A feature in our 2021 Fall issue written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
When you’re from a family that has bred Registered Holsteins since 1927, you might think one’s fate is sealed with one breed, but for Ed Crossland, dipping a toe into the water of another dairy breed led to a full deep dive! Now, Gladheart Farm, is home not only to Holsteins, but also the very highest-caliber Guernseys.
A number of years ago, Ed was becoming intrigued by the fawn and white cows, and what he perceived as their valuable role in the future US dairy industry. “I was involved in the milk cooperative business for a time, and could see a trend forming towards the use of higher component milk, and also the benefits and acceptance of A2A2 milk. A friend of mine who is a dietician had sampled some A2A2 ice cream at a nutrition conference – the first ice cream she was able to tolerate and enjoy in many years – and I knew there was something to this A2A2 thing. A very high percentage of Guernseys produce A2A2 milk, so I began to look more closely at the breed,” recalls Ed.
He had long admired Berneta Gable and her family’s Snider Homestead Guernsey herd in nearby Pennsylvania. About five years ago, he asked her which was the best Guernsey cow she had seen recently. She had just judged the Canadian National Show and told him about a cow at Maplehurst Farm in Ontario. With the help of Brent Clements, Ed was able to purchase Maplehurst Les Marzipan EX-94, the Grand Champion of the 2016 Canadian National Guernsey Show. Brent also located another cow, Golden I Sunrise Leora EX-90 from Neil Jensen in Wisconsin, and those two cows became the foundation of Ed’s entry into the Guernsey business. That business now consists of a small Guernsey herd at his farm in Midland, Maryland located in the western part of the state. The herd is primarily managed by Madison Fisher, as Ed is an elected probate judge and also serves as a mediator and arbitrator in civil cases in western Maryland.
The milk from the small 10-cow herd is processed by a local cheese plant, where it is made into the farm-branded Lancashire cheese. After some aging, it has a texture similar to cheddar and grills up very nicely, so they are marketing it to restaurants as a primary ingredient in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The Ten Cow Cafe is also taking shape, which will be a coffee / dairy shop and ice cream parlor in Midland that will feature Maryland-made items as well as their own processed products.
After buying Leora and Marzipan and starting an extensive flush program with them, Ed was somewhat frustrated with the small number of Guernsey bulls being collected, and that one stud was phasing out their Guernsey program altogether. Upon some deliberation, he decided to establish Masterpiece Genetics, a Guernsey sire ‘boutique’ of sorts. “After discussing this with some well regarded folks in the the breed – Berneta Gable, Brent Clements, Kevin Stoltzfus and Chris Lang – I became concerned that the breed was in trouble without a better selection of bulls. So in 2020, I decided to market semen from three bulls I bred or purchased, and Kevin Stoltzfus at Warwick Manor had a battery of several young bulls he allowed me to choose from. The name Masterpiece Genetics recognizes that breeding is as much an art as a science. Plus, my wife, PJ, is an art teacher and artist, and when she names your bulls “Leonardo” and “Michelangelo” what other name could I use,” laughs Ed.
From its inception, Ed determined that the participating bulls would be selected primarily by breeder recommendation and he will not make a mating on new bulls without the agreement of the breeder. “They know what works. The dams of our bulls come from deep cows families full of Excellent scored cows that milk, breed back and transmit. Mating sires have similar requirements. I am not opposed to having home-bred bulls in pedigrees because the Guernsey breed is so small that an outcross bull is important,” notes Ed. “The bull himself must be masculine with a strong front end, test positive for A2A2, walk on solid feet and legs, and be fertile. We want bulls that transmit moderate stature, wide strong front-ended cows with plenty of capacity to turn forage to milk from well attached udders. Feet and legs are very important and are improving quickly within the breed. Extreme dairyness without strength leads to problems with longevity, fertility and livability and we are careful to avoid bulls that would breed this extreme,” he elaborates.
“They know what works. The dams of our bulls come from deep cows families full of Excellent scored cows that milk, breed back and transmit. Mating sires have similar requirements. I am not opposed to having home-bred bulls in pedigrees because the Guernsey breed is so small that an outcross bull is important.” – Ed Grossland
He acknowledges the value of genomics in this modern era of mating dairy cattle, but he expresses caution about adapting a ‘one number suits all’ philosophy for the small stud. “Our use of genomics in the selection of bulls is limited, but not disregarded. Genomic testing for certain traits such as the A2 and polled genes, or undesirable recessives is a wonderful tool, but with such a small population of Guernseys, young sire genomic proofs the reliability is only around 50%. Currently, if you look at the most recent proofs, our bulls have some of the highest numbers in the breed in certain categories, including the top type and DPR young bulls in the breed, as well as excelling in certain production traits. However, until there are daughters on the ground to establish aa breeding pattern, I am cautious about using these numbers as the sole basis of selling semen on young bulls. Results, not predictions, are what Masterpiece wants to provide,” he emphasizes.
The current bull battery consists seven active young bulls being marketed. The top seller is Gladheart Michelangelo, a Legend son from the Marzipan (EX-94) cow. “Like his dam he is a powerful bull that has an exceptional set of feet and legs. His conception rate is outstanding and in he past month has seen a lot of orders as everyone is remarking about how much they like his calves,” comments Ed.
Another notable bull in the lineup is Springhill Jack Daniels-P, a polled son of the All American Springhill Mentor Jazzy EX-95, that is the breed’s top type sire on the August proofs and is being used particularly in flush programs for his outstanding type. Golden I Lockley-P is also polled and from Ed’s EX Leora cow, who was recently lost, but is still the No. 2 CPI cow in the breed. Leora is also the dam of Golden I London, who has been at the top of the proven bull list. In addition to being high in genomics, the cow family is full of Excellent cows that milk well, breed back consistently with an outcross pedigree. Adams Creek Freedom Brett is a son of the All-American, Adams Creek AP Bianca-ETV VG-89, and at +1.3T is getting a lot of use to make next year’s show calves.
Ed asserts their determination to do the best for the breeders and customers. “Above all else, we receive repeat buyers because our bulls are settling cows due to the high fertility semen that we try to price as reasonably as possible. The amount of our semen being used on Holsteins for cross-breeding and to enter the recovery program has been an unanticipated surprise.”
Ed explains more about the logistics of the bull operation. “Masterpiece is headquartered here in western Maryland where my assistant handles the bookkeeping, but the bulls are housed and collected at Hawkeye Breeders in Iowa. Until this spring, distribution was mainly by drop shipment from Hawkeye, but in August, Kaila Stoltzfus, of Warwick Manor Guernseys, joined us to help with our marketing and in sales. In addition, we have two other independent distributors, Brandon Grewe in Wisconsin and Andrew Levesque in New England, and this past summer we entered into a distribution agreement with Triple-Hil Sires to make our bulls available through their dealers.”
“The future of the Guernsey breed is getting much brighter. The current Board at AGA has done a remarkable job of stabilizing the finances, and programs are underway to highlight the benefits and difference of Guernsey milk which is what is driving the demand for the breed. A good example of this is in Quebec, which has imported hundreds of Guernseys over the past few years, and herds that are switching because of the demand for the Golden Guernsey milk.” – Ed Grossland
Optimism colors Crossland’s assessment of the coming years with his chosen breed. “The future of the Guernsey breed is getting much brighter. The current Board at AGA has done a remarkable job of stabilizing the finances, and programs are underway to highlight the benefits and difference of Guernsey milk which is what is driving the demand for the breed. A good example of this is in Quebec, which has imported hundreds of Guernseys over the past few years, and herds that are switching because of the demand for the Golden Guernsey milk,” he explains. “The trend for producers with smaller operations who process their own milk and market directly to consumers is quite good for the breed, and is keeping the demand for Guernseys is very strong. Additionally, I am seeing breeders utilizing a lot more ET and IVF work on their better cows than had been done, and several larger mixed herds are transitioning to exclusively Guernsey cows. If one watches the Guernsey shows you can see the quality coming particularly in the calf classes that are strong from top to bottom.”
His philosophy as a stud owner directly relates to his thoughts as a breeder. “The Guernsey community is small, for now, but comprised of dedicated and sincere farmers who want a better Guernsey cow. I want Masterpiece to recognize their accomplishments and value their breeding programs and hopefully, increase their profitability. Our sales are increasing each month and our export sales, particularly to Canada and Australia are strong. Several breeders of other breeds have reached out to us to consider adding bulls, but for now we are going to continue to concentrate on the Guernseys until we make a decision about future growth, which will necessitate bringing on a full-time manager for Masterpiece.”
“As to the future of Masterpiece, we have some exciting young bulls coming along and have virtually sold out of all sexed semen. Virtually every well-known cow in the breed will have a son coming to Masterpiece in the next year or so, which is very exciting and I am quite humbled by the outpouring of support from the breeders. We will probably collect less conventional but make more sexed semen as those sales, particularly with Michelangelo have been difficult to keep up with. We are assembling a diverse group of committed and knowledgeable breeders to serve in an advisory role in selecting bulls and matings. Given the number of great cows of the breed that have been flushed or bred to our bulls, we anticipate hosting an online sale this winter featuring choices and embryos from these cows and our bulls,” enthuses Ed.
There’ll always be a place for a few Holsteins at the farm, but a new passion with a new breed paints a fawn & white future at Gladheart Farm!