Around the world whenever the province of Alberta is mentioned everyone pictures beautiful images of the Rocky Mountains. Ranchers and dairy farmers are farming in one of the most scenic settings in the world. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to move from a country like the Netherlands with the goal of “going dairying”. For Gys and Silia Van Den Pol and their three daughters Corien, Djoeke and Tilly they not only moved there but used the mountains, buttes and foothills as encouragement to take their goals higher all the time!
All the Right Moves!
Silia and Gys both grew up on dairy farms in the Netherlands. Gys had been on international exchange programs to New Zealand and Canada and considered moving to New Zealand. Married in 1985 the couple’s first move involved raising (hogs). It was good training for their future because that industry is fast moving with emphasis of technical results and management skills can make a big difference. In 1998 they visited Canada. In 1999 they bought a going concern dairy farm near Picture Butte, Alberta which included a 60-cow purebred Holstein herd and a quarter section of land (160 acres). Seven years later (2005) they moved to their present 160 acres farm outside of Coaldale, Alberta.
Higher Ground Overview of Pol Butte
This part of Alberta is (ranch country) so you can imagine how a tie-stall barn would stand out in this free-stall landscape. Corien sums up the Van den Pol Farm logistics. “We currently milk 80 purebred Holsteins in a modern tie stall facility. We raise our own young stock of 130 head, as well as 50 young bulls for future breeding purposes as natural sires. We farm 150 acres of irrigated land, where we produce our own corn and alfalfa hay.”
“The Home of Contented Cows”
The Van Den Pol family are dedicated to fulfilling their farm slogan, “Home of Contented Cows”. It is the foundation of their breeding philosophy which Gys outlines for us. “My breeding philosophy is to strive for good udders and feet and legs. Sires are selected on genomic numbers and depth of pedigree. We have also been investing high profile cow families to breed the next generation from.” Gys makes his own breeding decisions and strives for a balance of type and production. For beginners he urges, “Start with a purchase of cows from solid cow families that will give less risks of failure in the future. And watch for health traits!”
A Work in Progress – Then and Now
“When we purchased the original herd in 1999, it had 2 VG cows and was 50% GP and better. Our last classification round showed our improvement. We are now 100% GP and better.” This is remarkable but it is not the only benchmark that is being met. “We are also expecting 4 of our homebred cows to surpass 100,000 kgs this year.” Their herd average is 11,953 kg milk 3.8% F 3.1% P putting them in the top ten herds in Alberta. Oh yes and they also flush 40-50 cows a year and genomic test about 40 animals. Not to mention that three years running they were Premier Breeder and Exhibitor at the Green Acres Club Show (2009-2011). Gys looks realistically toward the future and the changes ahead. “Marketing will change and genomics testing of our young bulls is ahead. The very fast pace of new genetics – coming and going – will create higher risks of failures.” He cautions. “We have to watch that we don’t go too far now and just focus on genomics and index and the end number.”
Waving Barbie`s Special Banner
Gys is obviously a man prepared to take action when he sees something he likes and he always liked what he knew about (Barbie) and her descendants with a Goldwyn x Shottle x Durham sire stack. “I saw Barbie herself a few months before her passing. She made such an impression on me that I was determined to purchase something from this tremendous cow family. I was also very impressed by her offspring. Her Shottle and Goldwyn daughters were just recently milking. So when the Goldwyn sale in PEI (2009) offered a Goldwyn choice from Brasilia, we went after it. After the genomic results were in, Banner proved to be an easy pick.” Corien expresses the family enthusiasm for Banner. “Banner is special because she’s not just a cow. She has her special spot in the barn and shines when she gets that extra special treatment.” She is already recognizably special and the #1 Genotyped Conformation cow in Canada. This continues to attract attention. “We still get regular email requesting offspring from her.”
Cows and Families: Worth the Drive to Pol Butte
All the hard work would hardly be worth it, if there wasn’t a market for the results. The Van den Pols have invested in many different cow families so there is always something for the variety of buyers local and international who make their way to the Van den Pols. Imagine going to Pol Butte Holsteins and being able to buy from cow families like Barbie, Corey, Crimson, Delia, Fools Gold, Janice, Linda, Paradise and Zandra. A great choice, no matter how you stack it and well worthy of consideration.
Breeding Naturally from Top Marketable Sires
Gys looks for popular bulls with good numbers who rank at the top of the lists. He will use high genomic young sires only if they have a solid cow family behind them. Ì look for bulls that can sire long living, good framed, open ribbed cows with good udders and feet and legs. We currently have heifers by Dempsey, Goldchip, Beau, SuperSire, MCCutchen, Meridian, Hero, Cancun, Number Uno, Mogul, Colt P, Epic and Lavaman.” He sums up other points they consider. “We don`t need a 64-inch, show cow, but because one of our biggest customers is the Hutterite Colonies who buy natural bulls, we do need to also breed a good framed, commercial, barn cow with good feet and legs who can walk in a free- stall.” With a keen eye for cattle, they also watch the marketplace.
Make Contacts and Keep Them Coming
Corien explains “If you don’t have something to offer, they won’t come here. It’s a fast moving market. You have to find things sometimes outside of the box to attract people.” They value other means of marketing too. “We have our own website http://www.polbutte.com/ and we advertise in magazines. We do keep in touch with the sire analysts and give them updates. We regularly visit our customers who purchase our natural breeding bulls. We also enter animals into sales and shows.” A unique marketing feature was added several years ago. “We added a free-stall training area to sell more animals into the local commercial market.” Gys explains that simple changes can be very important. “The simpler you keep things, the fewer mistakes you can make.” Wise words.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
The Van Den Pols live by the motto, “Always do your best. Nothing half way.” So there will always be new breeding mountains for Gys and Silia and the girls to climb. They would like to win a Master Breeder Shield. And dear to their parental hearts “It would be great to see one of the girls eventually take over the farm.” Regardless of the surrounding terrain …. mountains, buttes, flatlands or valleys, Pol Butte Holsteins have their sights set on moving on and moving up. We wish them all the best!