The Versloot family perseveres and achieves Arthur Versloot’s goal of a second Master Breeder Shield for Combination Holsteins.
This story was featured in Cowsmo’s Spring 2015 issue on pg 60
By Lexi Wright
Herd & Farm Facts
– owned by Karen Versloot and children Josie (16), Austin (14), Hannah (11) and Alex (9)
– 2X Master Breeder winner (1999 & 2013)
– milk between 72-79 cows in 79 cow free-stall
– Single 12 parallel parlour
– Herd classification 23 EX 46 VG 16 GP
– Herd average is 9190 kgs of milk 352 fat 292 protein BCA 193-200-193
– Sires currently using: Doorman, Seaver, Superpower, Contrast, Dude, Byway, Elude, Dempsey, Bradnick, Goldchip, Brokaw, McCutchen, Loaded, Aftershock, Celeb and Meteor
– have 300 acres cleared land and some wooded land rent 60 acres
– Feeding protocol: calves – whole milk for 8 weeks, calf starter for 6 months, 2nd cut free choice hay; after weaning – heifer pellet, 2nd cut hay, then introduction of silage; Milk cows – computer feeders, complete Coop dairy ration, silage, round bale silage Aug-Oct and out on grass May – November, as long as possible during this time they also receive some silage
Each year during the Master Breeder presentations at the National Holstein Convention, emotions run high among the recipients. A year of great stories and achievements, the 2014 Convention in Sherbrooke, Quebec, was certainly no exception to the rule.
Accepting the Master Breeder Shield for Combination Holsteins and her late husband Arthur Versloot, Karen Versloot and her four children, Josie (16), Austin (14), Hannah (10) and Alex (8) provided a very emotional moment for the crowd when they arrived on stage with the song, “What doesn’t Kill you Makes you Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. It was a humbling experience to accept the Shield, knowing that her husband and his father, George, had been able to be part of two awards just fourteen years apart.
Since Arthur’s life was taken in an automobile accident coming home from the Quebec Holstein Picnic in 2010, Karen’s life has changed dramatically.
Arthur’s life-long dream of continuing this great Master Breeder herd in a “man’s world” has now been put safely into her hands. “It was a big transition for us. Even though I was involved in the day-to-day activities at the farm and both Johnny and Dan had a fair bit of knowledge in the herd management side, Arthur looked after the overall management and the breeding program. The breeding aspect was certainly a big challenge. I just never thought of asking him, why he bred a cow to a certain bull,” said Karen. At best what she calls a steep learning curve, Karen’s strength and determination balanced with two solid herdsmen, Johnny Voordow and Dan Montgomery, has given Combination the chance for continued success.
Today Dan looks after all the breeding decisions and on their regular classification round in 2014 Dan was happy to report they had 5 VG 2 year olds. Even though Karen admits she has had some labour challenges, she is thankful for the friendship and support both Johnny and Dan have provided. “Johnny looks after the feeding and the fieldwork for us and has known George for over 35 years. He came from Holland to work for George as a kid and liked it so much they were able to get his paperwork sorted and he was able to immigrate. He has been working full time for us since 2010 and now lives next door to the farm. Dan grew up next door and worked for Arthur since he has a kid off and on part time. When Arthur passed away he quit his job and came to work here full time. I couldn’t do it without either of them,” said Karen.
Karen is also quick to mention good friend Alain Blanchette from Eastgen, numerous other AI sales representatives, and brother in law Andre Brilman for their advice and help through the transition. Even though the kids are active around the farm helping out, Ellen Dunphy has helped Karen out with the kids whenever required.
Even though Karen and Arthur purchased the farm in 2001, George, now 85 years old, still lives just up the road and remains involved helping out hauling bales or mowing in the summer time.
When George immigrated, he began farming with his wife Gerda in 1959 with just 14 grade cows at Keswick Ridge, New Brunswick. Success allowed growth and in 1968 a new free-stall barn and herringbone parlour were built to accommodate 50 cows. Born into a family of seven with 3 sisters, Margaret (Thompson), Yvonne (Brilman), Evelyn (Bokma) and two brothers Peter and Eric, Arthur was the only son destined to be a farmer.
After attending Agricultural College, in 1994 Arthur married Karen. In 1996 a fire took all of the buildings but thankfully only a handful of young stock. “This unfortunate incident allowed us the opportunity to build the barn that Arthur always wanted, “said Karen. Renting a vacant nearby farm to milk in while the barn was completed, the Versloots moved into their new 79-cow freestall with a single 12 parallel parlour in 1996. Housing both cows and calves up to 6 months under one roof, the older heifers and dry cows are located at their other farm nearby.
Today with a great facility in place, the focus on management and cow comfort continue to be a priority. In the past couple of years improved energy efficient lighting as well as better ventilation has been accomplished. The use of Dell Pro eliminates a lot of the old paperwork tracking treatments and breedings on cows. Karen admits classification continues to be a useful tool in determining which animals to sell or keep. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of classifying. It is always exciting to get an Excellent cow and classification helps us to determine which cows are the best ones to keep for our breeding program,” said Dan. Hovering around 200 BCA across the board when it comes to production, Dan continues to focus on both type and production.
Utilizing all AI sires, Dan has continued to follow Arthur’s beliefs focusing on exceptional feet and legs and well-attached udders. Using 80% proven sires with the remaining 20% genomic young sires Dan uses a wide selection of bulls like: Doorman, Seaver, Superpower, Contrast, Dude, Byway, Elude, Dempsey, Bradnick, Goldchip, Brokaw, McCutchen, Loaded, Aftershock, Celeb and Meteor.
Always focused on breeding good functional cows, Karen and Dan admit that while they would like to have a few more good show cows, all animals need to be able to pay their way.
One cow family that continues to prove they are worthy of the Combination seal of approval is the Loval Sheik Jen VG-86 9* family. The main contributor to both Master Breeder shields, Jen is the dam of 5 VG daughters as well as the World renowned sire, Combination Supersire EX-94 Extra, with 9411 classified daughters of 63% GP or better. “Arthur started with an extremely good herd of cattle in which he invested time and money through ET programs. Developing the best cow families in the herd obviously brought him great success,” says good friend Brent Dunphy.
Jen’s most successful daughter, Combination Tab Jean VG-87 14*, and her daughter Combination Pre Toni Jean EX-90 4E 6* plus Toni’s 4 EX daughters, Combination Talent Lalita EX-93 4E, Combination Goldwyn Tonya EX-94 3E, Combination Final Tawny EX-92 3E and Combination Igniter Toni EX-90 plus 6 VG daughters, provided significant points to the 2013 shield.
Tab Jean’s three other daughters Combination Jed Katie Jean EX 4E (owned by Bergicel), Combination Jackpot Jenessa EX 2E and Combination Chessie Jean EX 16* (owned by ABF) continue to make their mark at Combination and in other Atlantic herds.
Owned by good friend Alain Blanchette of ABF Holsteins, Tab Jeans’ Chesapeake daughter, Combination Chessie Jean EX 16* has added a very strong line to the family and is noted as Karen’s favorite. Winner of the 2008 Atlantic Cow of the Year, Chessie is the dam of All-American and All-Canadian winner, ABF September Cheese EX-94, owned by Lookout Holsteins & Pesce, and already boasts 3 VG daughters. Chessie also has 11 VG and 7 other EX daughters that are making their mark in other herds. Combination Progress C J Lori EX-92 4E 6*, owned by Overlake, has 4 excellent daughters and 5 VG daughters at Combination by Jasper, Goldwyn, Shottle, Fever and Champion. Other excellent daughters include Combination Champion Crosby EX-92 2E (Crasdale, Jacobs, Tolamika) and ABF Jasper Chelsea EX-90 (Pascobac).
Leading the breeding program at Combination from Chessie are ABF Spirte Jane EX-94 4E 3*, Combination James C J Laureen EX-90 3E 1*, Combination Champion Lalya EX-91 2E and Combination Champion Lacey EX-90.
Mentioned as Dan’s favorite, Spirte Jane has 2 excellent daughters, Goldwyn Jen EX-92 3E and Baxter Jayjay EX-90, plus 4 VG daughters by Goldwyn, Baxter, Sanchez & Dempsey. Her VG-89 Goldwyn daughter, Jenny, was the 1st Senior 3 Year Old at the 2014 Atlantic Spring show and owned by Johnny.
Laureen has 3 EX daughters. Her Lheros daughter Lauren, already a 1* brood cow, is also the grand dam of the first 5th generation EX in the family, Combination Dolman Lorine EX-93. Another family branch from Champion Layla has provided 3 EX daughters by Talent and Fortune.
Their strong belief in seeing milking daughters of a bull before using him has not allowed them to jump on the Genomic band wagon completely. “I believe it is a tool and has given us a better way to sort out young sires,” said Karen. “I think with the introduction of genomics there is less risk then before in using young sires but there is nothing that tells me what a bull is going to do better than seeing actual milking daughters,” said Dan.
Dan and Karen acknowledge that genomics has greatly influenced the sale of good pedigreed cattle. “Now a lot of people are buying on numbers alone. I truly believe you still need to look at the animal and the cow family,” said Karen, “it is frustrating that people are focusing so much on numbers.” Dan adds, “our ultimate goal is to have an animal that will last the longest and contribute the most to our herd when it comes to breeding.”
Continuing to sell a few animals a year at various sales, Combination also exhibits at their local heifer show as well as their provincial show each year. Out of province shows are considered if the animal quality is there.
Both Karen and Dan are 4-H leaders and having the kids involved in the local 4-H club also provides other showing opportunities during the summer. “Karen is not only a member of the New Brunswick Convention Committee, but she is also a big supporter of the 4-H program. Each year numerous calves are used from Combination as 4-H projects for kids that are not from farming backgrounds.
It came as no big surprise when she won the 2014 Grant Floyd Memorial Award presented to a person that has shown great dedication and service to the Holstein industry in New Brunswick,” says Alain Blanchette.
As Karen, Dan and Johnny groom the next generation of Versloots with hopes of one of them farming someday, they continue to follow Arthur’s hopes and dreams, aiming for that third Master Breeder shield.