The trends in breeding cattle continue to change as does the dairy industry. The industry has made significant advances over the past several decades by way of embryo transfer, focusing on pedigrees, sire stacks, components and health traits and now the use of genomics. Even though the ability to market animals that are a product of the “older philosophy” of breeding for type and using proven bulls instead of the next genomic hot shot, the Troup family of Vale-O-Skene Holsteins are living proof that there is still a place in the industry for high-type cows with generations of solid breeding.
The Vale-O-Skene story originates in Scotland, in the district of Skene, where Bill Troup’s family began milking British Friesian cows in the 1950’s. The family farm consisted of 100 milking cows in a free-stall, 850 acres of cash crops and a herd of Suffolk sheep. Operated in partnership with his brother and father, Bill had other plans for his family’s future in dairy farming. “When BSE hit the UK in the 1990’s things were tough and we wanted to give Gary and the girls a better chance at dairy farming if they wanted to,” says Bill. Impressed by the quality of Canadian cattle after several visits to the Royal Winter Fair, Bill and his wife Wendy decided to immigrate to Canada while his family continued the family farm with sheep, beef and cash crops in Scotland. In 2004 Bill and Wendy along with their children Laura, Gemma and Gary, moved to Little Britain, Ontario.
A Family Affair
All of the Troup family is involved at Vale-O-Skene in some capacity. Bill takes care of all of the fieldwork and shares in the mating decisions with Gary. His wife, Wendy, takes care of the calves from birth to 9 months and has “incredible attention to detail”, according to Bill. She makes sure all the hutches and super hutches are cleaned two times per day. Gary is home full time now after spending a few years on the road as a cattle fitter and manages the cow side of the business, focusing on breeding and the show cows. His girlfriend Brianna Dracup also helps out in the barn and the couple welcomed their first child, Logan, earlier this year. Working as a full-time general account for DLF Pickseed, Gemma handles all the accounting for the farm and helps out with milking when needed. She and her husband Donald and daughter Paige live close by. Laura is married to Ryan Parish and together with their children, Conner and Claire, own and operate Ryla Holsteins, near to the home farm.
The family milks 40 cows in a tie-stall facility that was converted from a horse barn. As far as barn upgrades go, Bill says, “I’ve taken it this far, now it’s up to the next generation to continue.” A careful watch on the future of quota will dictate the pace at which any facility upgrades happen. “The quota system is partially what drew me to Canada initially. I’ve seen quota disappear so I’m probably more nervous about it than most. Quota should be simple but it never is,” says Bill.
Currently the herd consists of 7 ME, 10 EX, 29 VG and 5 GP, with an average of 88 points across the barn and a herd average of 11,000kgs. Recently, the Vale-O-Skene herd ranked #1 in the 30-39 registrations per year category as one of the top classifying herds in Canada, averaging 85.31 points. Laura and Ryan’s Ryla herd also scored #1, in the 7-14 registrations category!
Focused on Type
The main goal of the breeding program at Vale-O-Skene is to breed everything for type and manipulate everything else afterwards. “If you’re going to milk cows and spend as much time in the barn as you do, they better look nice,” says Bill. Also looking for potential show ring candidates, anything that doesn’t look the part or milk well gets sold. To achieve these goals the Troups select high type bulls and use limited index bulls. “We like to know what we’re going to get and we’d rather stand back and look than jump head first into using a new bull,” says Bill. Service sires like Addiction P, Atwood, Unix, Control and Diamondback are currently being used in the breeding program but the Troups are not afraid to go back and use an older bull that has worked well. Criteria for selection includes a strong maternal line, good sire stacks and exceptional cow families.
A firm believer in the value of registration and classification, Bill says, “we aim to breed high scoring 2 year old’s in hopes they will become excellent cows. We like to know what the cows are doing and see that on paper. We’ve built up some great pedigrees now and will continue to register to keep those pedigrees going.”
Incredible emphasis is placed on cow comfort and cow care. “The boys are OBSESSED with black and white cows,” says Wendy, “they spoil our cows rotten!” The Troups are very hands on in their approach, with very few cows calving unassisted. They don’t use a lot of fancy technology, mostly just sexed semen, which is used for the first two services.
Getting involved in shows proved to be a great way for the Troup family to get involved in the community and build connections and friendships with other great breeders around the province and across the country. “Showing is the only hobby we’ve got,” says Bill. The excitement of showing moved to a new level when Gary won the TD 4-H Classic in 2009 with Vintage Dolman Milly, a Spring Yearling heifer that had been purchased in partnership. “No one really knew us before then, but we got to know everyone after that,” says Bill!
The Troups participate in an extensive list of shows including the Ontario Spring Show, Maxville, Autumn Opportunity, World Dairy Expo, the Royal, county shows in Peterborough, Port Perry and Victoria, and sometimes the Quebec Spring Show and Supreme Dairy Show. “This industry is so much fun, everyone is always so happy for you and the support is always incredible,” says Bill. Shows have also led to good friendships with the likes of Dakota Doyle, who looks after the show heifers and helps at shows, and Jenn Charlton who is a key member of the show team.
Shows have also proven to be a great way for the Troups to market their genetics. “The minute you switch off your advertising, you get forgotten,” says Bill. Gary takes care of the social media aspect which has allowed them to highlight what their cows are doing. “People know us because of what our cows have done either for us or other herds and that is the best advertising,” says Gary. Not reluctant to sell the good ones, Bill adds, “you should always be ready to sell because your prefix will always be on her.” Although they don’t buy many themselves, purchases are usually show cows and have to be better than what they have at home. “We want to take it up a notch, so she has to be good and the pedigree has to be there,” says Bill. Locally, the Troups have been lucky to have a great market for breeding bulls in their area, as well as their top-quality genetics which are sought out by many sale managers.
Impact of Cow Families
When the Troups moved from Scotland they had the opportunity to buy into a lot of good cow families, including 4-5 different families from the Robrook herd, who have all had EX daughters. Now they are able to pick and choose what they buy and prefer to spend time breeding and flushing their own cows, furthering their genetics with 4-5 conventional flushes per year.
The purchase of Tiny-Acres Dundee Kathleen EX-92 2E, as a Summer Yearling, has made the biggest impact on the herd and really helped to further the Vale-O-Skene name internationally. Her daughters include Vale-O-Skene Lauthority Kitty EX-91, owned by Ack-Lee Holsteins in Ohio, who was 1st Senior 3 Year Old, Intermediate & Grand Champion at the Ohio Spring Show this year. Her full sister, Lauthority Koke, is still at Vale-O-Skene and scored VG-88 on her second calf. This year, Vale-O-Skene Gold Karmilla EX-93, owned by Oakfield Corners in New York, was 1st Senior 3 Year Old, Intermediate and Grand Champion at the Western NY State Regional Show, 1st and Honorable Mention Intermediate Champion at the Big E and was recently 11th at World Dairy Expo.
In the last two years homebred cow, Vale-O-Skene Pure Gold Abigail EX-94 has also made a large impact on the herd. Backed by a VG-87 Igniter and an EX 1* Rudolph, Abigail was the 2nd Mature Cow at the Royal in 2016 and is recently fresh again. “I’ve always dreamed of breeding a Royal class winner and we got so close with Abigail,” says Bill. Abigail already has one VG-86 2yr to her credit and a fancy granddaughter by Atwood.
Other show string fixtures include Vale-O-Skene Lauthority Scotty EX-92 who was 1st 5 Year Old & Honorable Mention Grand Champion at the 2018 Ontario Spring Show, Mount Elm Royce Jalapeno EX-94 3E who has an impressive list of show winnings and was HM All-Ontario 5 Year Old in 2016. Owned with Dakota Doyle their Jersey addition, Jasper Valentine Evergeen was 1st Senior 2 and Reserve Intermediate Champion at the Ontario Spring Show this year.
Looking to the Future
Bill and Wendy are happy to have the opportunity to watch their kids and grandkids get involved at the farm and are optimistic that there will be continued success for the Vale-O-Skene herd. Starting from almost nothing, they are humbled and proud by what has been accomplished so far with 40+ nominations (All-Ontario, All-Canadian & All-American) in the past 14 years! Striving for that Royal class winner as well as continuing to improve the herd Bill says the ultimate goal is to become a Master Breeder recipient, “then you can sit back and say, ‘yes that worked!’”
Goals well within reach, the Troups will continue build on their solid foundation of cow families, adhere to their high-type breeding philosophy and keep producing the quality cattle that has become synonymous with the Vale-O-Skene name.
- Located in Lindsay, ON, 2 hours northeast of Toronto
- Milking 40 cows in a tie-stall
- Current sires used: Addiction P, Atwood, Unix, Control & Diamondback
- Own 196 acres (32 acres for corn) and rent 100-150 acres of hay land – 70/30 alfalfa grass mix
- Feeding protocol:
Cows – 50/50 wet & dry hay, corn silage & 18% custom pellet
Dry Cows – oat balage & 1st Cut hay
Heifers – dry hay, corn silage (for bred heifers), wrapped hay
Calves – milk replacer till 3 months, 21% calf starter, free choice hay at 8 weeks, 19% custom pellet grain after 3 months
Written by Amanda Poelman, BC