Unique Valleystream Genetics was a feature story in our Fall issue, written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
Given their geographical location in northern Alberta, far from the more frequently trafficked roads in the dairy business, you’d understand if the Morey family of Unique Valleystream Jerseys were a little ‘old school’ or entrenched in the ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’ mentality. Instead, this operation located 24 hours from Madison, Wisconsin and 34 hours from Toronto, Ontario is one of the most forward thinking establishments that you’ll ever run across in North America!
From its inception 27 years ago, initially as Unique Stock Farm, Unique Valleystream Genetics has been a site of constant change and improvement. David and Tracy Morey were a young couple with professional careers in 1992 when the opportunity arose to purchase David’s home farm. It’s not easy now, and it wasn’t easy then to buy into a dairy operation, but they managed it by both holding onto their outside jobs and being very creative with the bank.
They started with 46 grade Holstein milk cows and 480 acres. Within a few years, the Moreys grew the herd to 70 head and again to 120 cows, so that both David and Tracy could work on the farm full-time. Once the farm was their complete focus, they also began the journey of raising their children, daughter Casey and son Lee, on the farm as well.
The little brown cows worked their way onto the farm by 1999, when the herd was about a 50/50 mix of Holsteins and Jerseys. The breed won over the Moreys who appreciated their feed efficiency, herd life, reproduction, and overall economics of production. In 2000, the fortuitous purchase of a heifer named Lencrest Par for Belle launched them into the genetic business. The VG Paramount great granddaughter of the legendary Duncan Belle EX-95, put four sons into A.I. and was the #1 LPI Jersey cow in Canada for a record 4 ½ years.
The emphasis shifted to building an entirely Jersey herd, and an expansion to 250 cows in 2003 opened the door to adding superior genetics from other herds. The Moreys added six full complete registered Jersey herds and two partially dispersed herds from other provinces in Canada. That was the start of the genetic component at the locale as they added a tie-stall facility to the freestall operation.
In 2004, a big part of that Jersey future was consolidated when they purchased the well-known Valleystream herd bred and developed by John and June White from St. Thomas, Ontario. They bought and moved the entire herd to Alberta, and purchased the herd name at the same time. Once those cows were in place, Unique Valleystream Genetics was born, eventually becoming Canada’s largest purebred Jersey herd.
Over the years, the breeding program has shifted focus from a strictly type perspective to breeding a more balanced cow across the board. “Our philosophy is that a cow needs to work. A cow can be profitable in the show ring, on the embryo market or being a bull mother, but the only constant for income from a cow is in the milk tank. So in our breeding program, that is our first priority. Our goal is to make the cow that can stand on the top of the genomic and productive lists and also stand in the middle of the ring at the show,” explains Tracy.
A favorite in the herd that fits the ‘balanced’ bill is Redhot Matt Tesla. A Wilsonview IF Matt daughter from a deep Avonlea cow family that the Moreys have worked with extensively, Tesla was the #1 Conformation cow while also being the #3 GLPI and #4 Pro$ cow in Canada. Max scored at VG-89, she made over 29,000M 1731F and 1148P as a 3-year-old with a BCA of 458-492-475.
Another notable cow that has established herself as a cornerstone of the herd came with the Valleystream purchase. Valleystream Remake Honey EX-92 was nominated for Jersey Cow of the Year in Canada, had a successful show career in Western Canada show rings, received Gold and Platinum production awards, and placed several sons in A.I. At 17 years old, she is still being IVF’d on a regular basis at City Slickers LLC in Wisconsin. Her Irwin daughter, Unique HP Irwin Hocus EX-92 2E, won the 5-year-old class at the Westerner Dairy Showcase in 2018 and her Wildcat son, Unique HP Hellcat, is seeing solid use in the lineup at Select Sires.
With bulls in stud and cows at the top of the lists, it’s obvious that the use of genomics has been fully adopted at Unique Valleystream. Tracy emphasizes its importance in the breeding program, “Genomics has played a huge role in our mating decisions. We’ve introduced a protocol that every calf gets genomic tested and we hope that in another 5 years, that the whole herd will be tested. It will become a more reliable system to select embryo recipients in the herd and to identify our top 15% donor dam group. When looking at genomic numbers, some minimums we look at are: +100 CFP, +15 JUI or +9 Conformation, +180 JPI or +1950 GLPI. On matings, we use 80% genomic young sires and 20% proven bulls. The few proven bulls we still use are Steve, Matt, and Chrome.”
Things keep moving forward on the management side as well. In 2011, with Casey and Lee heading off to post-secondary school, the family decided to make the leap to robotic milking. Three Lely robots and a pack barn were added followed by a conversion of the tiestall barn in 2014. In 2017, a small expansion of 50 cows brought the herd size to 300 milking cows and a new maternity barn was built. The herd is on official test and continues to classify, with a current herd breakdown of 7 ME, 28 EX, 89 VG, 133 GP, 20 G.
The farm is undergoing a generational change as well. Casey finished a degree in Agribusiness from the University of Alberta, and Lee earned an Agribusiness diploma from Lakeland College. Both have travelled the world – Casey through 4-H, including a stint as a Board Member with 4-H Canada; and Lee as a cattle fitter at shows and sales. Both returned to the farm in 2015, where they were required to be employees for 24 months before making a commitment for ownership. They both chose an ownership role in November 2018, so the transition process has begun.
Everyone has found their roles on the farm. David now manages all nutrition, feeding, and cropping for the now 3200 acres which produces all the forage for the herd. Tracy is the general manager of the barn, handles HR duties, oversees calf raising, and is the comptroller as well as the AI technician in the freestall facility. Casey manages the robotic freestall facility and staff, and directs all SOP/Canadian Quality Milk/ProAction/Flush records. Lee manages the high genetic cattle and tiestall barn as well as the entire breeding program, directs the marketing, and oversees maintenance of the facilities. The family has anywhere from 3 to 7 employees depending on the time of year. “Most of our staff are foreign-born workers. The majority have the Philippines as their homeland, but recently, we have added some Mexican staff members. Many have become Permanent Residents of Canada, and we are quite proud of assisting so many people to improve their and their families’ quality of life by making Canada their new home,” declares Tracy.
With more help at home, David was able to be more involved with outside organizations including Jersey Canada, where he just finished his term as President earlier this year. The whole family played host for the Jersey AGM held in Westlock, AB in April 2019, where Lee was presented with Jersey Canada’s Youth of Distinction Award.
Ever on the lookout for new opportunities, Unique Valleystream Genetics has entered into a partnership with Dr. David Chalack and Prospect Land and Cattle Co. With Lee at the helm of the project, they have secured the largest Jersey embryo contract to ever cross the registry desk at Jersey Canada. It’s in keeping with Lee’s thoughts about the future. “The Jersey breed will continue to grow rapidly if we continue to provide a modern, economical cow for producers. The future of breeders will depend, as it always has, on how well we adjust to meet these growing markets, “ he observes.
As you enter the barn at Unique you are greeted with the farm slogan, ‘Unique…it’s more than a name…it’s an attitude!’ The sign could not be more fitting for the Morey family, whose attitude is propelling them forward into a promising future!