No more than 30 minutes southwest of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, hidden just behind the trees in the rolling hills of Bonshaw, is the homestead of the MacQuarrie family and their Mactalla herd. The MacQuarrie’s are over the moon to be receiving their first Master Breeder Shield!
Give a brief History of your operation. How did you get started in purebred cattle? How have the facilities changed over the years?
The farm was purchased in 1854 by Alexander MacQuarrie, Allan’s great great grandfather, so it has been in the family for over 150 years and 7 generations. Allan and Coleen were married in 1976 and worked with Allan’s father Robert. At that time the farm was a mixed operation of a few beef cows, milk cows (for cream), pigs and turnips. In 1981 we shifted over to whole milk, sold everything else, and purchased our first purebreds. The barn was modified to a tie stall and we milked about 30 cows, buying more purebreds as we grew. We decided to switch to a free stall environment in 2001 when the roof blew off the old barn. Our son Jeff came home to farm full time around this time as well. We fed with computer feeders and round bales in this barn, switching to TMR in 2015.
Due to growing cow numbers we were running out of manure storage, and our barn was also aging, so in 2016 we chose to build new. We chose a tarp barn because of the light and air flow and tried to make it as cow friendly as possible by installing big ass fans for even better air flow and alley scrapers for our new manure pit. We also went with green free stalls and a green flex feed rail from Cow Welfare, which has really helped the older cows who were having some issues in the old barn. We also installed rubber on the floors and new pasture mats in the stalls.
Who is currently involved in the operation? What are their roles?
Allan does a little bit of everything including milking, field work, breeding and calf care. Coleen does the milking and book work. Jeff milks, feeds, works in the field and looks after herd management and the breeding program, while his wife Jessie works as a vet off the island but helps out on the weekend. Wendy Ulvstal does some milking and also pitches in with chores and book work. Jeff Verge is also involved with many areas of the farm including milking, feeding, breeding and field work. Grandson Matt Jack helps with chores.
How many cows do you milk? What is your current herd classification and herd production average?
We currently milk 100 cows, with about 250 total on farm. They are all purebred Holsteins and include five Red & White Holsteins as well. Our current herd average is 11,341 kgs milk, with an average of 39.8kg per cow, making our current BCA: 244-261-257. The current herd classification is 8 ME, 7 EX, 45 VG, 58 GP and 3G.
What bulls are you currently using? Do you do any embryo transfer or IVF?
We use a mix of Semex and Select Sires bulls, which are selected with emphasis on conformation, udders feet and legs and low SCC. The bulls that worked well for us were Final Cut, Fever, Talent, Goldwyn, Bradnick and Control, and we still use these bulls today when we can. Our current bulls of choice are Unix, Sidekick, Doorman, Dempsey, Solomon, High Octane, Takeoff, Cinderdoor, Apple-Crisp and Jacoby. We use a lot of sexed semen, every heifer gets at least one dose. Previously we did a lot of flushing, and while we haven’t done any for the past 3-4 years, we may do more in the future.
How many acres do you manage? Do you grow all the crops you need or do you buy and sell feed as well?
We own 250 acres and rent 200 more. About 100 – 130 of this is used for corn silage and high moisture corn, the rest for grass silage with about 20 for pasture. No feed is sold off-farm but we have to buy canola and soybean for the milk cows and barley for the heifers.
The milk cows receive a TMR ration of grass silage both chopped and round bale alfalfa and clover mix, with corn silage, high moisture corn, soybean, canola, Jefo fat and a custom mineral. Jeff Walton is our nutritionist and has made a big difference in our herd production and health. Our dry cows and bred heifers get a TMR ration which includes a bale of first cut and a bale of straw mixed with corn silage and our protein mix. They also receive a custom mineral and are pastured in the summer. At 3 weeks before calving we move dry cows and bred heifers in to a close-up pen where they receive a close up mineral with that ration. The younger heifers are fed barley and soybean with mineral and round bale silage. The calves are fed a mixture of whole milk and milk replacer calf starter until 60-70 days when they are weaned, then they are fed more calf starter and round bale silage.
What cow families have most impacted your herd and contributed points to this shield?
The cow family that gave us our Master Breeder shield starts with Winterbay Prelude Ideal GP-84. She had 3 daughters including Mactalla Leader Ida EX-94 (USA), who was Grand Champion & Reserve Supreme Champion of the Junior Show at World Dairy Expo in 2004, placing 6th in the open show as well. Ida was first sold to Birkentree Holsteins and we purchased her daughter, Birkentree C Lee Ivy EX-90 2E 7*, back from them. Ivy has had a very big hand in building our herd with over 50 decedents on the farm currently. Ivy lived to be 14 years old and had 98,000 kgs milk in her lifetime. Her offspring very seldom disappoint, they are all long-lasting, good milk cows who classify well, including Mactalla Final Cut Ideal EX-92 5E and Mactalla Terrason Icon EX-90 2E 1*.
Another great family is the Mactalla Marker Molly family. Molly, scored EX-95 2E in the USA, was Reserve Grand of the Junior Show at World Dairy Expo in 2008 and placed 5th in the Mature Cow class in the open show as well. Although this family doesn’t throw a lot of heifer calves, they are all great cows and we are excited about a fancy September ’16 granddaughter of Molly, Mactalla Bomba Marcy.
Other families that have contributed points and are worth mentioning is our first homebred EX cow Mactalla Integrity Kerry EX-90 3E, as well as Mactalla Ashlar Victoria EX-92 3E who has earned a Superior Lactation award and has been a great cow for us that breeds well.
Describe your thoughts on winning this award! Is this something you’ve always had as a main goal for your breeding program?
We are still in a state of shock over winning this! We are so very proud to have this honour as well as humbled beyond words. We have received many messages of congratulations and loads of best wishes. Holstein Canada president, Orville Schmidt and CEO Anne Louise visited our farm as well as the Federal Minister of Agriculture, and we were on CBC Compass after receiving the news as well!
We hope to be able to carry on this farm for many years in the future and maybe see another generation be able to a make living in the Canadian dairy industry. Of course, we will now aim to win this award again down the road!