When you hear that Bons Holsteins took home three major trophies at the Dutch National Holstein Show in June, you might conclude that assuredly they have an eye for cattle and a passion for the show ring. But if you make any further assumptions, you might entirely miss the most important factor in their showring success.
“Bons-Holsteins is a home bred farm. In the last 60 years, we never bought a cow, heifer or embryo.”
Nico Bons of Ottoland in the Netherlands proudly benchmarks that he and his wife Lianne are the fourth generation to farm Bons-Holsteins. As the youngest of the Bon family siblings, Nico has already faced the challenges of his dad passing away in 1999 and an accident that kept his brother from taking over the farm. Today with his mother Dikkie Bons the couple milk 65 cows and have 75 young stock on the 40 hectare farm. Undoubtedly, their young daughters Tessa and Anouk and son Ruben.
100% Homebred – Scoring better all the time.
Every generation of the Bons family has moved the dairy operation forward while remaining committed to the homebred philosophy. 65 cows 29x EX and the rest is VG or better. Average score VG89. All bull calfs stayed on the farm and are sold to other farms as jumping bulls, and a few of them go to A.I. There are six cow families we are working with: Bons-Holsteins Aaltje, Bons-Holsteins Dikkie, Bons-holsteins Ella, Bons-Holsteins Koba, Bons-Holsteins Hannie and Bons-Holsteins Roza.
One Goal Above All “To Breed a European Grand Champion”
When Nico took over the farm in 1999, the average type score was GP 80.3. What remarkable progress to be averaging VG89 in 15 years! Nico had been to Canada in 1994 and worked on Bosdale Farms in Ontario. “What I saw there were really nice balanced cows.” He reports that the experience had a big impact on him. “I knew right then what my goal would be. I wanted to breed the European Champion cow and lead her by myself in the showring!”
“Showing cattle is a lot of work.”
Nothing really worth achieving is easy and Nico Bons is emphatic about the hard work involved in showing dairy cattle. He advises anyone interested in focusing on show cows to realize that fact and “to try to get people around you who really want to help you and listen to their advice.” He gives examples of mentors that have positively influenced him. “The cowfitters I have worked with in the last few years have sent me in the right direction. Three that I have learned the most from are Michael Halliwel, Joel Phoenix and Paul Petriffer.” Along with the hard work, Nico advises that you have to be prepared for ups and downs. “I had my luck to start from the bottom. I know what it is like to stand in last place in the showring” But this successful showman concludes. “Sometimes you win sometimes you lose. Never give up.”
Top Advice, “Don’t be mad at the Judge. Breed a better cow. Win next time.”
Nico cherishes his family traditions and also learns from key mentors that have crossed his path as he seeks to achieve his goals. “Its difficult to say exactly who had the biggest influence on me. I think Ed Bos (From Bosdale farms) had a significant impact on me becoming the dairy breeder I am now. My training period at Bosdale showed me that you have to work really hard to get results in the show ring.My father added the one thing that I always remember. “If you are disappointed on show day about your placings, don`t be mad at the Judge but breed a better cow so that he has to make you Champion next time.” Hard work and taking responsibility are what have put Bons-Holsteins at the front of winning lineups.
Trophy Shelf Chronicles Rising Showring Success
Nico Bons started working toward his ultimate showring goal first with successes at local shows and then by showing at a national show in 2003. In 2007 international success was achieved in Paris and later in Libramont Belgium 2013 which Nico describes as “one I liked the most.” when Bons-Holsteins Ella 158 (EX-93 Mailing) was named Grand Champion. Nico describes the cows that are winners for him.”I think there are two cows I am most proud to have bred: * Bons-Holsteins Koba 167 (EX-91 Stormatic). She was a really tall cow (1.76 Cm.) and was made for the show ring. She was not only big but had balance in her frame and an udder that was close to perfect.” He explains that others found her special too. “ I loved to lead that cow into the showring. Whenever she entered the ring, you would hear spectators talking about her!” It isn’t surprising in this homebred herd to find that Nico’s second choice for breeding success is related to his first choice. “The second cow is the recent Grand Champion from the Dutch National Show (June 2014) Bons-Holsteins Koba 191 (EX94 Jasper). (Read more: Bons-Holsteins Koba 191 Grand Champion at NRM 2014) The funny thing is these two cows are half sisters.. they are both descendants of Bons-Holsteins Koba 152 (EX-92 Integrity). She is not as tall as her half-sister, but she is a cow with almost no faults! She is extremely balanced… and is a real Queen in the ring. I feel quite strongly that she can do a great job at the European Confrontation. That’s the goal for this cow in the future!”
Bons-Holsteins has Three Show Toppers at 2014 Dutch National Show
The Bons are building their show ring success. “We go to eight shows a year.” Reports Nico adding that showing is a strategic marketing plan, along with their website and Facebook. Nico feels that showing “ is an excellent tool to let the world know what you are doing.” Bons-Holsteins average 1500 visitors a year and each visitor receives a herd flyer. This marketing plan earned positive reinforcement in June at the Dutch National Holstein Show in Zwolle. Bons Holsteins won an amazing three championships! Bons-Holsteins Koba 191 (EX04 Kas[er_ was the Grand Champion. Reserve Senior Champion went to Bons Holsteins Mailing Ella 158. Koba 195, a full sister to Koba 191, was named the Intermediate Champion.
Nico Bons has favorite “Winning” Bulls
With such a strong focus on type, there has to be a strong emphasis on bull selection. Nico lists his favorites: “At the moment we use a lot of Atwood and Lauthority, a little less from Shadow, Talent, Goldwyn, Jasper, Chelios, Seaver and sid. Referring to Jasper and Stormatic, Nico explains why they were chosen. “The reason to use these two bulls is because the Integrity was a little heavy boned. As a result, we were looking for the bulls who could give us the bone quality. The Integrity cows’ strongest points were rear udder and rump so the choice of Jasper was easy. That’s where you have to protect this bull for.” Nico moves on to Lauthority. “I like my young Lauthroity heifer calfs. I think he can make some show winners.” His has only one hesitation. “ I am a little afraid about the rear legs… sometimes they are a little hocked in.” As well he likes Seaver. “Seaver is one of the bulls we just used recently and I see a lot of good 2 yr.olds in Belgium with great udders. You have to use him on refined boned cows.. I use him on my Stormatic and Talent daughters.”
Here comes the Judge
With his passion for breeding show cows, it was only a matter of time until Nico entered the show ring as a Judge. In 2013, his name was added to the European Judges Panel by the EHRC. He finds it both a rewarding experience as well as a source of continued learning. “Atwood is the bull who surprised me every time I judge show. We know you have to watch his rumps but if they are ok you get some special ones!”
Not blinded by numbers Nico still builds on the Canadian Kind
One of the biggest differences Nico has observed over his breeding career is in the way breeders choose bulls. “In the past, we used our eyes and followed our heart to make the right pairing. Then came indexes.” Nico feels that indexes meant “breeding by numbers” as he calls it. He goes on. “After a few years we realised that the cows we created were ok as milk producing cows but had no strength and power anymore. And then came genomics.” Once again, Nico feels “we are losing our eye for good cow families.“ Nico feels that too much is being sacrificed for speed. “In my opinion that makes it a crazy system, if the goal is all about getting the highest absolute number!”
“Trusting their eyes keeps people coming back”
Bons-Holsteins knows how important it is to have the confidence of buyers in the dairy marketplace. Change can be threatening as Nico explains. “ At first I was afraid that, if I was not involved in genomics, I would not sell embryos or good cattle anymore.” However, he happily reports that hasn’t happened. “I get more and more requests for embryos and good cattle.” He sums up his reasoning for the cause of this continued success “The people who buy here are looking for something they can have confidence in and they buy what their eyes can see. Not being disappointed si what brings people back to buy again.”
The Bullvine Bottom Line
The emphasis on show type has been a winning formula for Bons-Holsteins and Nico agrees. “I think the biggest accomplishment is the total herd of homebred cows that we now have! From when we started in 1999 until now they have changed a lot.” He is proud of the Bon family teamwork that focuses on getting better all the time. “ I did not do all this work alone but my wife and mother helped me every day!” Today with daughters Tessa and Anouk the Bons family are proud to meet the challenges of their shared vision and take their place in Holstein dairy breeding for years to come. They are definitely the type that wins!