Imagine someone comes up to you and says, “Make a huge commitment of your family, your money and your time. Put it all into the Holstein dairy business. In less than ten years you will have one of the country’s largest dairy herds and your farm prefix will be recognized around the world.” It’s quite probable that you would assess that person as a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
Is it hard to believe? Yes!
Could it happen? Also, “Yes”.
The proof of this success story is Morsan Farms Ltd. owned and operated by Morris and Sandra Thalen. They are living the dream. When they moved their dairy operation to Ponoka, Alberta in 1996, they milked 200 commercial grade cows. Today 80% of the herd is purebred. They milk between 1600 and 1800 cows and own about 250 dry cows, as well as 3500 head of young stock. They have genetics from 300 cow families and provide breeding stock to dairy farms in 21 countries. While it may sound like an “as seen on TV sales pitch”, their success is actually based on their skills as producers and business managers.
The minute we are faced with outstanding success, human nature makes us ask, “Yeah but. What mistakes did you make along the way?” It could also be human nature that successful businesses don’t spend a lot of time on their mistakes or the would’a, could’a, shoulda’s. Chris Parry, who manages the genetics and marketing side of the business at Morsan Farms Ltd, points out, “there is something to be learned even with those few purchases that could have worked out better”. He recommends that you “Do your homework. Make the decisions.” That is probably what led to one of their biggest successes. Chris points to Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy. “She has to be the biggest name so far.”
With obvious pride Morris and Sandra say, “It’s been a great privilege to work with our children and see their interests in Morsan Farms develop.” The Thalen’s know that this family teamwork is mirrored by their eighteen full time staff and is the foundation for their continued success. The dairy business is all about relationships – cattle and people – on the farm and off. Morris says, “Our philosophy is complete customer satisfaction. I can tell you that for every 1000 animals we sell, 950 of them are sold over the phone. That has everything to do with trust.”
With their rapid growth, exacting attention to detail and over-riding goal of delivering the very best, it isn’t surprising that Morsan Farms Ltd. has attracted many partners. In the business world, volumes have been written on the pluses and minuses of business partnerships. Chris Parry has a positive outlook on this part of the business. “Investing with partners can be extremely beneficial to long-term business as long as all management matters are clearly defined ahead of entering into any investment agreement. There are many examples of successful partnerships and a few examples of unsuccessful partnerships”. He considers and then adds, “I think partnerships that don’t work are the ones where partners receive unexpected surprises which cause friction. In most cases our experience with partners has been exceptional.” He sums up the partnership discussion by saying, “We have a lot partners who have now become great friends of the business.”
It is an exciting time to be in the dairy cattle business and Chris was emphatic that the first step in investing in dairy cattle is to know your own goals first. He offered many possibilities. “I think if you are looking to invest in genetics the key is to decide what your expectations are? To improve your herd? To market genetics? To market the business? To bring in a direct or indirect return on the investment? To put bulls in AI and work in the genomics market? When these questions are answered then it’s time to do your homework”. Doing the homework is what Morsan Farms Ltd. is obsessive about. The “first step is to identify the consistent cow family and the best member of that family you can find. Then it is simply down to the investment level you are comfortable with and your expectations on the return on that investment”.
Everyone is talking about Genomics. Morsan Farms Ltd. has a plan. Chris Parry’s personal view is “I look at this as a positive not a negative. Lots of investment has been made in this new area of the industry which would not have been made before. A good percentage of this investment has come from outside of the industry and this is a good thing”. He cautions, “The danger here is again down to expectations. Know the science and know this part of the industry and your investment will be justified” He throws in a word to the wise, “Make sure you invest in genomics backed by a good sound cow family so if you don’t get the number you still have something to work with.” When pressed for examples Chris pointed out, “Over the past two years or more the majority of the purchases have been based on genomics most notably in cows like MS Chassity Goldwyn Cash, MS Atlees Shottle Aubry, MS Atlees Goldwyn Ariel just to name a few”. Chris summed up this discussion by looking to the future. “I would say the genomic investment will continue to be the driving force in the industry but I see the investments made will have a higher degree of calculation and understanding.”
Everyone involved with Morsan Farms Ltd. shares real enthusiasm for their work. They see breeders as dedicated people, like themselves, who are passionate about the industry. “We have to be. To work the long hours we all put in 365 days a year in all-weather conditions takes a unique breed of people. This is normally the same drive that makes your business investments succeed”. It all comes down to teamwork. Good information. Trust you’re your first impression when looking at a potential investment is normally the correct one. Talk to people in the industry whom you respect. Get good information. Don’t fall for the hype.”
Morsan Farms is an example of exactly that path. Relatively unknown just six years ago and now a well-respected brand name in the industry backed by an extremely dedicated family and motivated professional staff.
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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!