Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry. Both emotions rise easily to the surface when Sue Brown, Farm Manager of Lylehaven, looks ahead to May 23, 2014 and the “Celebration of Lylehaven” final sale. Her ready laughter punctuates the stories and at times her memories bring a tear to your eye and put a lump in your throat.
Surrounded by Positive Mentors
Sue has been at Lylehaven almost twenty years. Previously she worked for ten years for the Briggs family (Brigeen Farms Inc.) “They taught me a lot about cow families”. Her friends and mentors had an impact on her career. “I was good friends with Mike Wilson (Wilsondale Holsteins, Maine). Basketball and his daughters drew us together and at times I helped the girls do chores. Mike instilled lessons that had a big impact. “Mike felt that ‘Timing is everything.’ And we were taught a good work ethic which is more important than anybody ever realizes. He would say, ‘Do a job and do it well!’” These were lessons well learned by a multi-tasking farm manager who, after getting soaking wet on a rainy day while feeding seventeen calves nonchalantly provides insights and stories about Lylehaven. “I always knew that I wanted to work with animals. After I graduated from University of Maine in Dairy Science, Bob Fitzimmons hired me.” Sue succeeded Bob when the day came that Bob went on to focus on being General Manager of Carousel Holsteins.
The Lylehaven farm is located in East Montpelier, Vermont and has inspired years of loyalty from those who work there. Susan points out the commitment of the staff.” There are six staff in total and together they represent 125 years of dedication to Lylehaven. “Three others have worked more than 20 years each.” Sue has high praise for this loyal team. “They treat Lylehaven like their own. Any time day or night!” Sue herself is a 24/7 365 day a year manager and is always connected in some way to Lylehaven and cows. “Facebook is a great source of information. I really like it!” She points out and notes that it is a great way for her and Jerry Rappaport, the owner of Lylehaven, to keep in touch. “Jerry spends the majority of his time in Florida so we communicate by cell phone, emails and Facebook. He “follows” me. It’s a good way for him to keep in touch with grand kids and great grandkids too.”
Cattle Breeding is About Developing Full Potential
Conversations with Sue easily move between cattle breeding and the showring however she quickly points out. “Cattle showing is not the be-all-and-end-all of my life! There is a lot of stress. It is not an easy job! ” Indeed Sue Brown’s dedication has all the passion of the show ring enthusiast but is focused in a slightly different direction. “I really enjoy developing cows. For me that is a bigger thrill than buying a show cow and winning with it.” Having said that, Sue has developed her cattle searching techniques along with the Lylehaven herd. “Today I go to dairybulls.com and search for bulls to use. I used to go to shows and sales in Quebec and around the US. I would study the show book and see what was winning. That was how I used to breed the cattle here at Lylehaven.” Sue once told a reporter that she had one goal when breeding cattle,
“I want to hear the vet say, ‘She’s pregnant!’”
She points out that at the end of the day “Even if they’re showing they’ve got to breed back for the next year!” This focused attitude covers all areas of Sue’s cattle breeding philosophy. “I have never really been interested in getting bulls into studs. I want a barn full of great cows. We work at that every day and I wouldn’t trade any part of this work. You take what you can use and walk away from the rest.” She applies that measurement to new technologies such as genomics too which she feels complement her strategy for building cow families. “Albert Cormier four or five years ago told me that when you have a cow family, you have genomics. It’s there. A cow family that transmits is going to have genomics.” Susan has the optimism and persistence it takes to make the plans and wait for the results.
Finding Lili Foretells the Lila Z Future
Enthusiasm followed by patience is the story of Sue’s favorite cow Thiersant Lili Starbuck-ET 5E 94. “I bought Lili. It was Jerry’s 70th birthday. Julian Chabot called from a show in Quebec about a just fresh two year old that I needed to see. We went up and I bought her that day. I grew up in an era when Starbuck was very popular. She was not a hard sell and I liked the pedigree behind her. I don’t know if she had ever won at a show. Then she was just a fresh junior two year old.” The compelling story continues. “After 30 or 40 days she had not bred back so in December I decided to flush her. That’s what prompted the Formation flush. Julian made the mating. The credit goes to him.” She sums it up with the give and take dynamic that had been established. “Julian knew we were looking. We trusted Julian. There was a big trust factor”.
Starbuck Lili “This is a Great Brood Cow!”
Once at Lylehaven, Lili’s story was about to unfold. “Lili was only flushed twice as a two year old and we didn’t flush again till she was four or five. She has had several matings and we never really had a bad one.” Looking back at 18 years with Lili, Sue knows what the development process takes. “It’s called patience. I’m not sure with today’s fast pace that we have it any more!” Lili’s story certainly needed patience before seeing the momentum build. “Lili was six or seven when the Formations started to calve in and we said, ‘Hey! This is a great brood cow!” Not only did she breed well but her offspring show well too!
“No other cow family has had three first place winners at the Royal in one year.”
In 2013 there were three Lili family members in first place! Sue enjoyed the excitement of all three winners having Lili as their third dam. “When I saw the Lili’s winning at the Royal, I knew the families and how they got the daughters. First came the Senior Calf winner, Comestar Larion Goldwyn and then the 2 year old, Belfast Goldwyn Lasenza. Then Calbrett Goldwyn Layla won Mature Cow!” No other cow family has had three first place winners at the Royal in one year!
Love for a Cow Family
With all those years together and the growing list of successful offspring, it isn’t surprising that the greatest love of all for Sue Brown was for Lili. Unfortunately, all those years came to a sudden heart-wrenching end. Sue recalls her day-to-day admiration for Lili. ”I could place four hands in between her eyes!” The relationship with Lili had been more than just manager for one of the cows in her care. ”She was in the same stall her whole life. Never ever was Lili in a different pen. The day she went down I was at a football game.” Not being able to see her on her last day was hard to say the least. That empty space when I got home at 11 o’clock was a shock. “When I got back to Lylehaven Hal said. ‘Sue, it’s better that you weren’t here. She went down and you always told us not to let her suffer.’” Sue speaks from the heart. “That was the hardest thing I’ve had to go through in a long time.” And so that space will always echo the one in Sue’s heart as Lylehaven and Lili’s legacy continue. But her love for the process lifts her up. “We must have six Lili’s milking right now. ” After Lili’s passing each new Lili calving took on a new feeling. “When they were born and Lili wasn’t here it was bittersweet!” The past and the future… not quite together.
Families Who Love Cow Families
As with cow families, Sue feels dairy breeding families are extra special as well and puts one family very high on the list. “It would have to be the Chabot family. They each have their strengths. They are always willing to help and promote the breed. They’ve always been by my side.” Sue knew Julian Chabot as a sire analyst before she went to Lylehaven. “We are only an hour from Quebec. I have such admiration for this family. They are still real breeders. They still have the passion.” It is this passion that brings people together in the extended dairy family. Sue has many there as well. ““I like talking to real dairymen. It gives you back your perspective. “She appreciates Don Bennink of North Florida Holsteins and includes him in the ‘real breeder’ category. They shared their Raidar stories, “Loved them but couldn’t get her bred back!”
Of course her years at Lylehaven have been touched by another gentleman who loves cattle, cow families and people. “Jerry Rappaport is a great family man. That is one of the reasons he still has this farm. It’s part of his family. Jerry never saw it as a burden but as a passion. What first started as a retreat from Boston … and then discovered to be fun. He absorbs a lot and he is really smart.” You really never know when dairy cattle breeding fever will hit and there is irony in Sue Brown’s own dairy history. Although she doesn’t herself come from a dairy breeder family, her twin sister is a Holstein Consultant for Holstein USA in Pennsylvania and Maryland. With her trademark laugh in full swing, Sue reports that her Mother who lives in Massachusetts thinks it’s interesting. “Although Mother grew up on a dairy farm, she wonders how the oldest two got the cow bug.” Maybe Mom always knew that dairy-love requires 365 days of taking care of the cows and probably wishes her girls had more time for visiting!
At Lylehaven the Price is Always Right!
For Sue Brown time for visiting usually has a lot to do with buying and selling and then developing great cows. Believing that every cow should be priced Sue says, “We will always sell one!” She has always held true to this philosophy. It led to the selling of Lila Z. “When asked for a price on Lila Z she priced her at $20,000. She was a baby March calf and I probably though it might have kept her at the farm. But you never back away from a cheque. You do what you say you’re going to do and live with it.” And sometimes everything works out perfectly. “Steve Briggs phoned after the 2013 Royal and said Lylehaven didn’t even have to spend one dime on advertising. Three family members won at the Royal! It was the right place at the right time.” (Read more: Lylehaven Lila Z : Was She Really Worth $1.15 Million?)
The Celebration of Lylehaven Sale
And now the sale becomes the right next step. “And so it is good to have a sale.” says Sue. “It is the final accomplishment for Jerry.” Looking ahead to May 23 Sue sees the numbers shaping up. “We will be selling about 120. There will be closer to 140 in sale. There will be some guest consignments out of the Lili family. People have been great to us.” We’ve flushed an Atwood (two Jr 3 91) to Bradnick and Numero Uno. We will have nine or ten of her daughters in the sale.”
The Dream of Lili Continues
The legacy of Lili’s descendants will keep rising as her offspring continue to take centre stage. “I think the best Lili is still here. The Atwood – junior three year old scored 91 points. She was just fresh three and a half weeks.” Julian Chabot saw her and exclaimed. “Formation Laura with a chine!” As a dairy industry supporter Sue sees the importance of the next generation being as important as the next cattle generation. “There will always be young people. When I think of the people who cultivated me, I wonder if I’ve given back enough so that young people see the passion and dedication this calling inspires. That is part of the excitement. Young people are the future of the dairy industry. We must give them a chance.”
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Sue sums it up. “Everything changes. That’s the beauty of our industry.”
While in some ways the dream is departing for Jerry Rappaport, Lylehaven and Sue Brown, the legacy of cows, cow families and great dairy memories will carry the legacy they have developed far into the future.
Thank you for showing us that to achieve your goals you have to develop your dreams.