cows in his direct care. He is upfront that they had the best of the registered game in the USA, and he fears for the next generation.
“The market is now completely flooded with a tremendous amount of quality cattle. It used to be a big deal when I was younger to have four generations of EX. Now, having eight or 10 is a dime a dozen.
“The only show left is Madison and the Royal [Agricultural Winter Fair], and if they’re not winners, who wants them?
“It doesn’t hold a lot of hope for anyone that wants to be in business – unless you have way too much money.”
Mike said the costs associated with farming today, along with the icy winters in Wisconsin, made his decision to step aside easier.
“I don’t have a fourth-generation tradition going on in Wisconsin. I like what we’ve done to this farm, and it’s been fun. And, if we could make some money and the weather was nice here all the time, it’d be fine.
“But when we spend six months in the ice and snow, and you can’t go anywhere because you have no help, I’d rather go and see my sons, Todd and Kyle, and their kids.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
So, while Apple’s career continues with her latest batch of calves arriving in September, Mike has sold everything from the farm – except the halter he led Apple in – and the halter that he used on his first EX95-point cow.
“Apple is absolutely the only cow I wanted to own for her entire life, because I thought she was going to contribute something to the breed.”
And he was right.
However, Mike Deaver’s contribution to the breed – along with the cowmen of his generation – has been just as critical.
Because without Mike’s vision, work, daring and talent, Apple’s story may never have happened…