Archive for May 2013

What Color Do You Bleed?

There is no question dairy breeders as a whole are a very passionate group.  For the most part, it’s not a “line of work” you get into for the money.  Between the equity burden and the long hours, it also doesn’t appear to be a “sexy” choice in the opinion of outsiders looking into the industry.  But the one thing that all those who are in the industry know is that breeders are also extremely loyal.  And the one area where most breeders demonstrate this insane loyalty is to the A.I. companies they purchase their semen from.  They pretty much bleed the colors of the A.I. company they support.

Such brand loyalty is something companies like Apple and Coke would die to have.  While these two massive global brands spend billions in marketing to build brand loyalty, A.I. companies have done it in a very different way.  They have done it through generation after generation of brain washing.  That’s correct brain washing.

Is there any difference in the major A.I. companies?

Recently my staff was working on some brand research for GE and I gave them the exercise to look at the Artificial Insemination market and look at each of the major A.I. companies and tell me how each company was different.  You know what they found?  Nothing!  For the most part they are all within 5% of each other for product offering.  While some do offer a few more services, they all, for the most part, offer the same service.

This really got me to thinking, and remembering my days of running the roads selling semen.  It actually made sense.  When I went into herds that were well established and had been operating for generations, they pretty much bled the color of their local A.I. cooperative.  However, when I went into herds that were new to the industry or herds where the operators came from other countries, I found them much more open to what I had to say.

While many of the companies are trying to position themselves differently in the market like Wal-Mart, Apple and Amazon in reality there really isn’t any difference.  (Read more: A Wake-Up Call to All A.I. Companies)  Even in our article, Semex – The Rise and Fall of a Semen Empire, we highlight how Semex grew rapidly and developed an extremely loyal following around the world by being different, by breeding “the Canadian Kind”.  However, as they got bigger they started to lose their focus on what made them different and now from an outsider looking in it would appear to be no different from all the rest.

Thinking about this I wonder how much breeders are limiting their genetic advancement due to loyalty to a certain A.I. company?  Yes there is not a great difference when you average out the top sires from each company, but why do you seek to be average?  Wouldn’t it be best to just use the best each company has to offer and forget the rest?

I think part of the problem is that there seems to be very little difference between the top sires.  Something I was shocked to see is that Canadian Dairy Network actually accentuates the issue.  Instead of promoting how the LPI formula was better at spreading out the top sires and differentiating them, they actually adjusted the formula to make them all closer?

Now I have had it said to me that this was done at the request of the large A.I. companies because they wanted to sell more proven sire semen and needed the genomic test sires to look less attractive.  There is some logic behind this, because young sires do produce less semen and there always seems to be a limited supply (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen and $750 Dollar Semen! Are you crazy?).  But the breeder in me says, “What’s more important marketing semen or genetic advancement?”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Sure the A.I. companies will give you nice hats, maybe even a few coats and shirts, but is that enough to trade your future for?  As we have more and more options of companies to purchase semen from, and more and more ways to purchase the semen, I ask you three important questions.  ”How much of your semen purchase is dictated by tradition or brand loyalty?”  Moreover, “Is your decision based on what is genetically best for your herd?”  And finally “Who bleeds for your bottom line?”


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Dean and Dianna Malcolm: Gobsmacked in Australia – Landing Right Side Up Down Under!

2013ect“It is a great and rewarding life.” “We’re balls to the ball”.  Those are two heartfelt comments that represent two sides of the dairy coin in Australia (Read more: Is Down Under Going Under?).  But if ever a couple can be counted on to have their coin land right side up, it’s Dean and Dianna Malcolm of Bluechip Genetics.  Welcome to part two of the series inspired by the Aussie Dairy industry. (Read part one: Dean and Dianna Malcolm: Forward in Five Gears! That’s Aussie D.I.Y.)  Dianna tells us that it’s cows and people that will get things right side up down under. Of course this author-dairy-woman-marketer has a very unique viewpoint.

Bluechip Dundee Connie 2 VG 89 (Max Score) 3rd S2 in-milk IDW 2012 and 5th S3 in-milk 2013

Bluechip Dundee Connie 2 VG 89 (Max Score)
3rd S2 in-milk IDW 2012 and 5th S3 in-milk 2013

They’re Sold on Great Temperament

“We also market fairly heavily about the temperament we put on our cattle with the work I do in the calf pens and the work Dean proactively continues when they are taken by him at 8 months. I should also mention that Dean is gifted at building trust with animals that we bring in from other operations. We both believe that you can’t get the best out of them if they are not happy and confident.  We have found that buyers are coming back, partially for that reason, and that if a cow turns out not to be an International Dairy Week Champion they can forgive her some if she is a pleasure to work with.” For those who might question this attention, Dianna responds. “Some people say they don’t have time to put into their calves. I could easily argue the same thing – but I believe it’s important to make time for the babies. Like children, you only get one chance to shape these animals’ temperament. And I feel a massive responsibility too that we take them from their working mums and they need lots of love and a safe environment to grow.”

Corkers in the Show Ring? Too Right!

The past seven years have been very busy but they are justifiably proud of one area in particular. Since starting farming in 2006 Bluechip has won Premier Breeder (four years) and Premier Exhibitor for the last three successive years at the fourth biggest show in the world, International Dairy Week (IDW). This year they also won Junior and Reserve Junior Champion and four of the heifer classes. (Read more: 2013 IDW Holstein Show Results)  Last year they won the first three heifer classes, including four of the top six places in one class. “That has been perhaps more challenging to achieve because we have staged annual sales every year and sold a lot of our top animals,” Dean said. “To be able to hold it together going forward competitively to this point (for us personally) has been an accomplishment.” Dianna adds “It is a credit to Dean’s forward planning and management. He is always thinking ahead and I think that has been a big strength for us.”

Fairvale Jed Bonnie  94 EX Grand Champion IDW 2005/2007 Reserve Grand Champion IDW 2004

Fairvale Jed Bonnie 94 EX
Grand Champion IDW 2005/2007
Reserve Grand Champion IDW 2004

They Target Good Cow Families.

Dean and Dianna profess to following a simple breeding philosophy. “We love great cow families,” Dean said. “From there we love to sire stack and we use bulls from great cow families. One of the key things is udders and in particular rear udders. Another key thing for us is rear leg, rear view. We don’t get caught up in the stature. We like to keep the angles right. With regard to Genomics, we are using some. However, we have to have the families and the sire stacks that we believe in within that.”  They look back with pleasure on one of their early successes. “Fairvale Jed Bonnie EX was co-bred by myself and Ross and Leanne Dobson (our longest partners – 15 years),” Dean said. “Di and I didn’t have a farm when we bred her. Bonnie was owned by Leslie Farms when she won International Dairy Week 2005 and 2007. She was Reserve Champion under our ownership in 2004. At the time we sold her, she was set for 2005. In more recent times Bluechip Drake Whynot is proving to be one of our very best brood cows and the dam of this year’s Junior Champion at International Dairy Week (Bluechip Alexander Whynot). Of all her daughters sold they have averaged close to $16,000. Bluechip Goldwyn Noni is another exciting prospect. She’s due in July and I believe we have not had an animal on farm with the size, length, width and beautiful set of feet and legs. She’s ticked every box right now – she was Reserve Junior Champion at International Dairy Week in 2012.”

Bluechip Alexander Whynot Recent Jr Champion  at IDW.  Owned by Bluechip Genetics & Averill Leslie

Bluechip Alexander Whynot
Recent Jr Champion at IDW. Owned by Bluechip Genetics & Averill Leslie

Great People

“You also need a super network of people around that you trust. And that can be anything from your grain supplier to your nutritionist, to your banker and the good friends and family that you can confide in when things are tough or good!” Dean said.

High on the list of those who have mentored Dean and Dianna are their parents. Dianna credits her parents Donald (now deceased) and Averill Leslie for their work ethic and “for teaching me how to feed and care for animals and how to treat people with respect.” For Dean it was his grandfather and father. “Bob Marshall (Paringa Holsteins) was an exceptional cowman and a pioneer of the industry,” Dean said. “My father, Phil, keeps us grounded and has shared his knowledge and huge work ethic.”

Barkly Ladino Betsyann EX92 2011-12 All-Australian mature cow

Barkly Ladino Betsyann EX92
2011-12 All-Australian mature cow

Great Friendships

The ripple then goes out to Mike Deaver (Sherona Hill) “for being one of the great cowmen of all time and a man who has been so generous with his friendship and advice” and Dean Geddes (Tahora Holsteins, NZ – Di’s cousin and Dean’s close friend). A special person has been Chris McGriskin (Canada) who has fitted their IDW team for seven years. “Dean and Chris are very tight and Dean thinks of him as his brother. And that is one of the wonderful things about his industry. The friendships that you know will be lifelong.”  Dianna cherishes one such special friendship with John Brooks. “He was the man who gave me my first job as a sports journalist back in 1987. He changed my life and he was one of the last great scribes of the sports world. I have his photo on the wall beside my desk and I think of him often and still ring him in New Zealand fairly regularly.”  Both Malcolm’s treasure those who mentored them and are exceptional at mentoring others, especially the young.

Ryanna Allen Topsy, EX94 Hon Men Champion IDW 2010

Ryanna Allen Topsy, EX94
Hon Men Champion IDW 2010

Pass it On to the Young People

“We are so grateful to spend some time with these young people and know that the industry is richer for their presence.” Dianna is speaking for Dean and herself when she draws attention to Darci and Justin Daniels (Hixton, US), Sheila Sundborg (Ormstown, Quebec, Canada) and Katie Kearns (USA, relocating to a new position with Gen-Com). She elaborates. “These four have impacted our lives in the last years.  All have visited and lived with us without knowing us beforehand. And they have all become part of our extended family. And that is the real gift of this industry. The friendships that form and stick. Katie left this week after living with us for the last six months and we are planning some exciting things with Katie with some cattle within her new role. Darci and Justin are already partners in cattle with us and they have registered Bluechip-USA on our behalf and one day we hope to show a string of cattle at the WDE. Nothing like dreaming big, is there?”

Dean and Dianna also host many international students and young breeders and shared their wealth of knowledge.  Shown here are Katie Kearns(left) and Darci and Justin Daniels(Right).

Dean and Dianna also host many international students and young breeders and shared their wealth of knowledge. Shown here are Katie Kearns(left) and Darci and Justin Daniels(Right).

Bullvine Bottom Line

Dreaming big and working hard is the key. To the Malcolms it is teamwork and solidarity that is building their present and protecting their future. As they set an example of hope for others, we encourage them. “You have a huge wall of support around you. Keep laughing and believing in yourself. You’re already so outstanding, we’re completely gobsmacked!”


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Fertility: You Get What You Breed For

How often have you heard a 4H leader, FFA member, classifier or show judge say a heifer or cow must have slope from her hips to her pins and be wide in the pins because that’s what we need for good fertility? Yes we have all heard that many times. But is it true? Could it be that the Holstein bloodlines we have selected were poorer for fertility than other bloodlines we left behind half a century ago? And that rump conformation has a low correlation with fertility.

A Colorful Opinion

Something we can all agree on is that the fertility levels in our herds, the world over, are not what breeders would like them to be. I well remember just a year ago when I had a discussion with an old time Jersey breeder. True to form he was telling this Holstein guy that Holstein breeders have ruined the breed. Sure higher butterfat and protein yields and udders much higher off the ground were great moves but why the excessive stature, very flat and deep rear rib and the demand that animals be tall in the front end when nature did not make them that way? “Jersey cows don’t need to have sloping rumps in order to quickly get back in-calf. So why do Holsteins need sloping rumps?” His bottom line was that by going for the tall skinny cow syndrome we have selected against reproductively sound females. His concluding statement was “You are breeding cows not runway models.” Think about it, shorter, rounder cows that may give a little less milk but get in-calf quicker are very likely preferred by milk producers to the tall, deep rear rib, walk uphill ones.

Have we won a Little but Lost a Lot?

Have we selected our Holsteins for the ones that do not quickly get back in-calf? Is it possible that our breeding strategies have taken us in a wrong direction when female fertility is frequently the biggest cow problem that breeders have? (Read more: How Healthy Are Your Cows?)

Certainly over the past half century the average production of Holsteins has doubled. And yes in the past decade we are seeing more outstanding scoring (type classification) cows. And the winners at the shows are super cows with awesome mammary systems.

However whether it is genetics, nutrition or management, our calving intervals are longer and pregnancy rates are perhaps half what they were forty years ago. As well with the need for breeders to focus today on profitability there is the need to replace high cost manual labour with technology and there are moves ahead pointing to less use of drugs and medicines for food safety reasons. Therefore we need to find some way to put reproduction efficiency back into the Holstein cow. And do it by selection rather than by cross-breeding.

Skinny at Odds with Conception

Research and breeder experience has brought to our attention that cows that have above average body conditioning get back in-calf quicker and with less trouble than cows that sacrifice their body condition due to high yields, poor nutrition, inadequate transition cow feeding, poor conformation, … or maybe some combination of all of those.

The Billion Dollar Question

So I ask. “Now that we have sire and cow indexes for Daughter Pregnancy Rate (USA) and Daughter Fertility and Body Condition Score (Canada) are breeders using those indexes in their Breeding Programs?”

Bulls That Get Used

The Canadian Dairy Network, last week, published the thirty Holstein sires with the most daughters registered in Canada in 2012 (Read more: Canadian A.I. Market Share and Most Popular Sires for 2012) accounting for 40% of the total registrations. The remaining 60% were sired by 5900 other bulls. The Bullvine decided to study in some depth the 20 sires with the most registered daughters in Canada in 2012. Those twenty sired 35% of the females registered which should be a good benchmark for where the breed is heading.

Table 1 Sire Comparison – 2012 Daughters Born vs. 2011 Top Sires Available

GroupLPIMilk (kg)Fat (kg / %)Protein (kg / %)CONFMSF&LHerdLifeDFSCSUdepthCA
20 Bulls-most registered 20122075103160 /+.21%41 / +.06%15128105982.894s102
20 Bulls - top in 20112392139367/+.16%55 / +.07%101091081022.874s104

Table 1 compares the twenty sires with the most registered daughters in 2012 to the top twenty Canadian proven LPI sires available to Canadian breeders in 2011. The short answers to the comparisons are: breeders use sires with lower LPIs, less production, more type, less fertility and less Herd Life than the very top LPI sires that A.I. organizations marketed. The shocking truth is that ten of the top twenty most used sires were below average for their Daughter Fertility (DF) indexes. One of those twenty sires had a DF index of only 88 while the top two sires were rated at 107 & 106. High (top 10%) but not overly high.

In case you are wondering if this is a Canadian phenomenon you can refer to a recent Bullvine article (Read more: Top Sires North American Breeders Are Using). The sires with most registered daughters in the USA have the same deficiency in their genetic merit for female fertility. Six of the top ten bulls with the most registered daughters in the middle half of April 2013 were below average for Daughter Pregnancy Rate. Different country same story.

Let’s take the Bull by the Horns

Even though we have only had fertility indexes on bulls for a few years, we as breeders are not using them to genetically improve female fertility in our herds. And it likely goes beyond that – are our A.I. organizations using them when selecting the parents of the next generation of bulls? After all over 90% of the genetic improvement in a herd comes from the sires used.

Fertility Sires

Sires do exist that top the April 2013 North American TPI™ and LPI listings and have fertility ratings in the top 25% of the Holstein breed. Breeders wishing to genetically improve their herds for female fertility should consider the following sires:

Table 2 Top Sires with High Fertility – April 2013

Table 2 Top Sires with High Fertility – April 2013

Click on image for enlargement

Of course we all want to know what we will have to give up to get the female fertility. Further analysis of the twenty-four bulls listed in Table 2 shows that only significant concession would be in ‘show type’ for eight of the twelve top proven sires.  All bulls on this listing have above average indexes for PTAT or CONF.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Half a century of breeding for increased yields, taller and more angularity cows have taken their toll on the fertility in our herds. Female fertility indexes are available for both males and females. With genomics these indexes became much more accurate. Now is the time to put the genetics for female fertility back into our modern Holsteins. It is not a “Perhaps or Maybe”, it is a “MUST”!

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.




DAIRY PRIDE: Presumed MISSing!

Today the average North American is three generations removed from a farm. Food is still being provided even though the numbers would suggest that dairy farmers themselves are going missing. Both husband Murray and I represent the fourth generation to live on the family dairy farm, which puts us among the 2 percent who still live on farms.  Although each succeeding generation has spent more time working off the farm, all three of our children are in agricultural careers in A.I., nutrition and ag marketing.

In the modern marketplace milk and the dairy industry are misjudged and misunderstood. (Read more: How got milk? Became got lost?) Those of us who remain are concerned about what happens to the milk they produce between the time it leaves the farm lane and takes up shelf space in the dairy aisle. This formerly “perfect food” is marked by a hit and miss journey that has many more misses than hits. Targeted by misconceptions, misinformation, and communication is it any wonder that there are days when both sides feel that dairy pride could be presumed missing?

MIStaken Identity

Every one of us who grew up with a farmer as a role model is astonished today at the metamorphosis from “Farmer in the Dell” to “The Farmer is the Devil”.  However on the farmer side of the fence, we too shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the consumer is “the Big Bad Wolf.” ready to huff and puff and blow our dairy world down. None of these images fully portrays the real strengths, challenges and fears facing 21st Century farmers and their customers.


It’s extremely difficult to understand how some of the public perceives farmers as “MOST WANTED!” for abuses against our own animals.  The immediate question arises, “How can anyone imagine that people who work daily with livestock don’t care about the animals?” It would seem to be a no-brainer that only the best possible care allows animal handlers to survive and thrive on the farm.  Having said that, neither are financial reasons the main motivation. “You do it because you love the animals.  Otherwise why would you be up before sunrise and making final rounds after sunset day in and day out?”  You wouldn’t.


Over time, fewer and fewer find the rewards that are commensurate with the commitment and dedication that dairying demands.  For those who do have the desire, farming methods have become more efficient.  Technology has contributed to the sustainability.  Automated equipment, robotic milkers and GPS tractors are just a few of the tools that keep efficiency growing. As in any other industry, investing in new technology requires that the business, in this case the farm, must get bigger. In responding to the challenges, it is frustrating to be labeled with the implied derogatory term, “Factory Farmers.”  The truth is 98% of farms are family owned (what other business can claim that) and the goal is, as it has always been, to provide food …. for everyone.  Not selfish.  Not criminal.


It’s ironic in this day and age of mass production, mega stores and IMAX that big farms are judged to be bad. It’s hypocritical to accept the growth of computer assembled cars and think that food producers can remain at a static size. There was a time when one famer fed five.  Everyone respected their hard work. Today one farmer feeds 200 and it seems like everything from motives, to ethics to animal husbandry is being questioned.  Is there any other profession, where the consuming public insists on reverting to the past?  If you’re reading this, you are using a computer.  How many channels are available on your TV? Is your transportation provided by a “mom-and-pop” car shop? Do you drink your water from a pump in your yard or do you reach for a plastic bottle?


As an industry we need to accept responsibility for debunking myths that have taken hold in consumer understanding.  Jude Capper, assistant professor of dairy science at Washington State University spoke at the Alltech Symposium. “Organic dairy farming certainly has a very favorable consumer perception. But, productivity on the typical organic dairy farm is lower than conventional farms – anywhere from 14 to 45 percent lower in terms of milk yield per cow.” she said.  “What that means is that more cows are needed in the organic systems, along with more natural resources, to make the same amount of milk as the conventional systems. And, that increases the carbon footprint per pound of milk.”  Since 1944 the carbon footprint per pound of milk has been reduced by 63%.  Dairy farmers have made major progress and it is something they should be proud to declare and share.


For whatever reason – perhaps because of their agrarian forefathers – people feel quite comfortable assuming their expertise about modern farming. Where they might tread lightly in pronouncing how factories should be managed yet there are many “activists” who can speak against modern agricultural practices.  Genetically modified organisms deepen the divide between farmers and consumers.  GMOs are crops that have been scientifically altered to enhance the plant’s quality and resistance to elements and pesticides.  In a national survey 64 percent of people said they were unsure if eating GMOs was safe.  It is time for the dairy producer to stand proudly behind the products we produce, eat, drink and serve to ourselves and our children.


Farmers and consumers too often have an “us against you” mentality, which the media intensifies by focusing on negative instances that can colour the entire industry.  More consumers are asking questions about where their food comes from and about farming in general. That’s great. Just asking questions is the best way for the public to learn about farming.  Asking and getting an answer is the only way to bridge the gap between emotional finger pointing and mutual thumbs up!

MISSing the Opportunity

The time is long past, where we can rely on our good intentions to spread the good word to the consuming public.  It’s time to proactively take whatever role we are most comfortable with.  Rather than witness a loss in dairy and consumer confidence – I would rather stand on my soapbox, share great stories, teach what I believe in, and raise my voice at every opportunity.  It’s time to be the “change I wish to see!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It’s not easy being on the receiving end of blame. However whether producer or consumer it’s in our best interest to make sure that there are voices, from both sides, speaking with pride, about the products we produce and eat!


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Charlie McEvoy: As Good as Gold

We all love good cows.  We also admire good cattle breeders.  When you find a good story teller to add to that mix, you have met Charlie McEvoy of Marathon, New York. Whether you are a member of his family, a friend or a fellow cattle enthusiast, Charlie is one of those good people that inspires everyone who knows him to sing his praises.  Of course, he is far too modest to agree but quite simply states, “I’ve been driven by my love of cattle and the thrill of breeding the next generation.”

A Holstein Family Man

Busholm Eclip Ken Milkshake EX-95.
She is owned by McEvoy’s, VanSkiver, McGarr and Green

Family means a lot to Charlie McEvoy. In 1951 his parents established Mac-Mara Holsteins in Marathon, New York.  Charlie was 16 years old at the time.  His father Ken played an important mentorship role in Charlie’s life.  He was a farmer and also sheriff of Cortland County for 27 years. “Dad was my good friend, partner in the farm and a man that who was respected by everyone he met.”  Sixty-two years later Charlie is now the respected role model. He continues his love for registered Holsteins as 2013 President for the New York Holstein Association. He has served on many boards and committees and always encourages the next generation.

There are many reasons for Charlie to be proud of his legacy but he is quick to proclaim what he feels to be his finest achievement. “Caroline and I have raised eight children that are great kids and fantastic parents for our 18 grandchildren.”  Today Charlie is in partnership on the farm with his youngest son, Ken and his wife Lydia. The other seven are professionally employed in their chosen careers:  engineer, lab tech, accounting , sales, town high employee, retired cooperative extension agent. They are all proud of their agricultural roots and the sons still find time to show and help at the farm. On the cow side his herd reached 113.1 BAA in 2008. Great achievements in family and in the barn.

Charlie McEvoy is a standard fixture at many dairy shows. He has been actively exhibiting at every New York Spring Dairy Carousel since its origin. His son, Ken, assisted him at the 2013 show.

Charlie McEvoy is a standard fixture at many dairy shows. He has been actively exhibiting at every New York Spring Dairy Carousel since its origin. Pictured here with his son Donny.

The Rail McEvoy

It was in the early 1950s when McEvoy met Henry Thomas, a nationally known cattleman who Charlie felt, along with Casey Sly, “were the first great cowmen I got to work with.”  During those days, Charlie traveled across the country by railway to shows in Columbus, Chicago, Waterloo, and points farther west. He tells the story. “My first trip on the box car was when I was 14 years old with McDonald Guernsey Farm going to the National Dairy Congress in Waterloo. It was the first trip of many. In the box car each cow or bull had their own stall. We would brush them regularly and their tails were washed daily. We would put 8 mature cows and 4 younger head on a box car. Over the top of them we would build a deck that housed hay, feed, water and our cots. It took about 5 days to get from Cortland to Waterloo. We would load the cows in the morning and let them get comfortable and acclimated to the car. At night the engine would come to take us to Binghamton to meet more show herds and head west. We’d stop in Buffalo to add more cars and head to Chicago where we’d spend a day getting rearranged to go to Waterloo. Once at Waterloo a tack truck would meet us to haul our show gear and we would lead the cows to the fairgrounds about a quarter mile away. During the ride on the box car we lived on cheese, crackers, sardines and beans.”  Those grand kids are going to hear good stories!

charlie mcevoy youth

Charlie Has A Way With Cows

Doing what he loved throughout six decades provides Charlie with an opportunity to meet and work with the best in the business. He has worked with such iconic herds as Dreamstreet, Lylehaven, Pamtom, Arethusa and many others. Herb Kerr, owner of Pamtom Farm, often referred to his famous Star Marie cow as “Charlie’s Cow,” as he was the only one to show her at the National Shows.  From Charlie’s viewpoint two things stand out from those experiences. “What made it special were the amazing cows that each string had in them.” And then he adds “But what made it more memorable was the great talented people I got to work with. Any amount of pressure and hard work is easy when you’re laughing.”


The Award Winner of Marathon

Charlie McEvoy & Gary Culberston of Ladyholm Holsteins in picture when they were showing for Mansion Valley Farm

Charlie McEvoy & Gary Culberston of Ladyholm Holsteins in picture when they were showing for Mansion Valley Farm

In 2006, Charlie was honored for his dedication to the Cortland Classic show, and, in 2007, for his outstanding fellowship and sportsmanship at the New York State Fair. McEvoy’s career as a farmer and a showman has included a number of awards, among them New York State Active Master Breeder (2009), Northeast Fall National Holstein Herdsman Award in Springfield, Mass., the Stanley Murphy Award, the New York State Fair W. Stewart Stephens Memorial Award for Outstanding Fellowship and Dedication as a Showman.  In 2009 Charlie McEvoy, was named the 68th winner of the Klussendorf Trophy, the highest recognition given to a dairy cattle showman in the United States. He says, “It was a humbling experience.”

Showman. Sportsman. Herdsman.

Charlie has had a long and distinguished career with dairy cattle and has witnessed tremendous changes.  He points out. “The speed at which things change or move is mind boggling. I’m from a generation when you mated cows it was with bulls that you’ve seen daughters out of and have reliability. Now we use a son of a young sire out of a heifer that hasn’t calved yet”.

To this day, he still loves the show ring and is enthusiastic. “The quality at any show up and down the line is amazing. The modern cow has so much style, balance, openness of rib combined with dairy strength and a sewed on udder. Also the fitting practices have changed so much. When I first started out we would clip their heads and shoulders and then blanket them. Now toplines and belly hair are groomed to perfection.”

Looking back at cows that have had impact on the Holstein breed Charlie singles out Aitkenbrae Starbuck Ada. He explains his choice. “She is one of my favorite young cows of all time. Her descendants, whether male or female, have changed our barns and show strings forever.”

Aitkenbrae Starbuck Ada EX-94-2E @ 14-02 (USA) Born: 09/13/86 Sire: Hanoverhill Starbuck Dam: Aitkenbrae Sheik Arlene GP-80-2Y (CAN) Exhibited by: Gay Ridge & Kingstead Farms Ijamsville, Maryland, USA Holstein

Aitkenbrae Starbuck Ada
EX-94-2E @ 14-02 (USA)
Born: 09/13/86
Sire: Hanoverhill Starbuck
Dam: Aitkenbrae Sheik Arlene
Exhibited by: Gay Ridge & Kingstead Farms
Ijamsville, Maryland, USA

Closer to home his love of breeding the next generation of cows makes narrowing down the list difficult. “It is hard to choose just one “greatest”. There are so many special cows but I guess the first ones that jump to my mind are Millervale Ultimate Rosalyn and Camp-Hollow Ultimate Kate. They were Grand and Reserve at World Dairy Expo in 1983. Taraley Astro Sherry was another favorite, just because she was an awesome individual and a true dairy man’s dream.”

Committed to Cows and Community

Dairy cattle remain a passion for Charlie who does chores every day and still finds time to think about the next human generation as well. He has served on many boards and community groups. McEvoy served as the dairy supervisor at the Broome County Fair for 30 years. While supervisor he encouraged the creation of a milking parlor which demonstrates the milking procedure to the public. He has been an advocate for the youth in agriculture, assisting many with the pursuit of their dreams.

Charlie recognizes that changes are inevitable and has seen many of them.  Looking toward the future he says, “Hopefully the greatest change will be the American milk pricing system. If it aint broke don’t fix it. If it is broke over haul it.”He offers this advice. Work hard, stay positive, take advice from ones that have been in it, visit and see other successful farm operations and when possible diversify your farm to provide different avenues for income. “

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Much has changed in the dairy business from the shows to the barn to the cattle themselves, but Charlie inspires those who learn from his dedication and hard work. A family man.  A cow man. A gentleman. Goodness knows Charlie McEvoy is as Good as Gold!


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What’s it all about? 15 dairy breeders’ stories that will touch and inspire you.

You can look at all the numbers you want, go to as many cow shows as you would like and, if you take away the people, it just wouldn’t be the same.  The thing that makes the dairy breeding industry so special is the people.

Since starting the Bullvine, we have had the pleasure to meet many new passionate breeders from around the world.  Breeders who have poured their heart and soul into breeding great cattle.  Sure we have “touched” on a few issues that have gotten a “reaction” from many (Read more).  But when it’s all said and done, for us here at the Bullvine it is also all about the people.

The following are some of the many NEW breeders that we have met since starting the Bullvine.  Breeders whose stories have inspired us to do more.  (To see all the breeder profiles we have covered click here)

  • Julia James: “Cow By Cow.  Doing It Now.”
    Julia James is truly an inspirational young woman.  In an industry dominated by men, she is certainly making her mark.  Some people dream of a life they hope to have some time.  Julia has a three word answer to anything and everything that may be holding you back, “Do it now!”
  • Stephanie Aves – Anything Is Possible If You’ve Got St-Yle!
    Talk about a young woman overcoming obstacles! The Stephanie Aves story is one that will inspire all.  She is passionate about dairy cattle, she loves what she does, and there is nothing stopping her from doing great things.
  • Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country
    There is no question in this connected world that we need to have more advocates for the dairy industry.  Carrie Mess, a city girl turned country, is certainly one of the dairy industry’s greatest advocates, showing the world what makes the dairy industry great and why she loves it so much.
  • The Magic of Francesca
    When talking about women with great passion, it’s hard for me to leave out Beverly Donavon and the story of the great Sweet-Pepper Black Francesca.  It’s a story you cannot help but be touched by emotionally.  I have had the pleasure of getting to know Beverly and her husband Richard pretty well since starting the Bullvine and they certainly are among the most passionate in the business.
  • Dean and Dianna Malcolm: Forward in Five Gears!  That’s Aussie D.I.Y.
    Of course there are also many great partnerships that really stand out around the world.  The story of Dean and Dianna Malcolm demonstrates that passion, determination, and talent can help overcome all naysayers.
  • Ocean View Genetics: The Fine Art of Marketing Great Breeding
    Just like the Malcolm’s the partnership of Pam and Daryl Nunes is one that shines brightly in the dairy industry.  Their talents complement each other very well (similar to Dean and Dianna) and they certainly have bred some of the greatest cattle in the dairy industry and been a pinnacle example of how to market dairy cattle to the world.  The Oceanview ads are some of the greatest in history.
  • Keightley and Core Jerseys: Heart of the Family
    Of course when talking partnerships it would be impossible to leave out that of Alta Mae Core and Jeff Keightly.  These two have formed Keightly and Core Jersey’s – a powerhouse in the Jersey business.  At Keightly and Core it’s all about building on heartfelt passion for family – both home and livestock.
  • Halter, Pen and Gavel.  That’s Just the Norm.
    It’s hard for me to think about anything Jersey without thinking of the living legend Norm Nabholz.  While he has transcended many breeds and is respected by peers in all of them who feel “Norm has to have the highest I.Q. in the dairy business.” A mentorship Norm shares through his books.
  • Gary Sauder: The Muse in His Studio
    Speaking of Jersey’s and artistic talent, we cannot overlook that of Gary Sauder.  His paintings are iconic for their realism and truism to the animal.  Gary’s artwork can be appreciated by all.
  • Emma Caldwell’s Art Stirs Mind and Heart!
    Another great artist who is catching the world’s attention for her paintings is Emma Caldwell.  She may be young but she has loads of talent and has an extremely bright future ahead of her.
  • Han Hopman: Shooting Straight at Holstein International
    When talking about paintings and pictures, it’s hard for me to not think of the great Han Hopman.  His pictures have captured some of the greatest moments in Holstein history.  With Han’s talent for catching the moment that tells the story he has certainly changed the way we see the dairy world.
  • Francisco Rodriguez: Passion With A Purpose
    When talking about stories from around the world, I think of Francisco Rodriguez.  Francisco is a very talented individual who left his native Columbia to come to America and chase the American dream.

Of course there are also those stories from breeders that we have known for many years that have also inspired us greatly.  To highlight a few:

  • It’s Time To Pull Together And Support One Of Our Own
    Andrea Crowe is in a battle that many of us could not imagine.  This extremely passionate young breeder has more fight in her than Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali combined.  Every time I think of Andrea (or read her blog articles on Holstein Universe) I can’t help but be inspired.
  • Cristy Nurse: From Show Ring Beauty to World Class Rower
    Of course, when talking about inspirational young woman I can’t leave out Cristy Nurse.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Cristy for many years and her story of success and perseverance is inspirational.  Nothing tells you more about a person than how they handle adversity, and when Cristy was left off the Olympic team, she handled it with class and dignity (Read more: Cristy Nurse – Standing Tall)
  • The 2012 Royal Winter Fair Holstein Show – One Of The Greatest Stories Ever Told!
    Talking about stories that have just grabbed me, it would be hard to miss the success of the Eby’s and Ebyholme Goldwyn Marcia.  I have known the Eby’s all my life, competing with Andrea and Rob in 4-H for many years I certainly was touched when I saw Rob embrace his father after Marcia’s success at the Royal.  I was at their sale last summer (Read more: Ebyholme – The End of an Era). To see these two young breeders (Rob and his wife Julie) share their success and an emotional moment at the Royal was truly special.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The bottom line when it comes to what is truly special has to be, “In dairying, as in life, it’s all about the people.”


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Dean and Dianna Malcolm: Forward in Five Gears! That’s Aussie D.I.Y.

Recently the Bullvine wrote an article, “Is Down Under Going Under?” which initiated an ongoing exchange of emails between Murray Hunt and Dianna Malcolm.  Despite her happiness with the “positive messages regarding our sale”, Dianna was somewhat revved up. “Your blog’s timing was just appalling in terms of our sale marketing. The story was fair, but we had our balls to the wall and we were trying to be so positive for ourselves and our courageous co-vendors.”   With a little coaxing on our part, Dianna agreed to give us a more fully rounded picture of the situation. So settle in for a trip down under to the State of Victoria, where Dianna and husband Dean keep at least five business growing. It numbers even more when you include their commitment to encouraging the young, the dedicated and even the discouraged dairymen and women to hang on to hope in these crazy times for the Australian dairy business.

dean and dianna malcom2

Keeping Up and Always Moving Forward

When faced with adversity in the dairy business, there are many who would scale back.  Not so for Dean and Dianna Malcolm, who were born into dairy families and inherit their work ethic and, probably their tenacity, from their parents.  At the present time, they have no less than five businesses that grew out of their shared expertise:  Crazy Cow in Print and website; Public Relations; Bluechip Genetics; Extreme Genetics and Cattle Photography. These are their offspring. “We were unable to have a family, so we have instead put our energy into the business.” And what considerable energy that is. Indeed the Malcolms continually widen their circle as they polish every aspect of their passion for dairying.

apple daughters at bluechip

Bluechip Apple Spice (left – sold for $101,000) and Bluechip Toffee Apple (Right)
(photo taken at 6 1/2 mths old)
Dam: KHW Regiment Apple, EX95, Grand Champion R&W WDE 2011, All World R&W 2010

The Tall Poppy Syndrome

“We do push each other and ourselves to be the best we can be.” says Dean referring to the successes they have already measured. “We started Bluechip Genetics from the ground up in 2006. The farm comprises 225 acres, milking 125 cows averaging over 10,000 litres at a 4.1% fat and a 3.3% protein. We have 125 heifers (40 bulls to be sold as herd sires) and 50 Angus cattle, which are used as recips. We are honoured to have partnerships with Mike Deaver, Mike and Julie Duckett, Ferme Blondin and St Jacobs/Tim Abbott, which has been exciting. We also have a number of awesome Australian partners and Dean and Jo Geddes, from Tahora in NZ.” They stand poppy-tall in the showring too where they have been Premier Breeder and Premier Exhibitor for the last three successive years at the fourth biggest show in the world, International Dairy Week (IDW).

Bluechip Alexander Whynot Recent Jr Champion  at IDW.  Owned by Bluechip Genetics & Averill Leslie

Bluechip Alexander Whynot
Recent Jr Champion at IDW. Owned by Bluechip Genetics & Averill Leslie

The Dean and Di Duo: She Fits the Words .. He Fits the Cows

Success for this couple hinges on working closely together while highlighting their different areas of expertise.  Dianna’s background in mainstream media (including working as a reporter in television) has been a big help. The CrazyCow website was established in 2000 and CrazyCow in Print has been up and running since 2003. Dean and Dianna see key advantages to their shared talents. “At the core of it all, Dean was a successful cattle fitter, so we do have the advantage of being able to manage and develop (and now to also market cattle through photography and CrazyCow) relatively inexpensively in-house.” Both get to travel (for instance regularly to the World Dairy Expo). “And through CrazyCow and Bluechip, we have found like-minded partners and supportive networks that keep us thinking globally and moving forward.”

CC_CoverCrazyCow In Print

Dean and Dianna are justifiably gratified at CrazyCow In Print’s evolution.  “When we started the first all breeds journal of the modern era back in 2003 out of our lounge room it was in the middle of the drought and so many people said it wouldn’t work. But it has endured, grown and been mirrored by a number of other international publications. To now have international respect and interest for a magazine produced in Australia is a personal triumph for us both. It’s also good for the Australian industry to be showcased and understood by the greater global dairy community.”

To Market. To Market.

The Malcolms have complimentary roles with the cattle too “I rear the calves and Dean takes my babies from eight months of age to complete their development and plan their careers.” And then promotion clicks in: both showing and picturing. “We believe print advertising still plays a huge part in the dairy industry. But, in particular, Facebook is becoming massive and we try to manage a balance between the social media and the various in print mediums. We have also pursued video work, which has been distributed through social media, and that has been incredibly successful.” Dean sums up their marketing philosophy: “We also work extremely hard to build stronger and deeper cow families in terms of show ring success, picturing, classification and production.” Is it becoming clearer what triggered their concern over worldwide attention to the Aussie dairying troubles?

Cover_2013“Advertising is Critical!!! Just Critical!!!!!”

Like any entrepreneurs who put everything on the line, the Malcolms risked everything for their recent Bluechip Invitational Sale. “We had all our marketing on the line, because we used CrazyCow In Print and FB to market, including the video that young industry talent Bradley Cullen, Di and I made,” Dean said.  “So many people were fearful that our sale would not fly … and, to be honest, we depend on marketing cattle to keep the farm going forward because there is not enough money in milk right now. But we also had CrazyCow on the line because we had marketed so heavily through there (naturally) and we knew people would judge that decision too. Di and I stuck together and put up 75% of our young in-milk team and our best heifers in a year that I have to wonder if others would have done.” They kept moving forward but recognized what was at stake. “To say I wasn’t breathing when the sale started is an understatement – but this sale proved that good animals, with the right pedigrees, presented in the right form do sell,” Dianna said.  The sale averaged $6600 overall – Bluechip animals averaged $7300.  How does she feel today? “Dean is more courageous than me, perhaps because he is such a detailed planner. For me, I’m just so relieved to have this sale behind us. It was (in the end) a positive day for the whole industry and hopefully injected some hope into the whole game that has been seriously missing in Australia.”  Thank goodness for today’s marketing. Both Malcolms feel it is “so much more immediate, fun and so empowering.”

Top price at the Bluechip sale was Bluechip Goldwyn Frosty, Goldwyn X Dundee x Harvue Roy Frosty, sold for Top price $72000 (Pictured here with the outstanding sale crew)

Top price at the Bluechip sale was Bluechip Goldwyn Frosty, Goldwyn X Dundee x Harvue Roy Frosty, sold for Top price $72,000 (Pictured here with the outstanding sale crew)

Knickers and Knockers – A Knotty Situation

With a quick sigh of relief due to their well-earned success, Dean and Dianna readily admit that there are still many challenges facing them. What you may ask could ever faze these two.  Dianna answers with heat. “ Milk price!!! And our useless government!” She feels quite strongly about these two. “Strangely, that has hurt us more even than the droughts, the floods, the pestilence and the severe heat (animals aren’t housed indoors in Australia)… So that gives you some idea of what we face right now. We have never seen it so tough.” Dean looks forward with a grim prediction. “If small business and agriculture are not more respected by our governments, there will be no food.  We love that saying: If you ate today, thank a farmer.” The picture isn’t pretty in fact they both describe it as “horrific.” “We have been pushed into working harder and harder, for less and less,” Dean said. “Without our passion we would have exited this industry long ago because we have the ability to make money in other lines of work. Someone must be making money from our product. The world needs more and more food, yet primary production (not just dairy) in Australia has been smashed. That goes for small business too. It is criminal really. No-one is educating the next generation about farming and they are getting more and more disconnected. It is incredibly disappointing and concerning. Milk price needs to lift significantly and immediately because when farmers make money, everyone makes money.” Dianna adds: “Sadly, farmers are so independent that achieving solidarity is no mean feat and that is what we all need to achieve change (in my opinion).” If only more opinions were so eloquently expressed and actively implemented but there is only so much time for these multi-faceted business entrepreneurs.

Dean and Dianna also host many international students and young breeders and shared their wealth of knowledge.  Shown here are Katie Kearns(left) and Darci and Justin Daniels(Right).

Dean and Dianna also host many international students and young breeders and shared their wealth of knowledge. Shown here are Katie Kearns(left) and Darci and Justin Daniels(Right).

“We Don’t Have a Life”

It’s hard to picture with so much going on that the Malcolms declare that they don’t have a life.  Dianna does give a clue to the management philosophy. “There are some very robust conversations in this house, but we have a common goal so we usually work it out without too much bloodshed.” We’re sure it is much more peace loving than that and she agrees. “The fact that we’re still married might be viewed as an accomplishment in this fast-moving world.”  Of course they don’t have a life.  They have five lives.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Constant change (much of it unsettling) is unfortunately the current situation for dairying in many parts of the world.  For these two Aussies we are grateful that they are sharing their passion and enthusiasm.  We wish Dean and Dianna Malcolm all the best as they continue to turn things up down under!


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Glen McNeil: Communication, Common Sense and Respect for the Speed Bumps Delivers Holstein Leadership

So much about dairying in North America is in a state flux, that it is reassuring when people are willing to take leadership roles.  Glen McNeil, the Immediate Past President of Holstein Canada, demonstrated his commitment to Holsteins and leaves the position still committed to continuous improvement of the industry and hopeful for changes ahead. “There will be speed bumps that give us a reality check and that is called balance and experience.” But overall he is positive. “People seek, adapt and embrace change at different stages. Developing proactive policies and direction on an ongoing basis is the responsibility of the Board of Directors as is due diligence…”  This doesn’t mean he sees the world through rose-coloured glasses. “The constant degree and speed of change, and the methods of communication that are being used today mean that everything becomes super fast paced.”  Adapting to the times and respect for the people on all sides of an issue has worked well for Glen.

Barn to the Board Room – Respect for the Roots

gm2Glen has great respect for people in the barn and in the Board Room. It has served him well and been returned to him. He highlights his experiences while at the Holstein Canada Board table. “This enriching experience at the Board table has helped me develop an attitude of respect towards people and their opinions. People remember how you treat them and how you make them feel, longer than what you said. The most important ingredient of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

Getting the basics right about people and developing cow knowledge skills has been important to Glen. He looks to those who influenced him early on. ” My parents taught me work ethic, morals, respect and care of livestock. Dave Houck (Romandale Farms) taught me the art of breeding including aAa. Dave introduced me to Bill Weeks from Vermont, Frank Phister of Mexico, and many great Holstein enthusiasts worldwide. Earl Osborne, Bill Grieve and Pascal Lemire, all Past Presidents of Holstein Canada, were great leaders that inspired me.”

The Triple Excellent Heather Holme Team

The team of Glen and Vanda took over ownership of Heather Holme in 1977 and they have always focused on “the vital importance of developing positive relationships with family, employees, clients, and suppliers to our business.” Attention to detail has helped the McNeils to bring out the best in their cows. Having won three Master Breeder Shields is a unique and rare achievement. It is always amazing that those who reach these heights make the success sound simple. Glen has a four point philosophy.  “Sire selection and animal care on a day to day basis is paramount! Consistently using elite breed improving sires in complimentary matings for generations is vital. We use our classification information and aAa in every mating. We avoid incorporating inferior genetics. “ Simple but true. And yet it goes beyond genetics to the people involved. The McNeils praise each team member on-farm at Heather Holme or through their service suppliers for the expertise that they contribute to the overall success.

(L) Heather Holme R Josee EX 4E (C) Heather Holme Gibson Jolene EX 2E (R) Heather Holme Golden Jewel VG

(L) Heather Holme R Josee EX 4E
(C) Heather Holme Gibson Jolene EX 2E
(R) Heather Holme Golden Jewel VG

The World Wide Excellence of Canadian Holsteins

Glen is equally emphatic about his commitment to Canadian Holsteins and their role.  “There is not a country in the developed world that is short of milk or we would not have the milk price issues that are as evident as they are today in so many countries. Canada needs to continue to breed a balanced dairy cow that can sustain the high production to enable them to express their genetic potential over a lifetime to increase profitability. Every dairyman in the world wants trouble free, profitable cows, with the correct conformation to withstand the high production that today’s dairy cow is capable of producing.”  A big order but one Glen is confident can be achieved.

Holstein Canada CEO Ann Louise and President Glen McNeil share their Canadian "hockey" heritage with Irish and Finnish #2012WHC Participants!

Glen McNeil and Holstein Canada CEO Ann Louise share their Canadian “hockey” heritage with Irish and Finnish 2012 World Holstein Conference Participants!

Achieving More Close to Home Too

With the pressures on all organizations to provide relevant and needed services to its members, The Bullvine asked for Glen’s thoughts on Holstein Field Services “Field Service is just that, an extension service to our members to communicate to and educate our dairies on the profitability opportunities with registration, classification, milk recording, genome testing, etc. The pricing model for services must be flexible and will evolve as more dairies see the advantages of these services. Communications in different forms is paramount today.”

The Next Turn in the Road

Having seen the Holstein industry from various viewpoints, Glen shares his perspective. “I have tremendous respect and faith in our youth involved in the dairy business at many different levels. In having the opportunity to travel worldwide I have great appreciation for supply management in Canada.” New opportunities will present themselves with all the hills and valleys that progress demands.  McNeil knows it will take willingness to change. “We would never consider using the same sires that we used 20 years ago, or farm the same way, feed or manage our cows the way we did 20 years ago. Common sense and understanding what Genomics can and cannot do will be very revealing in the next 2-3 years.”

Holstein Canada CEO Ann Louise Carson, President Glen McNeil, and Board member Mario Perrault were very pleased to recently attend the All-European Championship Show in Fribourg, Switzerland

Glen McNeil and Holstein Canada CEO Ann Louise Carson, Mario Perrault were attending the All-European Championship Show in Fribourg, Switzerland. The traditional alpine horns in the picture are played in the Swiss Alps.

“One Door Closes. Another Opens.”

History will continue to be written at Heather Holme where one theme they have built on is that “challenges are also opportunities”. Glen welcomes the changes opening up in his schedule. “I am fortunate to be able to return to our farm on a more regular basis than I have for a few years to assist Curtis and Vanda as required and spend more valuable time with our family”. No doubt there will be new evolutions ahead. It is noteworthy that the McNeils are using Facebook to share their ideas and to market their cattle by almost daily updates. Look for the McNeils to have and sell healthy cattle as they have maintained their CHAH (disease free) Herd status when others found it an expense rather than an investment.

Curtis and our Herdsman Greg Feagan, Greg has been working with us for 31 years.

Son Curtis and herdsman Greg Feagan, Greg has been working with Heather Holme for 31 years.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The McNeils at Heather Holme believe in taking good stock and best practices, making them better and getting results. Adapting to and changing with the times has built their success. Glen looks to the future with the same equanimity that has served both Heather Holme and Holstein Canada well. “Change is inevitable and desirable. Adapt and harness new technologies to continue to be profitable and competitive and learn how to adapt to change. “We applaud McNeil for his dedication, vision and commitment.  It smoothes out the speed bumps so that Glen can confidently declare. “The future is bright for Holstein Canada and the Canadian dairy industry!”


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COLOSTRUM: Stop Making Costly Mistakes

It would be oversimplifying a very complex management situation, if you reduced calf management to feeding colostrum.  You must pay attention to a myriad of details. It all starts with the health and management of the mother and ripples out to include the environment, biosecurity, health and protocols of all the areas that touch on a calf before birth and after. Having said that, it is still valid to declare that colostrum remains the key to success with newborn calves. It is also where too many of us are falling short.

Not ALL Colostrum is Created EQUAL

Researcher Kim Morrill and a team of colleagues at Iowa State University conducted a study on colostrum quality. The team collected 827 samples of first-milking colostrum from 67 farms in 12 states between June and October 2010. The parity of donor cows was recorded, as was the storage method of the colostrum when it was sampled — either fresh, refrigerated or frozen.  The findings were reported in the July 2012 edition of the Journal of Dairy Science. What the team found is rather revealing. Only 39.4 percent of the samples met industry standards for both immunoglobulin (IgG) concentration and a bacteria measure known as total plate count (TPC).

Survival of calves with inadequate serum immunoglobulin concentrations is reduced, compared with calves having acceptable levels of immunity. Source: National Dairy Heifer Evaluation Project, NAHMS, 1992.

Therefore, slightly more than 60 percent of colostrum on dairy farms is inadequate, putting a large number of calves at risk of failure of passive transfer and/or bacterial infections.

If judged only on the basis of IgG, without looking at TPC, a sizeable number of the samples still fail to pass muster. Almost 30 percent of the samples had IgG concentrations that fell below the industry standard, which is defined as having more than 50 milligrams of IgG per milliliter.

Nearly 43 percent of the samples had total plate count or TPC that failed the industry standard, which is defined as having less than 100,000 colony-forming units per milliliter.

Colostrum Effectiveness: Goes Down Fast

08-001f1[1]The ability of the calf to absorb colostrum decreases with time. By 9 hours after birth the calf can only absorb half of the colostrum. By 24 hours the amount absorbed is minimal.

  • Feed the colostrum as soon as possible after birth
  • Feed calves one gallon of colostrum (100 pound calf). Minimum for Holsteins is 3 quarts.
  • Eight to twelve hours later feed another two quarts
  • Try to get the calf to suck the colostrum, whatever they do not suck will need to be tubed.

What about ARTIFICIAL Colostrum?

The most common methods used for evaluating colostrum quality are with a colostrometer, a refractometer or by visual appearance. The calf needs to continue to receive colostrum the first two days, if not from its mother then from another cow that has recently given birth. Manufactured colostrum replacers are also available.  Sometimes these arrive frozen. Because the antibodies in the colostrum are crucial to helping the calf build its disease resistance, thawing should be achieved slowly and carefully to avoid destroying the antibodies.

Quantity: This area needs improvement.

“A lot of dairy producers are giving only about 2 quarts of milk per calf per day. They’re doing a pretty good job of getting it to the calf early, but they’re not giving them a great enough quantity of milk. They need a gallon a day and more in cold weather.” Surveys show that 45.8 percent of operations hand-fed more than 2 quarts but less than 4 quarts of colostrum during the calves’ first 24 hours of life. there’s a lot of data on the role colostrum plays in growth, says Jim Drackley, dairy scientist at the University of Illinois and another of the roundtable participants.“The initial development of the intestinal tract in the first couple days of life is very much dependent on colostrum intake. We know that the basics include getting enough colostrum into the calf as quickly as possible, and that the colostrum should be of good quality in terms of its antibody concentration.

KEEP IT CLEAN: Unsanitary Colostrum

There is too much bacteria in much of the colostrum that is collected and fed on dairy farms. This could be the source of an early infection or give the calf problems in absorption.  But even people who feed adequate amounts can still have problems if the colostrum is unsanitary, points out Simon Timmermans, veterinarian from Sibley, Iowa. “We’ve started a HACCP protocol where we collect a random colostrum sample weekly before it goes into the calf,” Timmermans says. “We can detect if there is a hygiene problem based on the bacterial count. I think that’s the key reason why we see such better performance out of the beef industry. It’s the human element, and it goes to hygiene.”

Every Delay.  Every Bucket Change.  Multiplies Contamination

Timmermans explains that colostrum is a great culture media for iron-loving bacteria like Salmonella. “The producer may do everything perfectly, collecting that one gallon of colostrum, but then he lets it sit out in a bucket for three hours before he gets it fed to the calf” and bacterial levels explode.

What We All Know.  What we DON`T Always Do!

Cows have stronger, higher quality colostrum compared to heifers. It is important to feed one gallon of colostrum to Holsteins to make up for the differences in strength. (The stronger the colostrum, the more antibodies that it contains.)  A colostrometer can be used to determine the quality of colostrum. This will detect the poor quality of colostrum which should not be used.

Save Calf Lives, Sanitize

Dam’s udders should be cleaned and prepped with pre-dip before colostrum is harvested. Extra colostrum can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Be sure to date the colostrum so that freshness can be ensured. Colostrum can be frozen for up to one year. Colostrum should be thawed out by placing the container in warm water. Microwaving colostrum will destroy the valuable antibodies present.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Producers do a pretty good job of getting colostrum to the calf early.  Colostrum is the key to success, but you have to have the right combination of timing, quality and quantity.


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How Healthy Are Your Cows?

There are  some herds where the temperature is checked on fresh cows twice a day for the first couple of days after calving. But for the rest, how many of us know the temperatures and the borderline sicknesses of animals in our herds?  Should we?

Let’s look at this a little closer.

Lost Dollars

“The economics of animal disease are huge and often unrecognized.”

“A goal of every dairy producer is to have healthy cows that breed back quickly.”

“Early detection of disease reduces the cost of disease to the farm and increases the length of animals’ lives.” These are three quotes from Dr Jeffrey Bewley, a University of Kentucky Professor whose research focus is precision economics.

Consider your own farm. If you are not 100% aware of the health status of every animal on your farm, how can you know the dollars disease is costing you?

There are  numbers reported that say  each mastitis case costs us $350-$400 or that each extra day open for our milking herd costs us $4 – $5 in lost profit.  But do we know anything about our heifer herds?  What does a case of calf pneumonia or scours cost? How much of our labor costs are associated with treating sick animals? And then there are costs to subclinical disease that we do not even know exist (Read more: Dollars and Sense: Herd Health and Reproduction).

The Big Unknown

How many disease incidents get missed on our farms?  Let’s admit it, we do not know.  If we could have an army of herd persons, we might come close to knowing but then our bank balance would be a very large negative number.

So let’s step away from dairy farming for a minute.  Let’s go to our local hospital, where sick people are nursed back to health. The patient is hooked up to machines for constant monitoring so that the Doctors and Nurses can use the numbers to make decisions.  Continuous monitoring.

Wouldn’t it be great to make informed decisions by having numbers provided by continuous animal health monitors on dairy farms??

Enter Precision Dairy Farming

The Bullvine has discussed milking robots (Read more: Robotic Milking: More than just automation it’s a new style of herd management and FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: Passion with a Purpose) but they are just one of many devices that capture continuous observations on our dairy farms.  Besides milk yields robots have information on milking speed, milk temperature and electrical conductivity by each quarter.  Someday soon they may be able to capture fat % and protein%.

Is it any wonder that robot owners tell us that they have never known as much about their cows and managed them so well?

But robots exist beyond the milking herd.  Calves can now be fed robotically.  And other devices are arriving on the market every year to capture more animal performance information.

Another way to consider precision dairy farming is to think in terms of more data to manage with and  make more profit from.

Like to “Know”

However before going further into what equipment is out there to capture on-farm animal data. it is important to know where you’re starting from. What are the biggest health challenges on your farm?

How would you rank the following?

  • heat detection / timing of breeding / cows not showing heats until over seventy days in milk
  • heifers not detected in heat until after fifteen months of age / heifers not calving until 27 months
  • LDAs / milk fever / ketosis
  • lameness followed by loss in production, hoof trimming, medication and milk being discarded
  • difficult calvings followed by retained placentas, metritis,… resulting in cost and delayed conception
  • animals off feed and off on performance
  • calves or heifers with health challenges
  • not able to detect the onset of sickness prior to it becoming a major problem

We all have problems. First we need to identify our problems. Only after that can we plan to manage to not have them.

Systems Available

State-of-the art milking systems will measure drops in yield. Robots will do it by each quarter of the cow’s udder, and in particular, electrical conductivity of the milk at the quarter level during milking.  Parlor systems measure it at the cow level. There is a good association between electrical conductivity, somatic cell count and mastitis.

Tags will measure rumination, or cud chewing, providing an opportunity to react quickly to, say, the onset of illness or disadvantageous feeding changes, at the single-animal and herd level

Another system uses ear tags to take the surface temperature of the inside of the right ear of each transition and fresh cow every five minutes.

A passive rumen bolus system will monitor animal core temperature, which provides information for early disease detection, ovulation detection, heat stress and timing of parturition.

Another ear tag will monitor ear temperature and  head-ear movement to identify potential peripheral shock (cold extremities), which may be particularly useful for early identification of milk fever or for detecting cows moving their head or ears more when they are in heat.

Another technology will monitor lying behavior and activity. Activity monitoring is a comparatively new technology that is gaining in use for monitoring animal health including estruses.

Yes there are new systems continually becoming available but the question is how accurate are they and do their benefits out-weigh their cost? For example, $25 more profit per cows per year from using a device may not be worth it but $200 more profit per cow definitely requires serious consideration of the technology.

Plan for Profit

It is no longer good enough to not know or ignore health (that includes fertility) details on your cows. Past approaches of ‘not sweating the small health stuff’ are not appropriate as profit on today’s dairy farms depends on taking a total package approach. Remember: you need to continually looking for ways to improve; you need to decide on the limiting factors on your farm; you need to prioritize your technological enhancements; you need to capture the information accurately and economically; and you need to manage for profit.


None of this is new information to people who work with dairy cows. We all breathe a sigh of relief when a cow gets through the transition period disease free and we can look forward to a productive lactation and a confirmed pregnancy ahead. Or when a healthy calf in born that grows quickly and enters the milking herd at a young age. Obviously the first line of defence or attack is always a proactive plan to grow and have healthy, disease free, disease resistant profitable cattle. When it comes to profitable dairy cows, raising health is a good thing!


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Tarred With the Same Brush

Recently I had a conversation with a dairy cattle photographer that got me thinking about the state of dairy cattle marketing and the effect it has on the marketplace.  For regular readers of The Bullvine our very publicly expressed positions on photo ethics and dairy cattle photography are very clear. (Read more: No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures and Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist?) The points made by this photographer encouraged me to think further about our approach.  “Have we tarred all photographers with the same brush?”

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

There is no question that many good photographers have been tarred with the same brush as those who have a lower level of ethics.  One of the effects that has happened from this is that many breeders no longer trust the images they see.  Hence why we introduced the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography Overexposed)

This photographer I was speaking with pointed out to me that, since we have “brought this to light”, they cannot even set  foot on a farm without hearing some sort of negative comment toward photographers or  off-handed jabs about Photoshop.  The sad part is that was not my intent at all.  Certainly not for this photographer and the team she works with, as I have the utmost respect for them.

Contrary to public perception, there are photographers that do amazing work and do so ethically.  There is no question that photography is an art form.  Sure there is a science to it, but it is also a finely honed craft.  Especially dairy cattle livestock photography.  I dare anyone to just pick up the camera walk into the barn and expect that they can nail a great shot.  Getting the composition correct isn’t easy.  That one aspect really differentiates the talented ones from the average ones.

Another aspect that I have seen that really makes a difference between those photographers whose work I trust and those that I have some reservations about is their use of light.  Lighting is probably the most important aspect that I think many photographers have gotten lazy about since the introduction of Photoshop.  There are some that would rather edit or adjust during postproduction rather than take the time to get the shot correct in the first place.  With the introduction of digital photography, many photographers are now just taking the pictures of the animals in the barn and then cropping them out, adjusting them and putting them on a new background.  That is why I love to see videos such as this one below from Cybil Fisher and how they make sure they get the lighting correct so that they don’t have to do so much post production adjusting.

While Cybil and her amazing team do adjust tails, toplines and backgrounds, that is all they do.  By my standards this is acceptable.  They do exceptional work.  Some of the greatest shots over the past few years have been done by these talented women.  One of the reasons they do nail the shot so often, is that they take the time to respect the craft.  They make sure they get the composition correct.  They take the time to make sure they get the lighting correct.  They do this before they snap the shot, not after.  While for some this may sound like a little thing, for me it is a big thing.  Sure it would be just as “easy” to edit afterwards.  But in fact it’s not.  If you don’t nail the shot both in composition and in lighting, there is no ethical postproduction that is acceptable when marketing dairy cattle genetics.  Sure it works for super models, but we are not purchasing the genetics from these super models we are purchasing the clothes they wear (FYI Did you know that Gisele Bundchen made $45 million last year?  Maybe we should purchase her genetics)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no doubt that we, as an industry, need to clean up our act and improve public perception.  We also need to make sure that we don’t tar all photographers with the same brush.  That is why I encourage those photographers who don’t want to be tarred with that brush to call us and let’s talk about the benefits of the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Conduct.

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

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What Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby taught me about Dairy Cattle Marketing

Not since Wayne Gretzky ripped Leaf fan’s hearts out in game 6 of the 1993 playoffs have they felt such pain as they did on Sunday night after having a 3 goal lead on Boston with just over 10 minutes to play.  (FYI I had to forgive Gretzky as I married his cousin and it would cause bad in-law relations).  Making Leaf fans more prime for pain was the fact that they have not been in the playoffs for the past 9 years.  After watching what had to be one of the worst collapses in hockey history, I got to thinking about what it took to be great.  What I came up with is that truly great players like Gretzky and Crosby don’t only make themselves look great but they also make the players around them that much better.  Just like great cattle investments don’t only make themselves profitable but also help the animals around them  more profitable.

Lessons from Sydney Crosby

sidney-crosby-alex-ovechkin-game-7[1]Due to the lockout of 2004-2005, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin both entered the NHL in the same year.  At the time there was great debate about who was going to be the better player.  Since then the stats would tell you that Ovechkin has been the better investment.  He has 371 goals, 365 assists for 735 points, whereas Crosby has had 238 goals, 427 assists for 665 points.  However, sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Even though Ovechkin has won more individual awards (Rookie of the Year, 2x NHL goal scoring leader, 2x most valuable player, vs. 1 MVP and 1 scoring title for Crosby),  ask any NHL player which one is better and they would tell you that Crosby is by far.  That is because Crosby not only puts up numbers himself but he also makes the players around him raise their level of play. For example, before playing on a line with Crosby, Chris Kunitz highest goal total was 26 in an 82 game season. This year, playing with Crosby he had 22 in the shortened 48 game season. That is an almost  50% increase.  This outstanding ability to inspire  others around him has resulted in Crosby having played more playoff games than Ovechkin and has already won a Stanley Cup in his career.

When I got to thinking about how the truly great ones not only make themselves look great they also make the others around them better, it reminded me of a comment that Jeff Butler of Butlerview made in an interview we did with him just before Royal last year (Read more: Exciting Times for Butlerview).   In the article Jeff say’s “type brings the foot traffic to the farm, but genomics and pedigree get them buying.” This further reminded me of  an article I had written early this year about the great RF Goldwyn Hailey and how she  herself may not be a great return on investment (Read more: RF Goldwyn Hailey: Cash Cow or Cash Hog?).  While there is no question that Hailey’s  own numbers alone are  not the highest ROI in the market today, if you look at it from a marketing investment she and other great show cows could be the wisest marketing investment you could ever make.  Now I am not talking buy these animals for the over 1 million dollar mark.  But as Jeff says nothing drives traffic to your door like a great show cow.  Something Jeff should know considering he owns 2 of the top 5 cult following cows in the world today (R-E-W Happy Go Lucky and Cookview Goldwyn Monique).



The big thing you need to remember and as Jeff pointed out in our article is that you need the supporting cast in your herd to help convert that traffic into revenue.  For Butlerview that means animals like Regancrest S Chassity, Regancrest G Brocade and De-Su 199 Chart Topper.  These high genomic animals from big name pedigrees are the ones that help Butlerview’s big investment in show cattle pay dividends.  Key to any of this is the fact that all animals need to be good embryo producers or you might as well kiss your money goodbye (Read more: What Comes First the Chicken or the Egg?).

Lessons from Wayne Gretzky

The great hockey player  to every play the game, Wayne Gretzky, always said don’t go to where the puck is but rather, see where the puck is going and go there.  As we highlighted in our article about the marketing of Glen Drummond Aero Flower and DES-Y-GEN PLANET SILK, you need to see or even predict where the marketing is heading and make sure your marketing and breeding goals are in alignment with that (Read more: Marketing Lessons From Glen Drummond Aero Flower).  As the dairy industry develops, efficient milk production that fills the consumers’ needs will gain greater importance. National indexes are always being adjusted to reflect the marketplace.  In Canada it will not be long before greater weighting will be placed on health and fertility traits, this means you should already be breeding for this today so that your ahead of the curve when these changes occur.  Remember that it’s not only about how much milk, or how many show winning daughters a sire produces, but it’s also important to breed to a bottom line that is consumer friendly. It’s only a matter of time before the national indexes reflect this even more.


David Dyment has kept Planet Silk ahead of the curve by combining both high index, Red Factor and polled in one complete package. Her sons and daughters dominate the top of the Red and the RC list (GTPI). Her son DYMENTHOLM S SYMPATICO is one of the highest GTPI and GLPI active bulls in the breed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Headliners will get you attention, but their ability to make the others around you shine as well will be what makes you the money.  Sidney Crosby is a great player, but it’s the ability to lift up the others around him better that  wins the Stanley Cup.  The same was true for Wayne Gretzky.  It wasn’t just his own ability to dominate a game that created the opportunity for Gretzky to appear in 6 Stanley Cup finals, winning four of them.  It was his ability to see the play developing and make his team around him shine too that did it.  Until players like Ovechkin learn this key lesson he will never win a cup.  The same is true when you are designing your genetic marketing program.  Until you learn just how you are going to use your headliners to maximize the other genetic stars in your herd and look 3+ years down road and see where the market is heading, you are never going to generate  as much return on your investment as you could.



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HOMETOWN JERSEYS: Beating the Odds

We are glad you have joined us at The Bullvine for Part 2 of the Hometown Jerseys success story.  In Part 1 we saw how Neil and Melanie Hunter started a dairy farm which in some ways seemed to be “Against All Odds”. (Read more: HOMETOWN JERSEYS: Against All Odds).  Mentored by family Melanie and her sister Tiffany started in 4-H with two daughters of Springville Designer Jewel VG. Neil too was mentored by his Uncle Ralph Cherry and local dairy farmers, Doug and Mary Anne Peart of Peartome Holsteins.  Once married, the young couple saw past the drawbacks of purchasing a 265 acre farm that hadn’t shipped cream in 15 years.  They claim that they took advice to “find a way to get started and worry about everything else after.”  However they continued to carefully plan and evaluate their choices. Despite BSE, changes in quota regulations, financial and family health impacts, this young couple persevered thanks to hard work, due diligence and, above all, the ability to take advice. They learned from the best mentors in the business including family (Glenn, Ann and Tiffany Babcock, Ralph Cherry, Earl and Jean Baker), friends (Doug and Mary Anne Peart) and cattle breeders near and far who shared their passion for good cattle.

Great Accomplishments & Very Good Two Year Old Streak

Hometown Jerseys have recorded several successes but they agree on what Neil describes as their greatest accomplishment. “For us it was simply getting started to milk cows against the odds and all of the people who said it couldn`t be done.  That includes our bank client rep at the time, who told us in 2009 that we should sell it all and buy a house in town.” A benchmark of which they are also justifiably proud is this one “We have had a VG 2yr old in every round since we started milking 8 years ago , including the round when we only had 1 cow to show, a VG 86 2yr. old. And over 50 percent of our homebred 2 year olds (Hometown prefix) have scored VG.” Very good indeed!

Strategic Climb to Opportunities and Hometown Recognition

With growing confidence after their purchases in Virginia and Tennessee, Hometown returned the following year to Gaby Jersey Farm’s Production Sale and purchased lot #1  “Pick of the Herd” for $25,000.  Neil covers the highlights. “We selected Gabys Action Baby EX 91 who was the 3rd high seller in the US that year.  She has put 5 bulls in AI.  Our relationship with Gaby Jersey Farm was further strengthened in Nov 2011 (15 months later) when we travelled back to Louisville KY (the 1st time since representing Ontario on the judging team) to show Gabys Artist Ambrosia in the Mature Cow class of the All-American.  Ambrosia created quite a bit of interest since there had never been as high a genomically tested Jersey at such a high profile event.  She had already been 2nd Mature Cow at both the Quinte and Stratford Championship Shows in Ontario, also winning the highest BF record in both shows.  Ambrosia placed 10th in Louisville, but opened the eyes of many conventional breeders that there may be something to this “genomic thing”.  Completing the list of awards for 2011 was the highest Butterfat produced by a Jersey cow in Canada presented to Gabys Artist Ambrosia.  Our herd had never achieved anything like that before and certainly had never made it a goal.   The strategic purchase of these cows in 2010 was proving its worth in recognition of the Hometown herd name worldwide and was starting to pay dividends.”

Gabys Action Baby 3-4 as Smart Object-1

Gabys Action Baby EX-91
4-11 proj. 11681M 603F 5.2% 429P 3.7% (373-351-361)
Dam of three TAG sires (Branson, Banker, Donovan)
Full sister to Ballard at ABS
Has contracts with Semex, ABS and Alta

Hometown Bred. Hometown Owned.

Two cows have fulfilled Neil and Melanie’s goal of working with and breeding the best.  Neil describes his first Hometown Owned choice. “Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E was bought at the end of 1st lactation. She has wowed visitors anytime in her lactations with her huge, long dairy frame that looks the same all year long.  This is the cow which gave us confidence to take some chances after selling her son first son, Hometown On The Money, to AI.  She is a 3* brood cow off of the 1st 4 milking daughters.  She will continue to increase as she will have at least 4 sons in AI and likely all but one daughter will be EX.”

Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E HM. Grand Champion - NY Spring Show 2013 2nd Place 100,000 Lb. Cow - NY Spring Show 2013 6th Place Mature-Cow - Royal Winter Fair 2010 1st Place Mature-Cow - Ontario Spring 2010 2nd Place Mature-Cow - Ontario Summer 2010 4th Place Mature-Cow - Royal Winter Fair 2009 Nominated All-Canadian - Mature-Cow 2008 6th Place Mature-Cow - Royal Winter Fair 2008 4th Place Mature-Cow - Ontario Spring 2008 Noiminated All-Canadian - 5-Year-Old 2007 3rd Place 5-Year-Old - Royal Winter Fair 2007 Female Offspring: 8 Daughters Average 87.75 Points Including 3 Excellent Daughters

Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E
HM. Grand Champion – NY Spring Show 2013
2nd Place 100,000 Lb. Cow – NY Spring Show 2013
6th Place Mature-Cow – Royal Winter Fair 2010
1st Place Mature-Cow – Ontario Spring 2010
2nd Place Mature-Cow – Ontario Summer 2010
4th Place Mature-Cow – Royal Winter Fair 2009
Nominated All-Canadian – Mature-Cow 2008
6th Place Mature-Cow – Royal Winter Fair 2008
4th Place Mature-Cow – Ontario Spring 2008
Nominated All-Canadian – 5-Year-Old 2007
3rd Place 5-Year-Old – Royal Winter Fair 2007
Female Offspring:
8 Daughters Average 87.75 Points
Including 3 Excellent Daughters
Dam of Semex Genomax Sire: Hometown On The Money

Next Neil goes on to describe Hometown bred J Meant To Be VG 87 2yr.  “Meant To Be has attracted great cattle people like Gerald Coughlin’s interest since a being a Sept Calf.  She lived up to our expectations when she went 87pts 10 days fresh and later that week was 1st Senior 2yr old, NY Spring Carousel 2013 and a major contributor to our 1st Premier Exhibitor banner at a major show.  Meant To Be is from the prolific heifer giving family we are developing which traces back to the original Jersey cow Melanie’s grandfather gave to her and her sister Tiffany.”


Hometown J Meant To Be  VG 87 (18 days fresh, 1st calf) 1st Senior 2 Year Old at the New York Spring Carousel 2013

Hometown J Meant To Be VG 87 (18 days fresh, 1st calf)
1st Senior 2 Year Old at the New York Spring Carousel 2013

Hometown Marketing Programs and Initiatives:

Melanie and Neil have a 4-step approach to marketing. They outline what they use and why.

  1. Unique Niches: “We aren’t large and don’t have a large budget, therefore we buy or develop unique cows and market sons to AI or privately sell semen, leaving us with the females for the next generation”.
  2. Facebook: “For the past 5 months we are continuing to increase our use of this marketing avenue as it is cheaper, simpler and more current than a webpage or magazine advertising.”
  3. Magazines: “This is used for large announcements and ads when we have a need to speak to a larger audience than the keenest or most aggressive 25% which we feel already use Facebook.”
  4. Face To Face Contact:  “We attempt to be in contact with people as often as possible by supporting the breed events like shows, sales, meetings and judging opportunities.  We feel people buy from people in the majority of cases, therefore, pure use of the internet as a marketing tool will have a limited reach.”

The “Bull Business” and “Genomics” Growing at Hometown Jerseys

Hometown Branson_Advantage_April 2013_Canadian

Click on image to see ad

Neil and Melanie are keen and look for opportunities to take advantage of such as Genomics. The advent of genomics gave us a trend to recognize and get ahead of.  It has become a key, but not exclusive, decision making tool when deciding which sires to use and which donors to include in our flushing program.  It will also be utilized as a culling tool in the same fashion, but will never supersede our “cow sense” related to their visual appearance.” They go on to provide examples of how it is working. “In the recent April proof run, Hometown privately genomically tested 9 bulls; 6 of them will be high enough to see AI service.  The future of our business should include bulls sold to major AI’s as well as privately proven. The decisive factor of which ones will be private will relate to the size of the potential market and the “net” value attached to them by ourselves vs. conventional AI businesses.”

Hometown Breeding Philosophy:

Hometown sticks to a sustainable breeding plan.  Neil describes the parameters. “We breed for pleasing general appearance cattle with snuggly attached udders, solid feet and legs, deep rib and wide enough chest and muzzles to eat large amounts of homegrown forage in order to convert it to high amounts of BF and Protein in the most cost efficient manner possible.  This has led us to use a base of more typically type sires and cross them with the more attractive general appearance “production sires” that possess extreme rear udder width.” They make use of genetic tools. “We do rely on genomic testing as one of the influencers in narrowing down our sire and donor dam selections, but not exclusively.  Finally, we breed from the deepest cow families as they will always be in demand as they have the highest probability of transmitting the traits they are recognized for.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With the courage of their convictions and a dream that they shared through whatever came their way, Melanie and Neil Hunter are building Hometown Jerseys in a way that is making the family, friends and fellow dairy breeders who encouraged them very proud.  We know that they will use their experiences and enthusiasm to encourage and mentor those who aspire to thrive against the odds. For Hometown Jerseys they’re working hard to make sure the odds remain in their favor.


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Dairy Cattle Sales in a Digital World

With the introduction of the Internet and social media, the dairy cattle auction business has gone through a tremendous change.  In the beginning there was dairy cattle marketing 2.0 where dairy breeders could use the power of social media to promote their cattle. More recently there has evolved dairy cattle auctions 3.0.  This is where dairy cattle breeders are able to harness the triple powers of internet marketing and social media and websites like Holstein Universe, Holstein Plaza, and Eurogenes to actually sell their genetics to the world.

IMG_3364_edited-1In our recent analysis of what is selling at the Canadian Auction sales of 2013, we found that high genomic animals, (animals that are over 3,000 LPI) outsold all other animals by a whopping 61%.  (Read more at An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions).  This change in market demand has coincided with changes in how these sales can now be run.  A great example of this is the recent Genomic Giants Sale series held in Quebec (Read more: The 2013 Genomic Giant Sale Was a Giant Success!) and the Planet Holstein Sale at the 2012 World Dairy Expo (Read more: The Plant Explodes at World Dairy Expo – 2013 Planet Holstein Sale Recap).  Both of these sales had outstanding sale averages ($33,775 and $40,853 respectively) and yet none of the animals were actually present at the sale.  The reason this startling change works is that breeders’ buying decisions are backed by confidence in genomics and in the favorable buyer satisfaction guaranteed terms.  Breeders are investing in these animals with confidence.

The next evolution of these sales is about to happen as they are taken fully online.  There have certainly been many breeders who have taken advantage of social media (Read more: The Dairy Breeders Guide to Facebook) and there is no question about how it helps promote your sales consignments (Read more: Nothing Sells Like Video).  However these are all tools that facilitate the sale but do not actually result in the sale.  That is where sites such as Holstein Universe, Holstein Plaza, and Eurogenes  can help.  (Read more: EUROGENES: You Love It.  They List It! and Tag Sales: What are they? What makes them successful? and What does the future hold?) Breeders from around the world are looking to actually purchase genetics.  While sites like Facebook are great for getting the message out there, you also need a platform to list all your genetics.  Enter Holstein Universe, Holstein Plaza and Eurogenes.  Holstein Universe is like an online tag sale.  Tag sales have caught on like wildfire in North America and Holstein Universe is the digital version of a tag sale.  Holstein Plaza and Eurogenes are a combination of donor listing services, live auctions and news and events.  Breeders are looking to not only market their genetics to the world, but also to join the community and list actual genetics for sale.  These three sites offer all these aspects.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For years the knock on the internet and social media has been,”Yeah that’s great but how do I actually make money?  How do I actually sell something?  Instead of just using the internet and social media as a large megaphone, how do I use it as a sales tool?”  That is where online auction sites and dairy community sites have greatly changed the game.  No longer is it just a tool to get the latest news about your genetics out to the world but you can actually sell to the world.” Cha-ching!!



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Why Good Business for A.I. Companies Can Mean Bad Business For Dairy Breeders.

Just about a year ago we drew attention to  the fact that, when Dairy Breeders could genomic test their own bulls, it would start to cause the beginning of the end of the seed stock business (Read more: How Genomics Is Killing The Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry).These predictions were pretty easy to make because  these changes were  necessary in order for A.I. Companies to thrive in this new genetic environment.  With March 2013 now behind us and breeders able to genomic test their own sires, these predictions are coming true.  The challenge with these changes is that, while they make great business sense for the artificial insemination companies, they could spell the end of the seed stock business, as we have known it

At the recent Farnear Focus on the Future Sale, Alta Genetics paid $185,000 for a Massey daughter from Larcrest Case VG-86-2yr with a gTPI of +2505 (Read more: Farneer Focus on the Future Sale Averages $15,471 on 112 lots) .  While Alta Genetics owning females is not  new (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females?), it does mark the resurgence of their program and certainly a significant investment by Alta Genetics probably indicating  that they are looking for new ways to control their sire procurement costs.  Of course Alta Genetics is not the only A.I. company that currently owns females.  Others, especially some of the smaller companies, have taken to owning top females in order to secure procurement of valuable and unique genetics and to differentiate their genetic offering (Read more: A Wake-Up Call To All A.I. Companies).  There are also those who have taken a very public stance against ownership of females (Read more:  Select Sires vs. Semex – A Contrast in Cooperatives).  This too may be a move to watch, as the competition for breeder-bred bulls will decrease with less competition for them from other A.I. companies.  Thus Semex and others too may start to see procurement costs subside.  Of course the market will decide just how low this price will go, as the other studs will always be watching the cost of production versus the cost of procurement.

What Has Caused This to Happen?

Since March 2013, breeders have had the ability to test their own bulls before negotiating the deal with an A.I. company.  This results in a much greater negotiating position for bull breeders.  The estimated effects of this change are as follows:

The number of young sires sampled will not change
The number of young sires sampled will not decrease further
The cost to actually sample a sire will stay low
The cost to actually sample a sire will stay low
With open ended leases and increased competition the cost of procurement could go way up and could even hit the $1M mark per proven bull.
With open ended leases and increased competition the cost of procurement could go way up and could even hit the $1M mark per proven bull.
Semen sales price will not change
Semen sales price will not change
Revenue will stay the same
Revenue will stay the same
With greatly increased procurement expenses profits will decrease drastically
With greatly increased procurement expenses profits will decrease drastically

How A.I. Companies are Reacting

There are not substantial enough profit margins in the A.I. industry to support such a change in profitability.  As a result, A.I. companies are being forced to take one of the following actions:

  • Increase semen price
    Since they now have greater expenses, A.I. companies will be forced to increase price.  As demonstrated in many other industries, the market will not respond favorably to this and ultimately will drive prices back down.
    END RESULT: No change
  • Cap contracts
    So if A.I. companies cannot increase revenues they will have to try and cut their costs.  The procurement of sires will become the major expense they will look to control.  One way to do this will be to cap bull contracts.  However, as the NHL has shown us, even if A.I.  could introduce a cap, some members will break that rule and other breeders will not stand for it. 
    END RESULT: No change
  • Produce their own product line
    If A.I. companies cannot buy the bulls at a cheaper price, then they will have to go out and buy females and produce their own product.  This will lead to cheaper acquisition costs.  A.I. companies can now buy the females for $50,000 to $250,000 and only need to have that female produce one son.  That will still be cheaper than leasing the son on an open lease.  This also allows them to have greater control of their bloodlines, accelerate their genetic advancement and develop their own distinctive product.
    END RESULT: Cheaper product development costs and a distinctive product.

What does this mean to YOU the average seed stock producer?

For the initial stage, which we are currently in, as A.I. companies buy into the female side, prices will rise.  Once they have the base genetics, they will not need to buy any more and they will stop buying.  Also currently we see top genetic breeding programs investing more in the top .1% of the genetics market.  The money for this is not coming as much from the female side as it is from the current or future revenue potential of semen lease deals.  The problem is that these bull breeders will be out of the market, as more and more A.I. companies STOP leasing from them, because they are now producing their own genetics.

With A.I. companies starting to own more of the top genetics, especially in the health and fertility and polled bloodlines( an area the market is heading to in the future) this will leave the seed stock breeder with a product or cattle that do not top the lists like they used to.  Also, now the A.I. companies will not release their new high genomic sires until they have mated them on all their own females first.  This will give A.I. companies a substantial advantage in generating list toppers.  Bull breeders, on the other hand, will not have the lease deals that they currently enjoy, so they will not have the same revenues from the sale of high index animals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Nobody likes to be told “I Told You So” and the reason I bring this up is not to do that, but rather to open the eyes of breeders to what is happening and what the future still holds.  While there will always be a seed stock business selling females to other breeders, as the bull market continues to change, so will the prices for the top genomic females.  You will continue to see a spike for a few years, while the genetics companies stock up on top genetics.  However, after that, you will start to see prices drastically decline.  Your best course of action would be to ride the wave while it lasts, and then plan on all future sales/revenue (3-4 years from now) to start to be from females only, with only a very small, select group of sires being contracted by A.I. companies in the future.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.





What Is Your Opinion?

Recently we have come under attack for opinions expressed on our different social media platforms.  Some readers have felt that other reader’s opinions should not be expressed.  For us that is completely OPPOSITE to what we believe in.  We believe that everyone should have the right to express their own opinion.  We not only believe in it, we encourage it!

Two Way Conversation

Since starting the Bullvine there is no question we have not been short on stating our own opinions.  We have dealt with issues “too touchy” for the others to even think about covering (Read more: Select Sires vs. Semex – A contrast in cooperatives, Empty Chairs At Empty Tables, Lance Armstrong, Drugs and the Dairy Industry, The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling, Rumors, Lies, and Other Stuff Salesmen Will Tell You What Happens If Genomics Doesn’t Work and Reality Check – Who Is Really Controlling The Dairy Breeding Industry).   We have also certainly posted who we think are the greatest animals, sires and breeders of all time (Read more: Top 10 Most Influential Holstein Breeders of All-Time, 7 Sires To Use In Order To Breed The Next World Dairy Expo Champion,  and Who’s Next? World Dairy Expo Holstein Show and many other mating recommendations).

Breeders choice 2012 smallThe thing that makes The Bullvine different from all the rest is that we have also made this a two-way conversation.  We have run many contests and polls asking the dairy community for their opinion on different issues.  Highlighting this was the 2012 Breeders’ Choice Awards (Read more:  Vote for the 2012 Breeder’s Choice Awards, The 2012 Breeder’s Choice Awards – The Tanbark Trail Edition and The Winners of the 2012 Breeder’s Choice Awards Are).

Then there are the daily conversations that we have on the different social media platforms.  Instead of locking down what is being said, or worrying about the legal ramifications of comments made by breeders, we have actually encouraged dairy breeders to express their opinion.  Our number #1 goal here at The Bullvine is not to control the industry like some other publications try to do.  Our goal is to make breeders think and to get breeders talking.  Yes we want to know your opinion.  Yes we want you to feel you have the right to express it … Even if we don’t agree with it.

Bring It On!

An interesting thing has happened over the past few months.  The Bullvine has gone from the hunter to the hunted.  When we first started The Bullvine we were the hunter.  We were the ones gunning for the bigger publications with the larger readerships.  But now that has all changed.  We are now the ones with the largest daily digital dairy readership and we find ourselves in the cross hairs.  We listen.  We learn.  We share.  Now everybody is shooting for The Bullvine and that’s just the way we like it.

Our very first post on The Bullvine clearly laid out how we were going to be different and how we thought others were missing the boat (Read more: Twice The Bull – Half the S**T).  But we didn’t stop there.  We continued to highlight things we felt relevant along the way.  Including how other dairy magazines are old school (Read more: How Social Media Is Changing the Holstein World) and how our readership is more engaged and larger than the others (Read more:  The Fakebook – Our Secret Is Exposed).  So it’s only fair that when the others start gunning for us that we accept and deal with it.

Gandhi once said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!”  A pattern we have seen perfectly since starting The Bullvine.  When we first started many ignored us.  After a little while they started to laugh at us.  And now more recently they have started to fight us.  We surmise that we are starting to take the next step.  (Read more:  I’m Sorry But I’ve Had Just About Enough Of….)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Who are we to be very opinionated and then not let others express their opinion?  If we tried to control what others say, it would make us hypocrites.  What makes the dairy industry so amazing is that everyone is so passionate about what we do, and we all have our own opinion.  So please share your opinion.  What issues would YOU like to target?  Take aim.  It’s good for all of us.




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Many heads are perking up to the siren call of “Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra *RC EX-96-SW.”  Bred by Fredy Decrausaz and Sons who also bred her dam, this Swiss Miss has set off much debate.“Many North American experts say she should walk on the colored shavings at Madison and give the North American cattle a run for their money”.

Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra
Grand Champion 2013 All European Championship

O’Kalibra “Where the Wins Keep Flowing Like Champagne”

The speculation about her winning ways that started when O’Kalibra won Honorable Mention, Reserve Best Udder and 1st place at Lausanne in 2011.  Two months later she again took 1st place and Reserve Grand Champion at Expo Bulle.  She continued to develop and in 2012 won Supreme Champion at Swiss Expo at Lausanne which fueled even more speculation about how she would compare with the Hailey cow, Supreme Champion at the 2012 Canadian Royal Winter Fair and 2012 World Dairy Expo ((Read more: World Dairy Expo 2012 Holstein Show – A battle for the ages and The 2012 Royal Winter Fair Holstein Show – One of the greatest stories ever told!).  In 2013 she rose even higher in the ranks placing Grand and Supreme Champion at Swiss Expo and observers enthused. (Read more: 2013 Swiss Expo Holstein Show Results) “O’Kalibra from Switzerland was crowned Supreme Champion at the All European Holstein Show in one of the finest displays of black and white cattle ever gathered at one location.” There are many who are now prepared to crown her “the best in the world”. (Read more: Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra Wins Grand at the 2013 All European Championship and The All European Championship Show: The Greatest Show On Earth)

Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra – Mammary Photo from All European Championship Show 2013

Where is O’Kalibra Now?

At a cattle show in the Switzerland she stood out for Edwin Steiner, GS Alliance (Buerglen Switzerland) who bought her almost dry as a 2 year old. When she was fresh as a 4 year old a share was sold to Pat Conroy (Indiana USA). GS Alliance started with a predominantly Brown Swiss herd. Currently GS is 60% Holstein, 20% Red and White and 20% Swiss. To fulfill their goals of providing buyers with varied top quality breeding, they seek out exceptional cattle. Edwin explains, “Additions made to our herd are either show cows or bull dams and we invest in individuals with a deep pedigree. This way we seek to develop cows that satisfy every breeder.” Pat Conroy who partnered in the purchase of O’Kalibra, who still resides in Switzerland, adds to the story.  “We bought her when she was fresh and for Edwin and I, it was her massive frame, wide chest, and high quality udder that caught our attention. It was only a bonus that she had a pedigree that made her marketable outside the show ring.”

Decrausaz Iron O’ Kalibra *RC EX-94-SW Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2013 Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2012 Res. Grand Champion Expo Bulle 2011 Hon. Mention Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2011 Res. Grand Udder Champion Swiss Expo 2011

Decrausaz Iron O’ Kalibra *RC EX-94-SW (3rd Lactation Photo)
Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2013
Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2012
Res. Grand Champion Expo Bulle 2011
Hon. Mention Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2011
Res. Grand Udder Champion Swiss Expo 2011

And the Best Just Keeps Getting Better

Although not a common sire stack, O’Kalibra is backed by well proven sires. Her sire Boss Iron (Bookie x Chief Mark) was proven over a decade ago in Italy. He has many strengths, including high daughter fertility, fat percent, daughter calving ability, somatic cell score and productive life.  This easily makes him the kind of sire many breeders look for today. Beyond Iron her sire stack goes to Integrity (Blackstar x Chief Mark) who is known for his deep bodied show type daughters.  After that her sires are Milestone, Factor and Astre. Definitely the inclusion of Chief Mark twice in her sire stack is well expressed in O’Kalibra’s dairy strength and overall style.

Decrausaz Iron O’ Kalibra *RC EX-94-SW (4th Lactation Photo) Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2013 Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2012 Res. Grand Champion Expo Bulle 2011 Hon. Mention Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2011 Res. Grand Udder Champion Swiss Expo 2011

Decrausaz Iron O’ Kalibra *RC EX-94-SW (4th Lactation Photo)
Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2013
Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2012
Res. Grand Champion Expo Bulle 2011
Hon. Mention Grand Champion Swiss Expo 2011
Res. Grand Udder Champion Swiss Expo 2011

Five Generations Makes O’Kalibra Special

O’Kalibra traces back five generations to Cloverlands Skylar Cherry Red 11 Stars and two Superior Production records made famous by Granduc Holsteins, Quebec, Canada.  Her fourth dam Granduc Carla Astre  9 Stars was one of three outstanding Astres from Cherry. Her third dam was a Milestone embryo sold by Lystel Holsteins to David Clark, UK.  Originating from this same famous cows family are Dudoc Mr Burns (Thunder x Storm X Astre x Cherry) GLPI 1715 popular also as  red carrier and Granduc Tribute a full brother to Mr Burns’ Storm grandma who is 4Stars with three Superior Production lactations.  Her owners feel there are even more ways that she is special. Edwin proudly points out that “O’Kalibra has the build for longevity and a pedigree to go along with it. She is an extremely good day to day cow. She is the kind of cow that can look after herself, and never has a bad day. In addition to that, she milks like crazy.”



O’Kalibra Is An Excellent Swiss Hitter

O’Kalibra recently has been nominated for Excellent 96 and will see the panel next week. Her outstanding parts are Mammary and Frame.  Not far behind those top areas are great scores for Rump and Legs. She has fulfilled the predictions of many that she would move beyond 94.

First calving at 2 years 2 months, in305 days O’Kalibra produced a respectable 9166 kgs, 3.6 % fat and 3.3% protein. Her best record in 305 days was as a four year old: 14,247 kgs., 4.0% fat and 2.9% protein. Great production runs in her pedigree with her dam producing 13,372 kgs as a four year old.  Her grand dam produced 14,217 kgs as a seven year old. It goes all the way back to her fifth dam who produced 17,621 kgs as a three year old.

You’re Doing Fine O’Kalibra

Pat Conroy is happy with O’Kalibra. “We have sold a Sid daughter to a guy in Australia, a Sid bull to Select Star in Switzerland, an Acme son to Swiss Genetics, a Red Destry son to Swiss Genetics, and an Atwood choice in the USA to Morasci/Borba&Glaeser. We will also sell an Armani or MAS choice in the Field of Dreams sale May 24 in West Union Iowa.” Although he acknowledges that the best cross is yet to be determined he says, “All of her daughters and sons so far have been very good “do-ers”. We will decide which has been the best cross as the daughters freshen or sons transmit. Plans are to do a flush on her in 2 weeks to Armani (Goldwyn x Apple).”

It’s Beyond Okay for O’Kalibra in the Future

Both Pat and Edwin have a positive attitude toward O’Kalibra’s potential. “At this point, we will consider showing her again in the future” “when she really looks perfect.” When asked to compare her to cows in North America these proud owners remain positive but humble, “She has a bit more strength than most, however we do not want to take away anything from cows over there.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

When encouraging breeders to breed the best Pat sums up his and Edwin’s theory. “Personally we would say that cows that have some power and strength, yet are still dairy, will ultimately outlast and out milk the high style younger cows that seem to be one hit wonders.” For both gentlemen it is obviously a shared opinion when Pat concludes, “I think that Iron O’Kalibra is one example that proves this fact to be true”.




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Producing The Bullvine keeps us in touch with the best people in the world – dairy breeders. The unlimited passion, commitment and enthusiasm that they share with us is awesome.  We recently struck pure dairy gold when we reached out to Neil and Melanie Hunter of Hometown Jerseys in Bath, Ontario.  If you can believe it, they thanked us for the opportunity. Neil responded, “You don’t often take time to take a picture of your activities and just stand back and look at it. I decided to write it as it happened so somebody can give it to our grandkids.” And what a story he forwarded to us!  In the Hunt family we call it the stuff legends are made of. The legend of Hometown is a two part series: Part 1: Against All Odds Part 2:  Beating the Odds

Against All Odds

Unlike most dairy stories, the hero and heroine did not grow up on dairy farms but were infected with the bug through family, friends and mentors who turned their interest, into passion and eventually into a shared dream. Their paths, separate and together, led them through part time employment, to flushing from proven cow families until by 2005 they were ready to risk it all and start farming on the farm they purchased from Melanie’s grandparents; the same grandfather who had given Melanie her 1st Jersey heifer.

Neil, Chelsea and Melanie Hunter

Neil, Chelsea and Melanie Hunter

Disaster Strikes Hometown More Than Once

Neil takes over the story. “In September 2002, I purchased 50 Holstein heifers and 5 old Jersey flush cows to provide my part of our future herd base. The following spring BSE hit and the fresh Holstein heifers I was counting on selling for $2200-$2500 that fall were now worth $500-$600.  For those wanting to do the math, 50 x $2000 difference equals $100,000 in cash flow (all borrowed money).  Luckily, the private lender holding the loan was pretty understanding about having to wait for his money until I had either worked it off or borrowed enough to cover it as I stepped into the next venture.  Uncle Ralph Cherry (a past Holstein Canada President), was hired to help calve out these Holsteins and raise the ET Jersey calves until weaning, as I needed to work full-time and then some with such a big hole I had dug myself.” The hole may have been deep but Neil held to his dream and had prepared a detailed business plan for commercial lenders and, with a little bit of luck, had it approved. However…..

“The approved business plan had been to purchase the farm, 5.1kgs immediately and the balance of 25kgs of quota that fall at the budgeted $25,000/kg price tag.  By the time bidding in the fall came around, the price was almost $30,000/kg and was no longer within the reach of our business plan and borrowing capabilities.  We were stuck.  Gut check time.  Do we struggle along hoping for a break and find a use for our extra milk or quit?  For the next 6 months we fed pigs, extra calves, etc.  In the spring we managed a milking reduction sale, which included another herd of cows we purchased to increase our sale numbers in order to make it worth the trip for buyers.  We sold everything saleable, leaving us with the ¾, old and high SCC cows and a few select unfresh heifers.” Keeping strong through all of these physical and financial setbacks would have been enough on their own, however, disaster seems to come in multiples. Sadly Neil relates what happened next to the first and one of the finest of Neil’s mentors.. “It was on the way home from the sale that Uncle Ralph Cherry, who so eagerly was there to assist where he could, died after hitting a transport.”   It was definitely a very low day “Not only did we have to sell most of the cattle we were trying to build up but then we lost one of the key mentors of our efforts to that point.”

After Hard Knocks, Opportunity Knocks?

Obviously not ones to give up Neil and Melanie hung on. Finally, the break every start-up needs.  We were provided with an opportunity to milk another person’s 30 cows and fill their quota for up to a year under DFO’s disaster relief program on a shared facility arrangement due to his sudden illness.  This turned out to be the break every start-up needs.  This opportunity allowed us to create cash flow, utilize the freshening cows/heifers of our own in the herd and create a financial track record for the financial institutions to scrutinize at a reasonable 35kg start-up level.   It was kind of like our own DFO start-up program with the ability to equivalently rent all of the quota for 1 year to prove we could do it while holding down full-time jobs and therefore borrow that amount needed using our own cash flow records, rather than the estimated numbers for the average Holstein herd the banks wanted to compare us to.

“Around the time this opportunity ended, DFO was announcing the quota cap at $25,000 and related new rules. (Note: this was the $ level for quota we had previously been approved at)  We could see that only being able to bid on a maximum of 10% of quota holdings each month was going to be like trying to climb Mount Everest since we only owned 5.1kgs.” And then came the decisions that make the Hometown story remarkable.  Neil chooses his words carefully. “ After thorough scrutiny of the rule book, we made what is clearly the ballsiest (riskiest if you prefer) move to date.  We sold our 5.1kgs in July in order to be considered a “New Entrant” on the September quota exchange.

A Special Anniversary Project

When many look back on anniversaries with candlelight and roses, Neil and Melanie share a much different memory. “Because we were an approved bidder without quota in September, we were allowed to bid on up to 35kgs and would get it as long as we were one of the 1st three bidders.  Melanie and I spent our wedding anniversary sitting in the Purina Feed dealership office where I worked in order to utilize the direct line, high speed internet in Napanee.  The glow of the heat lamp overtop of some unclaimed new chicks from earlier in the day was our candle as midnight approached.  Not knowing whether DFO’s clocks were the same as ours, we sat with the internet form filled out with our bid, hitting the bid button and the back button for the last 10 minutes before midnight.  The closer it got to midnight, the faster I would do it.  Fingers sore and heart racing as blinding button punching speed ensued until… pop!  It was done.  Our bid was accepted.  It was not for a few days before we knew that our bid got in 1st and we were going to ship 35kgs of milk starting October 1st.   Yes, we finally had achieved our goal.” Was there every any doubt Bullvine asks?

Alert for Opportunities

As we follow these two on their dairy quest it is obvious that they are not ones to rest on their laurels. Soon they would respond to another opportunity.  “Yet another dairy farmer had fallen ill.  Having heard about our past shared facility agreement, he contacted us to see if he could work with us to utilize the DFO disaster relief program and move his 20kgs of quota to us as well while his teenage son decided to go to school the next fall or stay home to milk cows.  Since we are gluttons for punishment and needed the cash flow, we agreed.  We phoned the bank and our rep wasn’t going to be able to come out to for a couple of days to discuss our needs.  The trusses for the new building to be used to house the new herd of cows and swing them in/out of the tie stall arrived 30 seconds after the banker stepped out of his car later that week.  After quickly showing the driver where we wanted the trusses, we presented our new business cash flow and borrowing needs to the banker for the 1st time.  It was one of those make it or break it meetings early in a business relationship that had to go well.  That day, and several times since, that same banker realized we had a plan, but weren’t afraid to change it as new opportunities needed to be capitalized on.  Milking 60 cows in a 40 cow tie stall barn, while maintaining 2 full-time jobs, nearly killed us for 9 months, but gave the business a much needed cash flow boost and left another structure the dairy barns needed to support the eventual goal of 50 milking cows and supporting young-stock.”  Opportunity knocks but not everyone has the Hunter’s welcome for hard work while chasing possibilities and potential.

Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E HM. Grand Champion - NY Spring Show 2013 2nd Place 100,000 Lb. Cow - NY Spring Show 2013 6th Place Mature-Cow - Royal Winter Fair 2010 1st Place Mature-Cow - Ontario Spring 2010 2nd Place Mature-Cow - Ontario Summer 2010 4th Place Mature-Cow - Royal Winter Fair 2009 Nominated All-Canadian - Mature-Cow 2008 6th Place Mature-Cow - Royal Winter Fair 2008 4th Place Mature-Cow - Ontario Spring 2008 Noiminated All-Canadian - 5-Year-Old 2007 3rd Place 5-Year-Old - Royal Winter Fair 2007 Female Offspring: 8 Daughters Average 87.75 Points Including 3 Excellent Daughters

Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E
HM. Grand Champion – NY Spring Show 2013
2nd Place 100,000 Lb. Cow – NY Spring Show 2013
6th Place Mature-Cow – Royal Winter Fair 2010
1st Place Mature-Cow – Ontario Spring 2010
2nd Place Mature-Cow – Ontario Summer 2010
4th Place Mature-Cow – Royal Winter Fair 2009
Nominated All-Canadian – Mature-Cow 2008
6th Place Mature-Cow – Royal Winter Fair 2008
4th Place Mature-Cow – Ontario Spring 2008
Nominated All-Canadian – 5-Year-Old 2007
3rd Place 5-Year-Old – Royal Winter Fair 2007
Female Offspring:
8 Daughters Average 87.75 Points
Including 3 Excellent Daughters
Dam of Semex Genomax Sire: Hometown On The Money

Hometown Jerseys and Genomics

The Hunter’s vision for the future allows them the occasional rose colored glasses viewpoint but they never wear blinders and are always ready to look into the leading edges of science and technology. Genomics came knocking next. “That fall, after the RAWF, we had too much time on our hands so we surveyed the activities and new technology being rolled out in the Holstein industry in the form of genomics.  Since we had sold our 1st bull to AI (Hometown On The Money @ Semex – On-Time x Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E) we had some new found confidence that this was a business we could do as well in the Jersey breed.  We reviewed what key breeders in the Holstein circles had done to utilize genomics in the year before Jerseys started releasing information.” This time Neil and Melanie didn’t have to use a heat lamp to work on the internet but they did stay up late says Melanie.”Three  months of nightly research went into finding a high genomic Jersey family which we felt had a similar type standard to the herd we were developing.  To get into this venture, it was imperative that the new cows could be appreciated by all breeders and that they would “fit in” whenever visitors came to view our herd.” This opportunity would mean taking to the road as described by Neil. “A trip to Greeneville, TN to Gabys Jersey Farms with childhood neighbour and adored Jersey Master Breeder, Bill Fletcher was planned.  The goal was to purchase Gabys Blair Aruba, a VG 87 2 yr old and sister of the then #1 JPI Jersey cow in the US, Gabys Artist Ambrosia.  Ambrosia had been the #1 cow for an unprecedented 24 months straight.  After a very enjoyable day-long tour of the 150 milking cows and equal number of heifers, we were left dumbfounded by the deal offered.  We elected to purchase the cow we went for, Aruba, a sister to her dam and 50% of Ambrosia.  Ambrosia was clearly the most expensive cow in the offering, but by buying 50% of her, a long-term relationship was about to be built sharing the American breeding guidance and marketing connections of Henry Gaby for the foreseeable future.” The planning had paid off.  What next?

Gabys Blair Aruba VG 87 2 yr old Full sister to former #1 JLPI cow - Gabys Artist Ambrosia Dam of Gabys Arrow at Semex

Gabys Blair Aruba VG 87 2 yr old
#1 Protein, #2 Fat and #2 Milk among genomically tested
cows in Canada in December 2010
Full sister to former #1 JLPI cow – Gabys Artist Ambrosia
Dam of Gabys Arrow at Semex

Hometown IVF Ready

Not ones to shy away from the unknown Neil reports Hometown’s first experience with IVF. “All of Greeneville purchases stopped at Transova Maryland, for our 1st experience with IVF on their way to Canada.  It was also the place where we made exportable embryos to Canada by a sire Mack Dairy Region, who was the highest type sire in the US, but not available in Canada.  These embryos became part of the 1st genomic marketing effort in Canada by Hometown.  10 embryos were offered in the RJF Red Carpet Sale that summer with 2 bull contracts and a 2 bull, 1 heifer guarantee.  Nothing like this had ever been done before in the Jersey breed and caused lots of discussion (pro/con) when it sold to John Claessens, Ingersoll, ON for the highest price of the day at $22,000.   Genomics had officially arrived in the Canadian Jersey breed!” As they say on TV, obviously, Fear Wasn’t a Factor for Hometown Jerseys” as their enthusiasm for elite cattle breeding continued to grow.

Gabys Artist Ambrosia EX 91 Former #1 JPI Cow (for 24 months) Two Second-calve daughters with maximum lactation scores in the US of EX-91 Five sons in A.I. 4th generation EX bull dam

Gabys Artist Ambrosia EX 91
Former #1 JPI Cow (for 24 months)
Two Second-calve daughters with maximum lactation scores in the US of EX-91
Five sons in A.I.
4th generation EX bull dam

“More Opportunities Right Around the Corner”

Neil and Melanie exemplify how enthusiasm breeds more enthusiasm and soon they were finding another way to get ahead of the curve but this time in “Polled” Jersey cattle. Neil explains, “I had learned of a really high genomic test for a polled “Legal” son of a cow I had picked out of 350 cows in the Schultz herd of Jim Huffard, of Virginia, on the way down to Gaby Jersey Farms in 2010.  The test would make this 6 month old calf the highest ranking “Polled” bull within any dairy breed ever; being released around #8 in the Jersey breed.  With this knowledge in hand, I reconnected with Jim Huffard and purchased Schultz Mygent Chilli-P EX.  Back to Transova-Maryland we went for extensive IVF.” Hometown was very literally living the part of the dream where the rubber hits the road.

Schultz Mygent Chili-P EX-90 She is a polled daughter of Schultz Paramount Mygent-P out of a Hallmark dam. She has a GJPI of +179 (04/11).

Schultz Mygent Chili-P EX-90
She is a polled daughter of Schultz Paramount Mygent-P out of a Hallmark dam. She has a GJPI of +179 (04/11).

Another Hurdle or Another Hometown Opportunity?

Sometimes we miss opportunities because they come disguised as too expensive or too risky.  Neil and Melanie have been there and done that … but they never let it hold them back from their continued quest to add the best genetics. They did the pedigree research to make that happen and as they tell it, “We tripped onto a son of a past RAWF Champion, Huronia Connectn Crystalyn  SUP EX 95-3E.  The bull was by Impressive Indiana (probably the best Renaissance son who was not available in Canada).   When I approached Lorne Ella, Hornby, ON to purchase Rock Ella Impression, I was told that I would have to outbid AI, namely ABS.  After inspection of the bull, we agreed to pay the price asked as long as we had the opportunity to purchase at least 50% of Crystalyn and be able to take her home to work with her.  After a couple of days, Lorne phoned back with the offer to purchase all of Crystalyn at double the price.  Not knowing where we would find that money too, Melanie and I jumped at the chance to own this world renowned Jersey cow.  It was clearly a huge honor to have this revered Jersey Master Breeder sell to a young, upstart couple like us, what we thought was his best bred Jersey cow. We also knew she had a huge number of admirers/marketability. Having the bull’s semen sales pay for them both was the NEW plan!”

Huronia Connectn Crystalyn EX-95-2E  the 2006 Royal Grand Champion and All Canadian in 2006 and 2007. We purchased Crystalyn from Lorne Ella along with her son, Rock Ella Impression (by Indiana)

Huronia Connectn Crystalyn EX-95-2E
the 2006 Royal Grand Champion and All Canadian in 2006 and 2007. Neil and Melanie purchased Crystalyn from Lorne Ella along with her son, Rock Ella Impression (by Indiana)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Having a solid plan is what gave Melanie and Neil their start at Hometown Jerseys and against all odds they have continued to build toward success.  Don’t miss Part 2 of their story “Beating the Odds.”


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EXIT HERE! It`s Your Cull

Even though we write from Canada where Supply Management supports against extreme variation in milk prices, there are more and more of our fellow producers in from Canada and the US quietly exiting from the dairy industry. For the time being, total production is maintained by the increased herd size. Whether it`s exiting from the business entirely, or deciding which cattle are not pulling their freight (Read more: Why You Should Get Rid of the Bottom 10%), the decisions you make about the future of each cow directly affect your dairy farming future.

The Numbers are Up

In the US after dropping from high levels in January to a more-normal range in February, slaughter of cull dairy cows crept back up in March. According to the “Livestock Slaughter” report by the USDA on Thursday, April 26th 274,000 dairy cows were slaughtered under federal inspection in March. — up 15,000 head from February, but down 4,000 head from March 2012. In January, the number of slaughtered dairy cows reached 297,000 — the highest monthly slaughter figure since 1986. This high cull rate came as no surprise, since many farms have had to deal with high feed cost and low profitability.

Tough Call! Tough Cull!

When you`re already facing mounting costs on every front, it`s seems disloyal to put any of the blame at the feet (or udders) of the cows you love working with every day. For many, although necessary, it isn`t as easy as firing the bottom 10% (Read more: Why You Should Get Rid of the Bottom 10%). The question involves a full range of variables including the financial, the emotional and all the other “when, why and how” questions.

Say “When!”

Quite often when serving family and friends a beverage we automatically offer the choice, “Say when!” Unfortunately, when the glass of dairy life is filling with the hard issues of debt and sustainability, deciding when enough is enough is much more difficult and definitely not hospitable.

At a basic level the decision to cull less-productive cows is made on how much room is available for housing and/or how many are needed to fill quota. At the financial level, bankers and lenders have definite opinions on keeping the barn full for cash-flow reasons. Ironically, lenders should be the first ones who see the value in pencilling out all the numbers. In an article entitled, “Rewriting Culling Decision with Changing Marketing Decisions” Dr. Jeffrey Brewley of the University of Kentucky urges dairy breeders to consider 4 steps:

  1. Calculate the breakeven production level necessary to cover feed costs.
  2. Each cow, at a minimum, should produce enough milk to cover the costs of the feed she is eating.
  3. Cows below the minimum level must be culled from the herd. As feed prices increase or milk prices decrease, the breakeven production level increases.
  4. Although difficult to consider, if the majority of the herd falls below the breakeven level it is time to seriously consider exiting the dairy industry.

Leaving by Example

The very informative Brewley article provides statistical examples and tables of production costs

Table 1.  Breakeven milk production levels (pounds per cow) needed to cover daily feed costs for varying daily feed costs and milk prices.

Table 1. Breakeven milk production levels (pounds per cow) needed to cover daily feed costs for varying daily feed costs and milk prices.

“For example, when milk prices are high ($25 per cwt) and feed prices are low ($4 per cow per day), breakeven milk production level to cover just feed costs is only 16 pounds per cow per day.
On the other hand, when feed costs are high ($10 per cow per day) and milk prices are low ($12 per cwt), breakeven milk production level is 83 pounds per cow per day. With today’s feed costs for many herds in the $8- to $10-per-cow range with milk prices around $20 per cwt, breakeven milk production levels range from 40 to 50 pounds. As feed and milk prices change, dairy producers need to re-evaluate when cows should be culled.” Jeffrey Brewley goes on to say,” This method for calculating when to cull dairy cows only accounts for feed costs. Feed costs account for the largest percent of total costs (50 to 75 percent) but do not account for all costs.
Thus, the true breakeven milk production level will be a few pounds higher and will vary considerably from farm to farm.”

Beyond the Milk

Unfortunately, culling decisions are seldom based on a single factor. For a cow beyond mid-lactation the most important issue is whether or not she is pregnant. Cows pregnant in later lactation and producing below daily feed costs can be dried off early. Of course, the future for these cows depends on other factors such as the feed costs during her dry period, the length of the dry period and the projection of whether she will be able to produce enough to pay for the next lactation. Finally, the availability of a replacement for her must be factored in.

“Show Me the Money!”

The constant repetition of the demand for the sports agent in the movie Jerry McGuire to “Show Me the Money” was humorous but not entirely without a reasonable basis for sustaining a profitable dairy business. The actual calculations for this “money showing” retention pay-off are fairly complex. Dr. David Galligan from the University of Pennsylvania has an excellent dashboard to calculate the retention pay-off for an individual cow in your herd (Click here to view this dashboard). The concept is also useful when deciding what cows to cull. It comes down to weighing of the future income potential compared to the income potential of the replacement heifer brought into the herd. Culling is recommended when numbers show that the future heifer will outperform the present cow.

How Old is Too Old?

Experts, such as Dr. Greg Bethard of G&R Dairy Consulting Inc., caution that the bottom line on culling decisions is also affected by the age of the animals involved and the decisions are different for younger cows than they are for older ones. “The future income potential of an older cow is limited. The future income potential of a pregnant cow in late gestation is much higher than that of an open cow. The future income potential of a non-lame, low SCC cow is higher than a lame, chronically high SCC cow.” The list of cull reasons for your particular situation could be much longer than the ones mentioned here. The basic points to consider are:

  1.   Every milking cow needs to cover the cost of the feed she consumes. No debate.
  2. Pencil in the realistic amount earned by the current animal compared to the potential income from her replacement. Do the math.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Business minded breeders are finding that culling is key. With such important decisions affecting success on the dairy farm, your knowledge of your own herd, your cows and your marketplace is the key to your survival. It’s your cull.


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Who’s to Blame? Why is there a lack of accountability in the Dairy Genetics Marketplace

Accountability, Wikipedia tells you that accountability is the answerability, blameworthiness, liability, acknowledgment and assumption for the resulting consequences.  Yet in the dairy genetics marketplace it seems to be a word that is seldom used, although very much required.

Dairy cattle genetics is big business.  Millions of dollars change hands every year, yet the level of accountability, in some cases, appears to be non-existent.  Once the genetics are sold who has the liability for the resulting animals?  Why are the breeders or sellers not responsible for the performance of the resulting animals?  Genomics and other tools have given us greater “confidence” in the reliability of the genetics we are investing in, so why aren`t the sellers of these genetics more responsible for the results?

Genetic Mutations

Recently there have been a couple of situations that have raised my concerns about responsibility.  The first occurred in New Zealand, about a year ago.  More than 1500 animals descended from Matrix a commercial Holstein-Friesian bull carry a genetic mutation that produces hairy, heat-intolerant, poorly lactating heifers.  The breeders affected by this problem feel the semen company did not deal openly with the problem and are being less than “cooperative” in seeking a solution for their affected members.  (Read More: New Zealand Dairy Farmers Seek Compensation For Hairy Calves).  Now this case is a very challenging one as Matrix is actually a result of a genetic mutation that occurred naturally and happens regardless of the breeding method used.  Genetic defects such as BLAD, CVM, Brachspia, Factor XI, DUMPS, CIT, and Mule Foot are all tested for and screened by the A.I. companies and as a result see very limited occurrence.  “Hairy calves” such as these ones resulting from Matrix have not been tested for and as a result it is surprising that there has been such a case.  So while it is genetically explainable and no one could have predicted this, the reaction of the company that sold and marketed Matrix, Livestock Improvement (LIC) is a concern.  They are refusing to pay any compensation as “most farmers recognize that these rare mutations are naturally occurring and simply a fact of life.” Having said that, for the future, the LIC is no longer selling Matrix semen and offers free genetic testing to identify calves with the mutation.  The question of legal and financial responsibility appears to be one that will take some time to answer in this case.


Through multiple, independent genetic tests, it has been confirmed that 7HO11781 Pine-Tree Colt SHINE-P-ET does not transmit the polled gene as previously believed.

Now not all mutations are a bad thing.  There was a time when Red & White calves where disposed of.  Today this is a “mutation” that many breeders desire.  Another mutation that is heavily sought after is polled (Read more: Polled Genetics – Way of the future or passing fad? and  They’re Sold On Polled).  In this case, the resulting polled heifers sell up to   250% higher than non-polled animals of equal genetic merit (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions).  However this highlights another story that caught my eye.  Recently Select Sires announced  that  Pine-Tree Colt SHINE-P-ET does not transmit the polled gene as previously reported  (Read More: Shine P Conflicting DNA Results for Polled Gene).  This touched off some very interesting reactions from breeders. The polled trait in dairy cattle can only be genetic tested with haplotype marker testing, which does allow for rare errors to be made.  This is quite different than actual gene testing that is available for genetic recessives like CVM or BLAD. Having said that, how did this sire make it to market without being more thoroughly screened?  The fact that once Shine-P’s non-polled status was discovered he was removed from their “Super Sire ™ lineup and no longer marketed”.  This indicates that his main genetic merit was the fact that he was a polled sire. Though I do commend Select for taking instant action and putting out a press release.  Not wanting to sweep it under the carpet they handled this well.  In such cases in the past other studs have not disclosed this information or claimed it was a case of mistaken ear tags.  Is there a test for stupidity?

Are Dairy Cattle Genetics Companies Made of Teflon?

Now both of these stories highlight some very rare occurrences, which in their own right would not have me thinking that the companies who sell dairy cattle genetics are not willing to take responsibility for the product they sell.  However they got me thinking about other issues, such as – inability to conceive, short herd life, deep udders, bad feet, poor production.  If a sire or animal is marketed to be high in these traits and the resulting animal proves to be well below expectations, exactly who is to blame?

Currently the only recourse is in not purchasing genetics from that company again.  This is an action many breeders are slow to take, as they seem to bleed the colors of their desired A.I. company.  After all, it’s hard to believe that the AI company they’re loyal to is unconcerned about unfulfilled claims.  However, should that be the case?  So should breeders suffer?

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO
Program members can use this logo to show that they uphold to the standards of this program.

Marketing Accountability

Another example of this is when it comes to dairy cattle marketing.  The false representation of animals has been a hot question among many breeders and has inspired us here at the Bullvine to start the Dairy Marketers’ Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed).  The lack of accountability for the resulting genetic product is one of the biggest differences between photo retouching of super models versus dairy cattle.  You are not purchasing the super model’s genetics you are purchasing the clothes, perfume, etc. that she is wearing.  Even though you are purchasing the genetics of the animal in question, you never really know if the cow/heifer/bull actually looks like she/he does in their picture.  Hence the need for some symbol to ensure that the company marketing these genetics is willing to take responsibility for the outcome.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The genetic advancement of your herd is one of the greatest long-term investments breeders make.  If you invest thousands of dollars in something you should have a minimum level of expectation for performance?  There are no guarantees in life. Having said that, what happens when expected performance and actual performance are not even in the same stratosphere?  What if it was your tractor? Your milking equipment?  That’s right.  People justifiably get mad….. in most cases.  So why is this not the case when you invest in dairy cattle genetics?

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for more accountability in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

Love the Life You Live, Live the Life You Love

Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick.  Don’t lose faith.  You have to find what you love to do because, whatever you do, your work is going to fill a large part of your life.  Dairy farming is not the most lucrative work.  You have to love it in order to excel at it.  The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the way to do great work is to do what you love.  Dairy farming for many is great work, and that is why so many dairy farmers love what they do.

Dancing Among the Stars

This past week the dairy industry suddenly lost a great member.  Mike Rakes had worked in the A.I. industry for 33 years with World Wide Sires (Read more: Mike Rakes of World Wide Sires Passes). On Monday of this week Mike suffered a massive heart attack and died on the operating table.  Although, during the last 12 years, he battled one kind of cancer after another he never let that slow him down.  Just 3 weeks ago Mike’s daughter Brilynn, who is  legally blind, had been featured on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.  She’s an award-winning classical ballerina and contemporary dancer from Visalia.  She was just accepted at Fordham University in New York City.

It was Mike who has been one of the greatest supporters of Brilynn in overcoming her  challenge. “When I was six, my dad told me I could do that,” she said during an interview with Access Hollywood.  He spoke to each of his four daughters before he went into surgery at Kaweah Delta Medical Center.  “He was joking up until the end,” she said.  “He loved his girls,” she said.  “He wanted to make sure Brilynn went to college.  He was just concerned for everyone else.”

All of us who have had similar health challenges can very much relate to Mike’s situation.  Mike loved what he did and loved his family very much.  His work took him on 19 overseas trips last year alone.  In his interview with the producers of Dancing with the Stars Mike said “I’m a very high output guy.  Small issues or concerns of health never worry me,” he said.  “Doctors shake their heads at me and say keep doing what you’re doing.” “I’m fine, but I am a miracle,” he said.  “I don’t worry about anything.  I defy the odds.” The producers wanted to include some of the above interview in their story about Brilynn being featured on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, but he would have none of that.  It was Brilynn’s time to shine, he said.

Mike loved what he did.  In an interview with his father Jerry, Jerry said “his goal was to feed the world.”  “India used to depend on us for food, but now they produce their own milk because of people like Mike.”

Lessons from Steve Jobs

In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford Steve Job’s said, “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you will most certainly be right.  Each day you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself if today where the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today?  If the answer comes back no with any regularity, something needs to change.  Remembering that we are all going to die at some point, means that you need to live life to the fullest.

All of life’s toughest decisions are that much easier when you remember only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the only way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose.  So follow your heart and these decisions will become much easier.

Job’s went on to say that no one wants to die.  Even people who want to go to heaven, don’t want to die in order to get there.  And yet death is the destination that we all share.  No one has ever escaped it.  And that is the way it should be.  Because death is very likely the very best invention of life.  It’s life’s change agent.  It clears out the old to make room for the new.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Your time is limited.  So don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  If dairy farming is not your dream don’t do it.  But if it is, do so with all the passion in the world.  Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.  While there are always people who want to tell you what you should do or give you “advice”, remember to listen to your own inner voice.  Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary.



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GMOs: Beyond Right and Wrong

There are some issues that polarize everybody and the debate over GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) does that.  People emphatically declare that the facts are black or white, wrong or right one way or the other.  If you’re on the wrong side, you are not only politically incorrect but you offend science, religion and the environment. This does not sound like the win-win situation that we are encouraged to seek in most areas of life.  Indeed when it comes to GMOs we are determined to prove only one thing… and that is that… the OTHER side is absolutely wrong.

GMOs Throw Dirt… Lose Ground

It’s a no win situation with both sides throwing dirt at each other in the press, on TV, in rallies, parades and even, resorting to boycotts and stand offs.  There’s an old saying that my grandmother (a mother of 10 and grandmother of 43) quoted effectively when rivalry escalated to harmful levels, “Whenever you throw dirt, you lose ground.” Today`s dirt throwing GMO war of the words has shifted the focus from the production of sustainable, healthy food to a challenge of the very character of the producers. Like anything, even when incorrect, if it is repeated often enough, it gains the perception of truth.  As a result consumers are beginning to bite the very hand that feeds them.

The Win-Sin Battle between Good and Evil

Emotions run high when you’re talking about the life-giving food required by every living thing. Add into the mix, the conspiracy theory that money will make food producers sell their souls and it becomes a battle between right and wrong, good and evil. At the other extreme, the equally evil fanaticist viewpoint is that farmers, unlike their apparently perfect forebears, are working fiendishly with big science or big companies to give you cancer, make you fatter and, generally, ruin your good health.

It`s Your Choice

The underlying fear of sickness, misinformation about food-raising processes and a desire for an absolute answer propels the attack on food producers.  If only it were that simple. A target allows us to lay the blame for sickness and obesity onto someone else.  But at the end of the day it isn’t some agricultural trickster but our own choices that are making us sick and fat. It’s the choices that are made that produce the results that raise alarms for the health of future generations. And choice is a fundamental part of the GMO or anti-GMO debate. People who are anti-GMO have the absolute right to choose what they eat.  People who produce food have the absolute right to choose what to grow. It’s hypocritical to limit the choice of either side.

Take off the Rose Colored Glasses

We often look to the past and assume it must have been better and healthier then.  We must not overlook the facts. There are reasons that the life expectancy for our farming forefathers was considerably less than today’s norms. Every early farmer practiced genetic selection to improve food production.  It’s even harder and more necessary to select for improvement today.  Try growing an organic garden in the city with all of the challenges – air pollution, lack of water and too much or not enough sunshine.  Imagine if your life depended on the results.  That’s farming!

Where Praise is Due

That’s were kudos go to the scientists who are creating seeds and foods that can withstand so many adversities.  Kudos to scientists and farmers who are taking responsibility for reducing chemical applications. With the advent of GMO crops there is significantly less usage of insecticides and herbicides.  With so few farmers providing for so many, subsistence farming is now obsolete.

Survival of the Fittest or “Who Controls Who?”

Whether you`re talking animal genetics or plant genetics, survival of the fittest has been nature`s way of modification. Weeds, like any other life form, adapt to survive. Weeds adapt to cultural practices as well as chemical. Growing food or crops in a “steel city”, as we do, is a challenge before a single chemical has been applied to the fields. One “strong” unrestrained monoculture that provides no edible benefits for man or animals is an ever present challenge.  Drive along any roadway and ask yourself what has happened to biodiversity? It’s not blame but “better” that we need to aim for.

Here at The Bullvine we raise the question of animal genetics and GMOs (Read more: Are You Ready For Genetically Modified Cattle? ).  Again ours is an industry with numerous regulations and scientific studies driving profitability and sustainability.  Again there are big guys, bad guys and concerns for safety and health issues of the food products we are producing.  And again, it isn’t blame but “better” that should be the driving mantra for the future. It will be too bad if we resort to, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up”.

Two Different Paths … the Same Destination

Total agreement is not the goal.  Total vindication of one side or the other doesn`t serve any constructive purpose.  Regardless of absolute right or wrong there is one absolute truth,

The world must be fed.

During the next 40 years the world`s population is projected to reach more than nine billion people. Demand for food is expected to increase by 60 percent. The competition for land, water and food will escalate and is having a very real impact on food production and therefore on health, poverty and hunger. We must find a way to safely and sustainably support the world`s poorest and most vulnerable.

Without returning to everyone becoming a food producer, there is no way to feed the huge and growing demand. Yes! Small scale farmers feed 70% of the world…but they are subsistence farming to sustain their own family.  North American farmers are producing to provide for a growing population. Not every country can do this.  But imagine a scenario where everyone ate only locally grown, organic food.  Where does that leave metropolitan areas? We cannot turn back the clock on large cities.  In that scenario, what would become of Tokyo, New York, London or Rio de Janeiro?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In every responsible home there is the desire to make better choices for the health of our families.  On the farm, we make those choices too with the added responsibility of providing for others.  There is a time and a place to hear the concerns of all sides of the debate. We farmers must defend and guarantee the food products we produce.  Don’t throw dirt but hold our ground. We must not be silent.


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Why you should get rid of the bottom 10%

Before there was Donald Trump, there was Jack Welch, one of America’s greatest business leaders in history. During Jack Welch’s 20-year career as chairman and CEO of General Electric, GE’s company value rose 4000%.  That is a 200% per year growth rate.  More than 50 times that of the average company.  How did Jack do it?  He got rid of the bottom 10% of GE’s employees every year.

Such bold and committed action could also apply in dairy farming. Although most of us are so entrenched in our own operations that we cannot always be objective. But we should be objective. Managers must make the tough decisions. Are you ready to Fire the Bottom 10%?  Management choices or decisions could very well be significantly dragging down your profits.

Random Poll

So The Bullvine polled dairy producers asking them:

“In managing your dairy enterprise, if someone said to you fire the Bottom 10% in order to increase your profits what would you do?”

The following four management areas were the ones the producers identified as their top “fire the bottom” moves.

Heifer Rearing

Producers tell us that the easiest and quickest change they can make is to stop raising all their heifer calves. In the past selling springing bred heifers or recently calved in first calvers was a revenue source. Some long for those days to return. The reality is that those days in North America are not about to reoccur with increased use of sexed semen and producers finding ways to retain still profitable older cows.

One producer in expansion mode dropped his heifer numbers back and used the barn space and feed to milk more cows. He did it using the heifer sized free stalls for a group of 22-26 month old milkers. Another producer changed his program to lower feed costs using a very high forage diet for all milking females thereby needing more cows to fill his daily milk shipments. His plan is that by dropping from 75 to 65 pounds of milk per cow per day he will have less cow turnover, a shorter calving interval and more profit per cow per day of productive life. Profit per cow per day (sometimes referred to as daily return over feed costs) is a term all producers are now using extensively.

Some producers report selling all heifer calves to a heifer raiser with the option of buying back needed replacements at $200 over going market price for any of his own heifers. He is very satisfied with them and he knows their ancestry. The only limiting factor being he must take care not to cause his farm any biosecurity problems with the reintroductions. He is considering testing his reintroduction for common diseases. But still sees that new cost much outweighing the cost for feed, labour or capital costs associated with raising his own replacements.

Reproductive Performance

Producers tell us that reproduction is their biggest thief of profits. Changing reproductive performance is not easy to put in place. Steps being taken include: not breeding back cows or heifers that have a history of poor reproductive performance; milkers requiring a fourth breeding are not rebred;  purchasing heat monitoring systems; creating a group of cows 60 days in milk until confirmed pregnant or a decision is made not to rebreed and using high genomic bulls instead of AI.

Other producers have worked with specialists and redesigned their transition cow program. Many report excellent results relative to calving, no retained placentas or metritis, quick entry into the milking string and high percent of first heats post calving by 50 days in milk. They have found a savings in staff time handling problems and maintaining detailed records.

Still other producers have handed off heat checking to their AI technician with very good results. It is one less job for the milkers and animal feeders to do.

Animal Health

Producers share about the frustration with the excessive time required by a sick cow, or a lame cow or a sick calf. ‘If only we did not have to be taking an extra twenty minutes per day to deal with each animal with a health problem, besides the drugs cost  and lost milk’.

One producer shared how he has built an expensive barn and manure handling system only to find that the number of cows with feet problems has exploded. His thinking is that producers are too willing to accept lameness, feet problems, foot trimming, footbaths, loss of milk, treatment costs and other detrimental issues as a cost of doing business. To that he added that in the end he had to spend even more money to re-design his housing system and now he has sand wearing out his equipment.  He actually longed for the good old days when cows could walk on dry natural surfaces.

Few of the producers see a way clear of health problems. This suggests that, as an industry, we need to think – if what we are doing isn’t working for us we definitely need to step back from the problem and find effective approaches to handling animal health.


Producers have given this topic much consideration and many have implemented changes. The list was quite long but it often does not hurt to repeat what producers are doing. The list includes: install robotics; milking the cows less than 120 days fresh 3x; hiring out the field work to a custom operator thereby eliminating labour and capital cost; capturing more cow information at every milking in both parlour and tie stall barns, (as mentioned above) heat detection systems; training and assigning specialty jobs to staff; purchasing software programs that capture and analyze data so manager can make quick accurate decisions and the list went on. In all cases it appears that dollar cost-benefit criteria were used to base decisions on. Definitely this is an area that producers feel more comfortable with. Which is reassuring given that the average herd size is growing and wage rates are increasing.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Jack Welch earned a reputation for brutal candor in his meetings with executives. He rewarded those in the top 20% with bonuses and stock options. Sometimes as dairy breeders we are guilty of looking at our operations as a way of life and not as a business.   The hard truth is the dairy business decisions need to be based on dollars. Firing poor performers is not just good for your dairy business, it’s necessary. Where do you draw the firing line?






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