Grace, Treats, Gretchen and Kandid are all household names in the Brown Swiss breed. Each have garnered the Grand Champion banner at World Dairy Expo (WDE) for their owners, Ken Main and Peter Vail of Elite Dairy in Copake Falls, New York. Read more about Elite Dairy in this article that appeared in Cowsmopolitan in 2015.
We all know success doesn’t just happen overnight, so what does it take to have the last four out of five Grand Champions at Expo?
Ken and Peter started their partnership of Elite Dairy in 2002 but their friendship and business relationship began many years ago. Both grew up with dairy cows in the 50’s and 60’s; Ken outside of Syracuse, N.Y. and Peter outside of New York City.
Main, after being raised with Holsteins and Brown Swiss started his own Holstein farm, Berkshire Valley, in 1977. He was the first dairymen to put grooves in the concrete in freestall barns. Today, they milk about 1,200 Holsteins. Berkshire Valley is the supplier of recipient heifers for Elite Dairy for their extensive flush and IVF programs. Ken’s son, Lyn “Junior”, plays an important role at both farms. He and his wife, Heidi (Beneke) and his 7-year-old daughter Ella, live close to the farm and have the opportunity to oversee the farms including crop production and all other dairy operations. Ken has two daughters, Donna and Michelle. Donna’s sons, Mikey and Kyle, play an active role in the Elite Dairy showstring that attend several shows throughout the year.
Vail was raised on a commercial dairy and in 1979 began his fertilizer business, CaroVail. CaroVail operates out of Salem, N.Y. but has eight satellite locations across the Eastern seaboard. Peter and his wife Lyn, have two children, Peter Jr. and Lauren. Peter Jr. also owns and operates CaroVail while Lauren is a Certified Public Accountant in Boston. Each have two children.
One of Vail’s long standing partners is Budjon Farms of Wisconsin. Peter and Tom & Kelli Cull’s first purchase was one of Peter’s most successful, Llolyn Jude Griffen-ET. Griffen, a purchase at The Field of Dreams sale in 2005, has been champion of WDE and The All-American Jersey Show. Together with Budjon, Vail has had several other champions at many shows including Cameron, Lotto, Hezbollah and Desire.
When asked “how many partners do you have?” Vail started by saying seven to ten. By the time he finished off his list, that number grew to more than 15. In looking for a partner to house or buy cattle with, Vail looks for good cow people and caretakers as well as a partner that can get cows ready 365 days a year, not just show week.
The scenic drive to Elite Dairy ends at the 450-acre home farm about 110 miles from New York City. Other land is rented for silage and hay production with all crops produced by the Berkshire Valley employees. The cow barn has three areas for cow comfort; free-stalls, seven individual box stalls and a bedded pack. The milking herd of 70 is fed a TMR while the potential show cows are fed a hay and grain diet with minimal silage. Calves and open heifers are housed in a pack barn with various pen sizes and fed hay and grain while the young calves are fed whole milk three times a day. Young stock including bred heifers have ample access to pasture and free choice hay.
Elite Dairy, “Home of Cutting Edge Genetics,” has three full-time employees responsible for the daily responsibilities of the dairy. The herd is milked twice-a-day with a 21,000 pound average. Main is responsible for all the breeding decisions with some consultation from friends in the business. They mainly base their mating choices on type bulls with milk. Ken uses several different bull studs as well as independent breeders. More recently, they have been using bulls from their own cows that they have had collected. “Ken knows how to do this,” Peter says, in regards to his breeding decisions.
They are breeding for a well-balanced dairy cow that will do well in the show ring and in the parlor. Main and Vail are also breeding for the type of cows that people will buy and do well with. They consign more than 25 animals to sales each year. Selling heifers to 4-H members in the tri-state area has encouraged young people in the area to become involved in the Brown Swiss breed.
Since the partnership began in 2002, with the purchase of Top Acres MJ Peggy Too, Main and Vail have had great success. Both partners agree that their biggest accomplishment was breeding the Grand Champion at WDE in 2013, Cutting Edge B Gretchen ‘2E92’. She has been a three-time All-American and joins the ranks of Old Mill JP Grace ‘2E95’ (2010), Dublin-Hills Treats ‘2E94’ (2011) and Eloc Wagor Kandid ‘2E94’ (2014) as the other grand champions that call Elite Dairy home.
Many other cows have graced the colored shavings under Main and Vail’s ownership. Since the beginning, the showstring has been under the watchful eye of Tim “Cooner” Coon and his crew. After Peggy Too was purchased, Ken and Peter added Arthurst Garbro Dixie ‘3E94’, Heiz Acres Rhythm Marlo ‘3E94’, Nor Bella Jetway River ‘3E94’ and Hill-N-Dale Co Swallow ‘3E92’ to the herd in 2004. These cows served as the foundation of the herd.
Dixie was a favorite of Vail’s, one of the very few cows that have gotten him into white pants on the shavings. Forest Lawn Anthem Busy ‘3E94’ stole a huge part of Main’s heart when she came in a group of five 2-year-olds from Forest Lawn Farm in Wisconsin. She still has an important role in Elite’s extensive IVF program, at 12 years of age.
When asked what cows were considered the best investment, both partners mentioned Swallow. She has 11 daughters and all are above Excellent (90) points. Cutting Edge Stratus Sue, a granddaughter from a 92-point Power Surge was the All-American Senior 2-Year-Old last year. Cutting Edge JP Swift, a Jet Pilot daughter, was Reserve All-American Senior 2-Year-Old in 2012. Another Swallow descendant was Nominated All-American last year. Swallow is proving to be a superior brood cow in the Elite Dairy herd.
Supreme Champion at the New York State Fair had not been won by a Brown Swiss until Main and Vail showed Timberline Denmark Angela ‘3E94’. Since 2005, Elite Dairy has had Supreme Champion seven times! For six years in a row, they have garnered the Grand Champion banner.
Dublin-Hills Treats was purchased at the 2009 National Convention Sale in New York. She already has two All-American daughters; Taffy EX-91 and All-American 5-Year-Old in 2013 and Tracy. Tracy was sold in the 2014 National Convention Sale to Michael Overstreet and went on to be named Junior Champion at WDE and was the All-American Fall Calf. Treats is also part of the IVF program.
Kandid, the reigning Grand Champion, is the newest Brown Swiss in the United States to be classified the maximum of 94-points, making her the ninth cow to earn that score for Main and Vail.
Although Elite mainly purchases good type cows with deep pedigrees, they also have the ones that put milk in the bulk tank. SDF ZZ Snafu ET OCS ‘E93’ has a record over 43,000 pounds of milk, 1,900 pounds of fat and 1,700 pounds of protein.
In 2014, Main and Vail had 15 All-American nominations and in 2013 had 17! Main and Vail are also breeding and selling the ones that compete in the show ring. They bred five heifers and owned by others that were nominated in 2014 with two being named All-American (Cutting Edge W Flip N Fly and Tracy) and one Reserve All-American (Cutting Edge Thunder Faye).
“Youth are the future” is said throughout conventions and meetings in the dairy industry and that fits Mikey, 19 and Kyle, 17 perfectly. Each have achieved milestones at such a young age that most dairy enthusiasts strive for their entire lives; bred and owned All-Americans and exhibited champions at various levels.
Mikey and Kyle were very young when Elite Dairy started and both recall spending every day at Berkshire Valley before the new barn was erected. They can never remember a time when cows weren’t in their lives.
Mikey will be a sophomore at Penn State University majoring in Animal Science. He has spent a majority of his last two summer and falls clipping and working with the show string as well as doing many freelance clipping jobs for breeders across the country.
One of his major highlights came two years ago in 2013 when his farm favorite, Fairdale Elite T Debra ‘E91’, was named Grand Champion of the Junior Show at World Dairy Expo. He credits his success to Poppy (Ken) and Cooner. “They are the smartest men and have taught me everything I know,” said Mikey.
Kyle, a senior in high school, is active outside the dairy industry by being part of the football, basketball and baseball teams. A running back on the field, Kyle was the breeder of the Junior Show Grand Champion at World Dairy Expo last year; Cutting Edge P Sherry ‘E91’. Sherry was Junior Champion at WDE and was Nominated All-American as a heifer and her dam is the Reserve All-American Component Merit Cow in 2014, Kruses Four M Jason Sherry ‘2E92’. Mikey is now the owner of Sherry and she was his second Grand Champion.
Kyle’s favorite to work with has been Towpath Agenda Dancer ‘2E92’. She was a Reserve and Honorable Mention All-American as a heifer and was most recently the Grand Champion of the Junior Show at the 2014 New York Spring Show. Dancer is proving to be a great transmitter as she had two Nominated All-American daughters in 2014.
The brothers have competed in numerous showmanship and fitting contests and each have done exceptionally well. As time goes on, Mikey wants to keep the Brown Swiss but also ‘dabble’ in Holsteins. He currently owns three. They want to continue to be successful and improve the breed, one mating at a time.
As you sit in the office of their barn, you are surrounded by Grand, Reserve, Junior and Supreme Champion banners. Lining the hallways are multiple Premier Breeder and Exhibitor banners, All-American and All-Canadian Awards and trophies and many pictures of Ken and Peter in the winner’s circle.
“Ken Main and Peter Vail are a tremendous asset to the Brown Swiss breed. The partners have accomplished much in a relatively short time. In just 12 years, they have selected, promoted and bred an “Elite” herd while merchandising several from the top end. The number of high level cattle they have made available both privately and through public sales surely identifies their “Cutting Edge” prefix as a major contributor of quality in the industry. It is a pleasure to work with Ken and Peter; truly a partnership of motivated and accomplished gentlemen,” says Wayne Sliker.
Ken Main and Peter Vail have put many hours of thought into buying good purchases and making those perfect mating decisions that will accomplish their main goal: enjoy it while you can! The smiles on each of their faces when they talk about their cows, their experiences (including that of taking a private plane from The Royal to Louisville) and their families, shows that they are enjoying the ride and are looking forward to the future of Cutting Edge Genetics.
Peter and His Partners
Vail has had great success in the showring with other breeds besides Brown Swiss. One of his first partnerships was formed with Henry Beneke of Oblong Valley Jerseys, just miles from the present day farm.
More recently, Vail has ventured into owning elite Milking Shorthorns and Guernseys. Last year at the All-American Dairy Show in Pennsylvania, Peter owned the Supreme Champion Heifer; a Milking Shorthorn named Hard Core Premium Firemaid. She tied for the All-American Fall Calf title after winning Junior Champion at the North American International Livestock Exposition. Firemaid is owned with Frank & Diane Borba and Hillpoint Partners.
He also had several Guernsey All-American nominations in 2014 with partners Morey Miller, Dan Basse and Friendship Farm.
By: Katie Henson