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Semex – The Rise and Fall of a Semen Empire

I have seen men who once screamed EBI green turn to the dark side.  Men who used to bleed WOBI blue now openly criticize the organization that was the epitome, half a century ago, of everything Dairy in Canada.  The Semex Alliance that once dominated, no longer owns the Canadian marketplace.  There is criticism from within.  How did the organization that once defined the Canadian marketplace lose control of it?

I’ll establish my personal allegiances before the hate mail commences.  I grew up with the belief that the Canadian cow was the best in the world and that the Canadian dairy cattle improvement system was second to none.  This was so heartfelt for me that I have the Holstein Canada logo tattooed on my chest.  I believed that the likes of Moe Freeman, Roy Snyder and George Clemons were super heroes who could leap tall buildings in a single bound.  At that time, there was leadership, teamwork and cooperation that pulled differences together for the common good.  Today?  Not so much.  (Read more – Select Sires vs. Semex – A contrast in cooperatives) The reason for this decline and fall has gradually kicked in for me.  When Doug Blair and Alta Genetics decided to purchase Landmark Genetics, the foundation of what was Semex and the partnership and cooperation that made Canada great, started to crumble.  That was the first crack in the cooperation and teamwork that had lead Semex and Canada to global prominence.  Later, when GenerVations, a stud other than Semex, had produced the #1 sire (Calbertt-I H H Champion) in Canada that further ate away at what was the core of Semex.

Canadiens vs. Nordiques

As I was thinking about this a situation came to my mind.  Like most Canadians, I am a huge hockey fan and I am reminded of what has been the downfall of the once mighty Montreal Canadiens.  The Canadiens once had it all. They had hockey dominance all to themselves, just as Semex had controlled the Canadian marketplace.  However, in hockey, when the WHA launched, one of the first steps made by the Nordiques was the hiring of the Canadiens legend, Maurice Richard, as their coach.  It didn’t work out – the Rocket’s personality was no fit at all for the job and he lasted a couple of games.  However, the strategic move of his signing was a golden one that set a precedent, much like Blair’s and the leadership team at Alta Genetics.  There was now another option in Canada.  Hockey fans had a choice.

The other part that I think is even more telling for the Semex fall from dominance is that they no longer always had the best Canadian product.  This compares to the Canadiens having to give up their territorial exemption in 1970.  You see in the days of the Original Six, the Canadiens had all but exclusive rights to any junior player in Quebec.  That singular grasp over one of the greatest sources of talent gave the Canadiens a significant advantage in assembling talent.  It was as if they were starting every poker game with an ace in hand.  Semex had a similar success story.  But when GenerVations had the #1 LPI sire, there was a clear message that Semex was not the only option. Even today GenerVations works at showing breeders there are other options (Read more –$750 Dollar Semen! Are you crazy?).  Even in Quebec with the great work Trans America Genetics (TAG) is doing they are not even the only option in the hockey and genetic heartland of Canada.

Furthermore, today’s generation of active breeders hasn`t grown up with Semex as the impenetrable force.  There was a time when merely uttering a negative thought about Semex was considered high treason.  But think about how things have changed. Through MACE, Genomics, social media and a globalizing of the marketplace, today’s generation of breeders has not known Semex Sires as the only super stars.  This is the same as today`s Quebecois growing  up with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Luc Robitaille, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis or Martin Brodeur not wearing a Canadien’s jersey.  Even one Canadien who did rank among them, Patrick Roy, demanded a trade out of Montreal.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Semex’s superior place in Canadian and global dairy cattle breeding history remains almost unequaled.  However, that position is less secure today than many would like to admit.  I am not saying they can’t regain prominence or even be a major global player.  What I am saying is that we all need to remember that cooperation is what made Canada great in the first place.  All players working together will build a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is what made Canada great and that is what will help Canada rise back to the top of the genetic empire.


  1. Although the likes of Genervations and TAG are making small in roads in the CA market, I think the marketing and genetic dominance of ABS, Alta and Select is what’s knocking the swagger out of the once arrogant Semex!

    • Doug,
      I can totally understand your comments and agree. Though those AI companies are all seen as “NOT CANADIAN” and I wonder if that has had a big effect on things. ABS and Select have always been bigger on a world seen and until recently had not made that much headway in Canada.

  2. The Bullvine is becoming the Don Cherry of the Dairy Genetics Business. Controversial, Outspoken, Knowledgeable and Passionate. You may not always agree with what is said but everyone loves to watch and listen!

    • Bryan,
      I fear that if we don’t say it no one will. And that is not going to help the industry advance. I idolize the likes of Moe Freeman, Roy Snyder and George Clemons and the only way to keep that legacy going is to keep the industry advancing. (FYI: Maybe I should write a post about being Don Cherry, thanks for the idea). We always love feedback and meaningful discussion.

  3. I don’t force people to read. What I do is try to ask people to do is think. I didn’t start the Bullvine to get rich or to settle a score. I love, I repeat, I love the dairy industry and felt this was my way to express my passion. My goals are not one company or another (hence why sire recommendations are made without even checking who owns what sire). I totally understand why Semex is bringing HIR to market themselves. But I also understand that it was also started in part by DairyGen an industry-supported council. My point with all of this is, we all need to not lose sight of the fact that cooperation is what made Canada what it is. Canada has 85% less dairy cattle than the US yet has a much higher proportion in relation to size of the world genetics market. That is because of how well the whole industry has worked together in the past. As I see more and more the industry not working together, I felt that this was needed to have something said. Hence today’s article. Are my methods extreme? Yes, but sometimes it takes extreme actions to bring things to light.

  4. Semex is getting burried in the US because they wanted a larger market share. They started investing in net merit and genomics which they’re core customer base and repeat customers reject. Not to mention they can’t compete on price or the service Select or genex offer the large herds, which is 2 of the 3 factors large dairies look at. They’ve destroyed the great product they once had. It’s very sad.

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