Each year since 1929, Holstein Canada has recognized breeders for their cumulative breeding efforts. The Master Breeder award recognizes the best ratio for breeding cows that possess the complete package— high production and outstanding conformation, with high proficiency in reproduction, health and longevity. Undoubtably the most coveted award for any breeder, one of this year’s recipients, Duane Zimmer of Zimmer Holsteins, was the youngest member to ever receive a Holstein Canada Master Breeder shield.
The Zimmer family has milked cows since 1952 just outside Daysland, Alberta, but the road to the shield started in 1997 with the purchase of 19 purebred heifers. This purchase prompted his parent’s, Bob and Pat, to suggest he should perhaps join the Holstein Association. During this time artificial insemination (AI) was also introduced. In 1999 at 19 years of age, with a vested interest Duane purchased quota. His keen interest in pedigrees and having better cows kept him continuing to buy genetics through both local sales and top sales. Around the same time his brother Brad started a custom farming business and for a few years the boys rented another 3000 acres together, farming a total of 5000 acres and making a decent profit. In 2005 Brad also purchased quota making him a part owner in the dairy operation.
In the early 2000’s Duane began focusing on top indexing animals with deep pedigrees. “I guess I realized it was tougher to get recognized as a breeder in the west and I figured because I didn’t know anything about show cows, if I bought animals with good numbers and strong families that people would find me. I have to admit I took a fair bit of flack initially from some of my show friends and was labelled ‘GEOM’,” said Duane. In 2001 Duane purchased a member of the Spottie family, Sunnylodge Jennifer VG-85 17*, and then a member of the Maude family, Glenridge Jed Madonna VG-87 5*, joined the herd in 2002. A trip to the 2008 Royal and the Sale of Stars provided Duane and Brad the opportunity to purchase Smithden Bolton Alexandria as a 10 month old calf. “I remember it vividly. Tom Hofstra and I looked at Alexandria and my second choice, a daughter from Gen-I-Beq Shottle Bombi (Baxter Bethany), several times trying to decide what would be the best choice,” said Duane. Settling in on the purchase from Smithden’s most prominent family, Smithden Allen Alison VG-88 32*, would be a game changer for Zimmer Holsteins and Duane’s breeding goals were headed in the right direction for Master Breeder.
In 2009 Duane purchased himself a Bombi family member, Maplewood Bolton Barbie. Now VG-85 3*, Barbie joins Alexandria VG-88 19*, Jennifer VG-85 17*, Jed Madonna VG-87 5* and more recent purchases; MS Planet Cheri VG-86 4* (owned with Wendon Holsteins), Pine Shelter Claire Wood VG-87 3* (owned with Wendon & T&L Cattle) and T-Gen AC Mogul Lyanna ET VG-87 are the cows contributing to the herds success.
Some of the top matings made from this illustrious group of cows include 3 of Alexandria’s 6 EX daughters, Zimmer Iota Ariel EX-93 2E, Zimmer Windbrook Allegra EX-90 and 1st Mature Cow Westerner Championship and nominated All-Canadian, Zimmer Krusader Ava EX-94 (owned with Benbie and Robella). Alexandria also has 10 VG daughters from a variety of bulls including; Numero Uno, Snowman, Lexor, Mural, Iota, Windbrook and Krusader just to name a few. “The best thing about choosing strong cow families is you can breed them to almost any bull and you look smart,” said Duane.
Other females being worked with include; Zimmer Commander Cobra VG-87 (Commander x VG-87 Uno x Cheri) and Zimmer Kingboy Julisse VG-85 GLPI+2935 Conf+11 (Kingboy x VG-87 Mogul from the Benner “J” family). High ranking heifers being focused on currently include; Zimmer Jedi Lolla 2473 GTPI+2646 GLPI+3372 (Jedi x Lyanna), Stunning Beemer Bliss the #1 Beemer in the USA for both LPI and type at GTPI +2277 / NM $ 415 / PTAT +3.31 from the Barbie family. Two Gymnast daughters of Murrayholm Balisto Penny VG-85 are at +3156 (Pele) and +3163 GPA LPI (Pandora). Penny is also the dam of the #1 RZG Bull, Mr Puma GRZG+166 and Pele is ranked #2 RGZ born in 2017 at +167.
In order to make quicker genetic gains, Duane has used an aggressive flush program of 20-30 flushes per year, with 90% of the embryos implanted into their own recipients or a nearby cooperator herd owned by Jake Vermeer. The Zimmers have been able to expand their genetic base while also supplying Jake with genetics for his program. “We have been lucky to be able to use cooperator herds like Peter and Rebekah Mathers initially and Vermeer farms more recently. These partnerships have allowed us to forgo calving out recipients and have provided us with the genetics required to continue the growth of our program,” said Duane.
Continuing to build on his current families, Duane continues to acquire genetics, good phenotype families with deep pedigrees, while looking to invest in something different from his program like the RGZ trait. “I’m always looking for something different when it comes to buying genetics. The involvement of AI companies makes it tough to compete in the top GLPI or GTPI game, so the fact that I have NEVER aimed to compete on these lists has allowed me to improve my own herd genetic rating while maintaining the type I want. On the other side of the coin, sometimes the matings I make may not necessarily be animals that I want to milk but I can see the marketing potential,” said Duane.
An example of unknown marketing potential was the bull Maverick Crush. Crush was the result of a Doorman mating on a bred heifer Duane and Tom Degroot purchased, EDG Claire Cling-ET VG-85 (Uno x Claire Wood). After a number of calls to Semex with no interest in securing a lease on the bull and a high chance the bull would be close to the top for type, Duane was able to secure a syndicate deal for Crush through Brian Craswell and Simon Lalande. Shortly thereafter Crush secured top spot at 4.26 PTAT and was sold to ABS Global where he still has a PTAT of 3.72.
Choosing his matings carefully for each cow Duane uses 1/3 Type Genomic Young Sires (GYS), 1/3 Index GYS and 1/3 proven bulls. His goal is nice type balanced functional cows that make profitable milk. Focusing on moderate size, correctly sloped rumps, proper teat length, wide chests, loin strength, good feet and legs and mammary systems that will stand the test of time. “I make it a rule now. I never go more then 2 generations without breeding milk back in. It is nice to have show winning type but that is certainly not everything to us,” says Duane.
Show winning type may not be Duane’s goal but he still loves attending shows and helping his friends and partners when possible. As a result has purchased some show animals in partnership. Some of their recent success includes homebred All-Canadian nominee from 2017, Zimmer Krusader Ava, Preview Dempsey Royalty EX-95, the 1st 5yr Old & Reserve Grand from Westerner Championship in 2017 owned with Robella, Suntasia and Preview, and Damarz Goldwyn Lacey VG-89, the Reserve Grand Champion from Westerner in 2013 owned with Wendon.
In April Duane, along with Kenton Lindenbach (Robella), purchased a promising young Jersey cow, Coytee Strait Tequila Nite VG-89, from Tom Hofstra and Ella Wright. Nite is a Tequila from a VG On Time with multiple generations VG and EX. She is a 3X winner in the West including, her win at Calgary Dairy Classic as a Senior 3yr Old this spring.
Even though Duane’s wife, Vicky, is a full-time school teacher she loves the social aspect of the attending shows. “I do not know the first thing about genetics or picking out good cows. Meeting the people in this industry and seeing Duane achieve his goals coupled with working along side our family is what makes this whole process so rewarding and fun!” said Vicky.
In 2016 with the addition of the new Robot barn, Duane and Vicky, along with their two boys Josh (12) and Noah (9), in partnership with Brad and wife, Shauna and their sons Damon (17) and Carson (14) purchased the farm which includes 2000 acres. Headed towards retirement, Bob and Pat have slowed down from milking, dispersed their small beef herd and 500 feeder operation. They still farm 600 acres of their own land and help out the boys when needed. Both their daughters Janise and Debbie live and work off the farm.
While Duane focuses on the cow management, feeding and breeding decisions, Brad is responsible for the farming and equipment side of the business which includes putting all the seed in the ground. Bob still does the majority of the feeding each day. The transfer from a 24-cow station barn that was used like a flat top barn for milking with 5 units, to the new barn in 2016 has been a welcome change. The new barn includes two Lely robots, Juno feed pusher, a pack area for cows, special needs pens and a calf barn which has made the cows more comfortable and the chores much easier and more efficient. The barn has provided an increase in production from 34 kilograms (kgs)/day to 44 kgs and the addition of a second robot in 2017 has allowed for an average of 3.2 milkings per day.
Shauna is responsible for the calves, which are housed in individual pens and receive milk replacer and a 23% pellet and then free choice water after 14 days. Calves are weaned at 75 days and given a Built in Roughage (BIR) pellet once per day as well as free choice cow TMR in a group housing environment until 5 months. At 5 months they are moved to the heifer barn where they receive dry hay, grain and BIR. After 10 months they transition to a TMR silage fed once a day along with rolled grain, mineral and free choice hay. During the summer bred heifers are out on pasture. In the evenings or on weekends everyone can be seen helping out in the barn, pushing straw around during bedding time in the Robot barn, and when harvest season is in full swing all hands are on deck.
“I think we are all loving the new barn. It took a bit of time, but I wouldn’t have changed the process. I am excited to see what the future will bring when we start calving in our first group of 2 Year Olds from this facility,” said Duane.
Duane admits it was very humbling to be presented with the shield so early in his career. “I was lucky that I had a big bank of people to draw on for advice. The best thing you can do as a young breeder is do your research. I spent hours looking up pedigrees on animals and I was never scared to ask people questions about bulls or ask for opinions on animals or management. I do believe in using the very best bulls from good cow families, but if you don’t spend time managing your cows your efforts can be fruitless. I actually spend more time in the barn now and know my cows even better. I owe a lot to the many people who have helped me along the way like Don & Logan Chalack, Tom Hofstra, Dale Bienert, Orville Schmidt, Len Vis, Don Donnan, Jim Smith, Mike West, Don Wright, Kenton Lindenbach, Ian Crosbie, Tom DeGroot, Andrew Wildeboer and Willem Vanderlinde just to name a few,” said Duane.
Being in the top 20 LPI herds in Canada is Duane’s next goal. He is also looking ahead to the future of incorporating the next generation into the farm. On winning the MasterBreeder shield he says, “At the end of the day just like anyone else I want the farm to be profitable. But honestly, having great friends in the industry to share this award with, has made winning this shield really special.”
- 2000 acres of land seeded to Barley, Wheat, Canola with 1/3 end product sold each year
- milking 83 cows in Lely Robot barn (2 robots)
- Classification breakdown: 6 ME, 6 EX, 55 VG & 20 GP
- Sires currently using: Callen, Douglas, Pharoh, Unix, Impression, Midnight, Chief, Tattoo
- using Time 4 Cows (T4C) as well as Dairy comp 305 for tracking information
- genomic test all animals
- sell 25-30 natural service bulls per year
- Cows are fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) comprised of barley, protein supplement, 3rd cut alfalfa hay and a 3rd cut bayleage.