This article was featured in our 2020 Spring issue and is written by Julie Ashton.
Caron, Saskatchewan, home to Benbie Holsteins … 660 km from Calgary,AB, 1580 km from Chilliwack, BC, 1690km from Madison, WI, and, 2745 km from Toronto, ON. For Ian and Nicole Crosbie,these daunting distances are the sacrifice made to travel to some of the best Holstein shows in North America. And over the last 10 years, the breeding decisions and management practices at Benbie Holsteins have helped elevate the breeding program and diversified the operation.
When Ian Crosbie was in 4-H, he developed a strong passion for Holstein genetics, and his family gave him some responsibility when it came to selecting herd sires for their 90-cow dairy. Brothers Neil and Blaine Crosbie started the Benbie prefix in 1988.
Ian exhibited at local 4-H shows, honing his skills as a cattle fitter and developing an eye for great Holsteins. Through 4-H competitions, he met his future wife,Nicole Hylkema of Hyljon Holsteinsin Chilliwack, BC. Ian and Nicole both attended university in Alberta and were married in 2011. The following year, Ian and Nicole returned to the home farm and started farming with Ian’s parents, Neil and BJ, after his uncle Blaine stepped back from the dairy operation.
With plans to return to the farm, Ian purchased a 1st Choice Braxton out of Windy-Knoll-View Pledge-ET EX-95 3E3* GMD DOM at the Crown Jewel Sale in spring 2011. Ian and Nicole took their honeymoon to pick up their choice later that year. They selected Windy-Knoll-View Pasian-ET, who would become one of the foundation cows in the Benbie herd. Pasian would classify VG-87-4Y 5*, has two superior lactations with her best 3x record of 39,740M 3.8F 3.0Pat 6-03. In four lactations, she produced 149,635 lbs. milk 4.0F 3.2P. Her highest scored daughter to date is Benbie Goldwyn Personna EX-90-2E,who had a best record over 41,000M 4.1F 3.0P.
Benbie Doorman Pisces VG-89-4Y was the 2019 Reserve All-Western 4-Year-Old and is from a VG-87 Goldwyn then Pasian. Her last completed 365-day lactation at 3-05 was 42,247M 4.6F 3.4P (BCA 352-434-363).She has an exciting Sidekick yearling and Pisces is due back in June to Peak Axl.
Another foundation cow is Huntsdale Shottle Crusade EX-95-3E 4*. Crusade was purchased as a heifer in the 2007 RockyMountain Sale. She had a great pedigree,backed by a VG-86 5* Convincer, then EX-90-3E 11* Rudolph and then Braedale Gypsy Grand VG-88 37*. Crusade calved in January 2012 and was a part of Ian and Nicole’s first full show string that spring and winning Grand Champion at the Western Canadian Livestock Show in Saskatoon.In 2016, she was 1st Mature Cow and HM Grand Champion of the Calgary Spring Show and would place 4th at World Dairy Expo, earning her an HM All-Canadian award and All-American nomination.Crusade completed five lactations with over 260,000lbs. milk 4.2F 3.3P. To date,she has two EX and five VG daughters and five VG granddaughters. “Her progeny aren’t as high style as some, but they all hold their own in the production front,” added Ian.
Ian has tried to invest in some of the best maternal lines in North America. “We are focusing on the next generation of replacements,” he said regarding their breeding strategies. They genomic test every replacement female on the farm,which helps them make mating decisions in the future. Since 2018, they have only used A2A2 sires, so that their entire herd can earn A2A2 status. “Over 50% of the bulls we were using were already A2A2, and it hasn’t really been that hard to find sires that fit our goals with this system,” Ian noted.
And the mating decisions that Ian has been making over the last few years are certainly paying off. The herds current production stands at 12,467kg 4.3F 3.3P (BCAs 278-321-286). Over the last year, they have had 24 VG cows in their 1st lactation, 18 of which were home bred, and 12 1st time Excellent cows.
Despite the remote location of the farm,Ian and Nicole still travel to many of the major shows in North America every year.“Because of the distance and man power needed for showing, we really have to think about which shows have the most value for us,” Ian commented. “We always hope to sell one or two while at the show,and that helps offset the expenses.”
In 2019, Benbie Holsteins exhibited at BC Spring Show, taking home Junior Champion honors with Ruti Chief Empress (All-Western Spring Yearling, sold in Sale of Stars to Westcoast); Reserve Grand Champion with Zimmer Krusader Ava EX-95 owned with Zimmer & Robella (HM All-Western Mature Cow) and ten other animals that stood in the top 10.
Last fall, Benbie had one of their greatest show days to date at the Westerner Championship Show in Red Deer, AB. Not only did they take home the Premier Breeder and Premier Exhibitor banners,they exhibited the HM Intermediate Champion, Benbie High Octane CiaraVG-89-3Y, and five first or second place animals. After the show, Ian posted on Facebook, “We brought out 10 homebred animals that were sired by 8 different bulls. With the exception of one Doorman yearling, all of these matings were done with use of only a genomic proof on the sire. Trust the science behind genomics. Trust our Canadian proof system that creates genomic profiles. Use a variety of bulls to minimize risk.”
The culmination of the year came with the announcements of the All-Western competition in December. Benbie was the top exhibitor of the contest, leading the way with four All-West wins, four Reserve and two HM awards.
And they were certainly not going to let 2019 be the end of their high flying run. They were already making the 1600km trip to Chilliwack this year, when Covid-19 halted their plans and they had to turn back. They were also looking forward to the National Show in nearby Regina, SK in April,and that was canceled as well. Ian is hopeful that the National Show will be rescheduled so they have an opportunity to host friends and fellow showmen in their home province.
While showing is certainly a passion for Nicole and Ian, they recognize that it is more of a hobby for them, and the farm is the true business. Like many producers across North America, they recognize the growing market for on-farm fresh products.And this is how the idea for Saskatchewan Snow Beef was realized.
“We didn’t really need all of our replacement females,” commented Ian.“Day old Angus calves sell for $400 here, so we looked more closely at crossbreeding.”With he help of Ken Kurosawatsu and Kevin Hayden of Wagyu Sekai, ON, Ian started breeding his lower 1/3 of replacements to Wagyu semen. Since 2018, SK Snow Beef has grown slowly but steadily. “It takes three years from pregnancy to finish,”Ian notes. “We have 75 calves on the ground currently and another 40 pregnancies coming later this year.”
Ian has been impressed with this crossbreeding results so far. “There are very strong maternal lines in the Wagyu breed, and it’s also a very pure breed. Because of that,crossing with Holstein creates a strong hybrid vigor. Conception rate is excellent, calving ease is unparalleled and the calves are super healthy,” according to Ian. “Every dairyman should have Wagyu semen in their tank, even if it’s just for their own freezer!
Wagyu beef is thought to be some of the best in the world. ‘Canadian Prime’ grade for beef is the highest standard and nearly 80% of all Wagyu processed reaches that grade. At the moment, Ian is selling direct to high-end restaurants locally, but has plans to find a larger distributor to get his product into all four corners of the province. Snow Beef gross sales have increased every year, and Ian is hopeful that is the yearly trend. “Our goal is to be known for the best beef in Saskatchewan.”
For the Crosbie family, the sky is the limit for both their dairy and crossbred operation. Diversification has helped them expand into a growing market for a farm-fresh product and they are seeing the value in the extra management needed to be superior in that field. Breeding decisions for both the dairy and beef operation are thoughtful and forward-thinking and are putting Caron, SK, on the map.