Brothers Joe and Matt Engel and their parents, Dennis and Beth, have the obvious good fortune to own and operate Luck-E Holsteins of Hampshire, Illinois. The really fortunate part is that their luck is not just in the name but in their achievements too!
Talk About Luck-E
Luck-E Holsteins have bred or developed hundreds of Excellent cows (260+ homebred) including 5 EX-95, set national production records, bred 15+ All-American nominations. That is outstanding and Joe Engel gives further updates. “For years the average score of the dams of all cows in the herd has been EX-91 or EX-92. I think the biggest accomplishment is developing our four main cow families that transmit so consistently every generation our ‘goal cow’.” So obviously it isn’t just an accident. But where did their Luck begin? The Engel brothers explain.
“Our parents grew up on Angus farms. Our dad bought the farm we are at today and started milking 38 grade cows. Our parents married in ’68 and bought their first registered cow. From then on all purchased animals were registered. When getting ready to register the first calf, they realized they needed a prefix. After seeking advice from an established breeder, they were told you want something short, positive and easy to remember. Take the Y off Lucky and put E for Engel and the Luck-E name was born. When the first of us five boys started 4-H so did going to the county fair and district show which led to State Show and then to National shows.”
What Luck-E Holsteins Looks Like
Currently the Engels are milking 150 cows in 38 stall barn with 19 machines; all cows are housed in sand freestalls and feed a one group TMR. Calves are raised in hutches for about 80-85 days and then to loose housing bedded with straw. Bred heifers, milk cows, and dry cows have access to pasture about 8 months a year. The two brothers and their parents all play an active role in the everyday operation of the farm.
Making Their Own Luck
When it comes to cattle breeding they have a well prepared plan. “We want a truly well balanced cow; wide from her muzzle to her pins with a silky well attached udder and high protein. A cow needs to be able to calve, go right out to the freestalls, be healthy, have the capacity to make a lot of milk from forage and last. Chest width is the building block for all of that. Proven cow families on both sides of the pedigree are important. We want to develop and work with families that hit every time. It is just as important how good the worst sister is as the best one. It costs just as much to make and feed a bad one as a good one. Duds are too expensive. Protein makes a huge difference on the milk check and marketing.” Obviously they feel that the harder they work on their goals the better the results will be.
Loving All Their Luck-E Stars, Including the Red Ones!
Luck-E Holsteins have had so many great cows they feel it is hard to narrow down the list of favorites says Joe. “I can’t pick one. However Luck-E Blitz Australia and Luck-E Rubens Kaylie” stand out for him. He describes these two “*RC. Australia was built just the way we like with tremendous dairy strength and perfect udder attachments. She was the high index Blitz for a long time when Blitz was hot. She is the cow that started bringing international visitors to the farm. She has our kind of pedigree, production and type. She has had three daughters max out at EX-92 2nd calf. We are very excited about how they are starting to transmit including Asia’s in demand son Luck-E Adonis-Red.”
Then their attention turns to Kaylie and an outline of her strengths. “Kaylie *RC is a Rubens from two generations EX-94. She was the first virgin heifer we ever flushed. She was the kind of heifer you just wanted to breed from. Wide chest, tremendous rump, straight lines, and *RC (like good Triple Threat). We flushed her to the first available semen from a red bull out of a really nice young Durham with a great pedigree. That flush yielded what we believe to be the first milking All-American Advent Luck-E Advent Kite-Red, the first EX-92 Advent Luck-E Advent Kalotta (first to win at a National show milking) and the first EX Advent son Luck-E Advantage. Their full sister is Luck-E Advent Kandie –Red EX-92 MS95 3yr. Kalotta’s daughter Luck-E Talent Kiwi EX-92 (max) is following the families mold with great type protein.”
Building on Luck
The plan is working well for the Engels. “We aim for consistent performance every generation. Luck-E Advent Asia EX-92, Luck-E Advent Atlanta EX-92, Luck-E Advent Kandie-Red EX-92, Luck-E Talent Kiwi EX-92, and Luck-E Goldwyn Aaliyah VG-89 2yr. are all cows built the way we like with maximum scores, and most importantly from proven cow families that seem to always transmit.
Luck-E Matches Strength to Strength
Joe outlines how clearly they build the exact mating for each Luck-E Holstein. “Despite the opportunity to fill index contracts, we flushed Australia (dam of Asia & Atlanta) to Advent because we thought it would make a beautifully balanced cow and *RC is appealing. Kaylie we did to Advent to make Kandie because of the success of her first Advents. We mated Kaylie to Advent originally because of Advent’s cow family and sire stack. Kiwi we made because Talent and Advent makes sense. Talent just needs to be used on strength; a Talent from Kalotta is going to have that. Aaliyah’s dam we did to Goldwyn because of her tremendous frame (98 Dairy Strength) and Goldwyn’s style.”
Spreading the Good Luck
Adonis, Absolute, Acme, Armani, Baltimor, Braxton and Buxton are some of the current service sires at Luck-E. “The Adonis- cow family is our ideal.” Joe affirms his confidence in cow families asking, “Do Altitude or Barbie ever disappoint?” He then goes on, “I would add that the Bolton blood in Buxton is a nice shot of milk where needed. Like Blitz in Guthrie and Windbrook we used previously.” He sums up their marketing goals, “We try to take a well rounded approach to marketing. Nothing is better than word of mouth and the best way to get that is happy customers. That is the most important. We think it’s also important to get out and see people at sales and shows whether it’s here, Canada or across the ocean. We try to spread our advertising around to reach more markets. Of course our website is important and the center of our advertising. Facebook is a nice way to compliment those things.” For the Engels there is one important target, “We aim to stay in touch with people and get updates out fast.”
Learning How to be Lucky
Joe gives credit to those who have contributed to his and Matt’s success. “Our parents taught us how to work, how to live, how to farm.” Others have shared lessons too. “Bill Berghorn (former herdsman of Hartman Farms) was at our first classification and almost every one since. He helped us catch the ‘show bug’ and taught us everyday cow sense. Jim Hipel helped us purchase hundreds of cows from Canada.” He wraps up the list with glowing praise.” Of course there is Barb Royle- Master Breeder of the Bardholm herd we purchased in ’99. Anyone who can breed cows like that can teach you something.”
Genomics On Demand
Everyone is aware of today’s changing marketplace and Matt and Joe Engel pinpoint two particular areas. “Genomics and shifts in the market resulting from them and the tightening in dairy margins that have made an efficient, long lasting cow more important than ever no matter what path you take to breed her.” In typical style they know how to deal with this. “Genomics has not had a large affect on how we manage our herd. The young sires we are using are selected because of their maternal line and sire stack. An example would be when we used Braxton and Baltimor initially. We bought a lot of semen before their genomics came out because we loved Barbie and her daughters.” The more prepared you are the luckier you get. Matt continues discussing market demand. “Demand does seem to have made a shift from embryos to live animals. And the higher the level of animal the more demand has increased.” They both feel there is future in “polled”.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
The Engels don’t attribute success to any single method. “There is no question there are more ways than one to breed cows and be successful.” The next step is important too. “Whether you want the highest genomics, elite type or just a herd full of balanced cows, always follow your goal with each bloodline.” say these two brothers. Joe sums their philosophy with feeling and, in doing so, gives away the secret of their exceptional success “The reason we try to breed the kind of cow we do, the way we do, is because that’s what we love doing.” Luck-E indeed!