It’s so hard to focus on the victories with Ferme Jacobs, because the way it wins is so well, winsome.
Just one other Canadian farm has won Premier Breeder at The Royal more times than Ferme Jacobs (Romandale Holsteins, 13 times). Notably, at The Royal, Ferme Jacobs showed no heifers and they have now nudged ahead of household names like Dupasquier Holsteins, Hanover Hill Holsteins, Glenafton Holsteins and Rosafe Holsteins.
And the last time a Holstein breeder won Grand and Reserve Grand Champion with homebred entries at The Royal was Agro Acres with maternal sisters in 1969. Before that the only other recorded time was by Mount Victoria in 1935.
This year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair belonged to Ferme Jacobs’ winning four-year-old, Jacobs Windbrook Aimo EX95, and their winning mature cow, Jacobs Lauthority Loana EX96-2E, who finished Grand and Reserve Grand Holstein respectively. Loana is owned in partnership with Pat Conroy.
And yet the lasting impressions from both WDE and The Royal are not only the family’s champions, but also the way they care for their cows, the way they celebrate and the way they share their success with the industry.
The squeals and multiple photographs of their children swarming ringside, together with the unadulterated joy between their parents in the ring, is infectious.
“We always have a party, even if we lose,” Ysabel Jacobs, 37, smiled.
“But that party at The Royal this year was one of the best ones we’ve had, for sure. We were so excited. We’ve never had Grand and Reserve Grand before, so we went wild.
“Because the level where we are now with our results; it’s easier to get there than it is to stay there. We know that.
“Last year we said we couldn’t have a better year than that was. Then this year, we did. We don’t know what’s coming up for us. But we know we are going to have to accept it when it comes, because we have kids around and we need to show them the right way to handle losing.”
The family was also unafraid to bring the reigning WDE Grand Champion Holstein out again at The Royal one month later – always a risk when a cow has something to lose.
WDE and Royal wins both special
“I think both the WDE and RWF results were special in their own way,” Ysabel said. “At WDE, Loana was perfect, and while Aimo [the 2017 WDE Intermediate Champion] won her class at WDE this year, she didn’t co-operate with us that day, and we had wanted her to look better than she did.
“At the RWF, it was the opposite. Aimo got ready perfect, and Loana didn’t want to co-operate. When we get our cows ready in the string, we get all excited before they leave the string if they are heading to the ring looking as good as we know they can be. After that, whatever happens in the ring is fine because you have no control over that.
“We think Loana might have had a big heat the day before the RWF because she was very mad that day. So, one show was perfect for Loana, and one was perfect for Aimo. We’re happy with that.”
As to which cow is best, Ysabel smiles. She always leads Loana and Yan takes Aimo.
“I don’t know,” she laughed. “If you talk to my brother he’ll say Aimo, and if you talk to me, I think I’d say Loana. There are some things that I like more about Loana and some things I like more about Aimo.
“We both like to lead, and we kind of always have our own cows. We never fight for who leads who, because we always differ slightly. We like the same kind of cow, but we like different things on individuals too. I would say Aimo is more Yan’s type, and Loana is more my type.”
Carl Saucier mentor
Semex’s well-known Carl Saucier, who has been a mentor and friend for Yan and Isobel, says there is something special about the family’s care of their cows, which always comes before winning.
“What I love about this family is that they are not only humble winners, they are great losers,” Carl said.
“I remember in 2015 at The Royal, they lost the Premier Breeder banner by the smallest of margins and they went down to Kingsway [Farms, the winner] and drank to their success with them. They are always happy for others. Ysabel is happy to help others at shows too – even her biggest competitors. She’ll give them some of their best hay to fill cows on show day. She just smiles and says: ‘Let the best cow win.’”
Buy when they want to
While the family is now recognised for its success with homebred animals, buying them is not without precedence. This year’s WDE Intermediate Champion, Erbacres Snapple Shakira-ET VG89, is jointly owned by Ferme Jacobs, Ty-D Holsteins, Killian Tehraulaz, Ferme Antelimarck and C & F Jacobs. The 2013 WDE Supreme Champion Bonnacueil Maya Goldwyn EX-95 3E 6* was co-owned with Drolet & Fils, Ty-D Holsteins, and Bonaccueil Holsteins.
“We do like to buy one once in a while and develop a cow to the max she can be,” Ysabel said. “But we’re never in a rush to buy them. It just happens when, ‘OK, I can’t get over it’. Then we get on each other. If I go to sleep at night and I still see her in my head, we need to buy her. We’re like kids and it’s satisfying to get a cow where you know she can be. With Shakira, it just happened that our friend, Killian, was there when we were looking at her, and he said he wanted in too.
“I think the partnerships we have now is that they know us. They know that we’re not going to call for a breeding decision. But they know also that we’ll make the best decisions we can on the cow’s behalf.
“If someone wants to be in with us, they need to just let us get on with it. We’re very bad for sharing news – very bad. We don’t spend all our time talking with a partner on the phone. They need to have trust in us and as soon as we flush, we usually separate everything so the partnerships don’t get too big. That’s the easiest way.”
Breeding with numbers often doesn’t add up
When Ferme Jacobs decides on what bulls to use to breed the next one, genomics is the last consideration. The family is driven by cow families and the sires that leave the kind of cows the farm needs. They have alternated between high type and breeding for milk. It maintains a balance of stylish show cows that will work and last.
“We do look at the numbers, but that’s not big for us,” Ysabel said. “The only number we really do watch is that we will never use a bull that is minus for milk. Yan is starting to judge more now. He went to the USA, and Tyler and I are also starting to judge too, so we are all travelling a little bit.
“Between us, we see enough cattle in a year that we can see which bulls we want to use, and which bulls we don’t wanna use. When we go away, we usually also try and visit two to three farms to see what’s there and what’s working.
“Right now, we’re breeding for a bit more on milk, because you can have any good show cow in the world, if she doesn’t milk it’s not going to work.
“We are concentrating right now on balance, especially at our place because we have so many type cows. Using high type bulls here right now would be too extreme.”
Bulls in use now include Croteau Lesperron Unix, Seagull-Bay Silver, Comestar Lautrust, S-S-I Silver Spike, Sandy-Valley J Pharo, S-S-I Montross Missle, Monument Impression, and MR Mogul Delta.
“I know sometimes we use older bulls, but we don’t think using old bulls is a fault,” Ysabel said.
Massive embryo demand
Their juggle remains working between showing cows, massive embryo demand (500 embryos were sold by Ferme Jacobs this year), and breeding a bull for the industry, to be marketed through Select Sires.
MOET embryo transfer work takes a seat behind show cow management and preparation. IVF is infrequent, because of the expense.
“If the cows are on a show programme, they are not going to be flushed,” Ysabel said. “We don’t want to work with hormones while they are showing. We’d rather flush them when they are done showing.”
And the Jacobs family remains true to itself when it comes to choosing potential bull mothers.
“Select [Sires] are not pushing us for the cross, because they know there are some crosses we don’t want and some crosses that make sense to us,” Ysabel said.
“It doesn’t have to be very high on everything, because we think that everyone in the industry is running a race right now on all that… for nothing.”
The cows they hope to make a bull from include 2017 Holstein Canada Cow of the Year, Jacobs Goldwyn Britany EX-96 2E 10* (Braedale Goldwyn x Jacobs Jasper Best), Loana (Comestar Lauthority x Jacobs Outside Linsey), Aimo (Windbrook x Jacobs Minister Aima), and Shikara (Snapple x Miss Apple Snapple EX-94). Aimo has an ET bull calf coming, sired by Lautrust, and she will calve next May to Lautrust.
The family’s happy place
Challenges come to every family and Ysabel says it is always the cows that put them back in their “happy place”. An extended and supportive team, combined with watching their children develop the same love for cattle, has sustained them.
“It’s not easy, because there is sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice my brother, my husband and I don’t mind,” Ysabel said.
“Our kids have grown up around that. We have three farms together and we have an amazing team around us, including Mum and Dad, who always support us.
“Yes, it’s hard sometimes and sometimes you want to quit. But there is always something coming and someone slapping your shoulder, or you find a new cow and you get excited again.”
Pressure has been a constant, but they can now put it into perspective.
“I would say that two years ago we could feel there was pressure to back up our performance,” Ysabel said. “But last year, we realised there is so much more important things in life than showing, and this year we just wanted to go and have fun, and to try our best.
“We get nervous at certain points, but always a good nervous. I know there is money involved. But people are so much looking at us right now, that no matter what happens, we should do it for fun.
“We’ve lost before, and we’ll lose again. Let’s be prepared to do it, and if it happens, at least we had fun doing it. Our kids are starting to show and we are trying to teach them the right way, because they don’t always lead winners – they lead both. And, if they don’t practice with their calves at home, we aren’t going to let them show their calf.”
Ultimately, Ferme Jacobs loves good cows and they continue to see the good, and the good people in the industry.
“We have people in our team who come and help us on show day, who don’t want to be paid. They just want to do it with us. Those are special people for us,” Ysabel said.
“We are very lucky to have them around us. To be honest, there are so many good people in our business who have the same passion to try to get the right cow where she needs to be. We love it.”