A feature story in our 2020 Fall issue written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
‘Bad deals never stop losing and good deals keep on paying’ – it’s a pithy statement, but often rings true in the dairy cattle business. Good cows can make good deals, and great cows make money for everyone involved.
One case in point is the recent example of Walnutlawn McCutchen Summer EX-94-2E-CAN (EX-96-MS). Bred in Tavistock, Ontario by the late Bernie Zehr and his son, Adam, in their Master Breeder herd, Summer has a laundry list of accomplishments to her credit. Perhaps the most remarkable occurred at the Ontario Summer Invitational Show in August where she won the Mature Cow class on the same day her son, Walnutlawn Sidekick, was named Premier Sire of the Heifer Show. It’s a pretty rare achievement for a bull mother to win a class at the same show that her son has two class winners and brings home a Premier Sire banner. And, Summer’s brother, Walnutlawn Solomon, sired another two class winners at the show.
We had the chance to visit with the principal people involved in Summer’s career and gathered some of their thoughts on working with this impressive cow.
“I can’t say enough about the family – we know it as the Sue family (Summer’s dam). We bought Lavanguard Sue privately as a 2-year-old right at the beginning of the genomic era. At the time, I was pretty down on genomics, but this family made me a believer,” says Adam Zehr. “Summer was Sue’s first daughter born here at Walnutlawn, and we thought she was special. When we got the genomics back, and we knew she was really special!”
Born in February of 2013, Summer topped the Heifer Confirmation list later that year. “She was really a fancy calf. We had a lot of visitors at Royal time that year that wanted to see the #1 type heifer,” Adam recalls. “We flushed her as soon as we could, sold some eggs and put in a few embryos. Then, like a lot of the McCutchens, she went through an ugly duckling stage as a yearling, and I wondered if we had made a mistake!”
Summer calved in at the age of 1-10 in December 2014, and the Zehrs were ecstatic with how she looked. “We thought she had a big future, and I guess that’s what happened,” Adam laughs. Fresh with her second calf in May 2016, Summer really blossomed. The Zehrs took her to their Oxford County show in September, and that’s where David Dyment enters the picture.
“I’m always looking that cow that can cross category lines – the show cow with the modern sire stack or the bull mother that can show – and I always want a full, full pedigree with a powerful maternal line,” notes David. “I knew about the cow, but I hadn’t been to see her once she calved a second time though a couple people mentioned her to me. Joe Russwurm, in particular, said ‘This is the kind you like to buy.’ I always try to get to the Oxford County show, and that day I walked in the barn and the first cow I saw was Summer. I didn’t know it was her, but walked right over to check her sign to see who this cow was. I told Adam that I didn’t care how she did at the show that day – I wanted to buy her.”
David, along with Michael Heath and Sebastien Dion, had been looking for a new cow to invest in, with the goal of making marketable females and putting a couple of bulls into stud. “She gave me that feeling in my gut that she was something special,” remembers David. “It was also special that she traced back to the Glen Drummond Shower/Flower line. My family bred that cow family for generations and it gives you added confidence when you know a cow family so well.”
Adam Zehr also remembers that Oxford show, where Summer was 3rd in the senior 3-year-old class. “Dave wrote a big check for her – the biggest we had ever cashed for a cow. I said as much to him, and he said ‘I think she’s worth it and more.’ We still have six Summer daughters here on the farm and the oldest is pregnant with her 5th calf, and we’re milking granddaughters and great-granddaughters. It was hard to let her go, but we did have a lot of her genetics on hand and had sold some of her sons to AI, so the timing was right.”
The Dyment, Heath & Dion partnership established the Avant-Garde prefix for their genetic group, and got right to work building on Summer’s pedigree. They sent her to be housed in the US for the balance of the 2016 show season, and she made her mark winning the Senior 3-Year-Old class at the Northeast Fall National Show and capturing the Reserve Intermediate Champion title. She stood 7th at the International Holstein Show in Madison and 6th at the Royal Winter Fair on her way to gathering both All-American and All-Canadian nominations that year.
After the show season, the partnership flushed her regularly to make both males and females to market. “She was never a prolific flush cow in individual sessions. She would only make about 3 or 4 eggs a flush, but those eggs would almost always become pregnancies, so she was very consistent in that regard,” comments David Dyment. The Avant Garde group sold a number of heifers in live sales, and also sold some sons to AI, including Avant-Garde Unix Select (by Unix), Avant-Garde Subban (by Crush), and Avant-Garde KD Summerfest (by King Doc).
It was always the business plan of the partnership to disperse all of the stock within a certain time frame, and that time came in early August in the Avant Garde Online Summer Sale. Summer and her remaining offspring held by the group were all offered up for sale. That caught the eye of Richard Denier of Denier Genetics in California. Over the past few years, he has been purchasing some of the breed’s notable brood cows, and Summer looked like she could find a spot in his stable. “A good friend of mine who is quite a Holstein enthusiast, Tony Cabral, saw the sale advertised. He said ‘I know you bought Imelda (Doorman’s dam), but there’s another one out there that you should take a look at’ – meaning Summer,” Richard recalls. “I want to try to accumulate some of the iconic brood cows of the breed, and she fits the bill. I’m only interested in the very best cow families, and I think Summer is one of the two or three most influential cows right now. I had never met David Dyment, but I called him up and he struck me as a straight shooter. He described the cow very honestly and told me his thoughts about how they had worked with her in the past.”
When the dust settled at the sale closing, Richard Denier had placed the final bid of $22,000 CDN and was Summer’s new owner as of August 6th. Richard was making arrangements to have her sent to Budjon Farms in Wisconsin, when Tom Cull mentioned the upcoming show in Ontario to Richard and thought it might be a good idea to show her before she got on the truck to the US. “David said she was entered in the show, and said he thought she could do exceptionally well, so we decided to go ahead,” comments Richard. “I didn’t buy her as a show cow, so the fact that she won and that her son won that Premier Sire banner really was gravy!” At the end of August, Summer added another star to her brood cow star total, now at 7* for the 7-year-old – the good news kept on coming for Richard!
Great cows keep rewarding everyone that has helped them along the way. David Dyment elaborates, “The cow family was never really bred to be a ‘show’ family, especially back when we had them at Glen Drummond. It just goes to show how dominant these powerful maternal lines can be – they can excel in so many ways. Standing with Summer out in the Senior Champion lineup – she was pulled out in the final four along with a cow sired by her brother, Solomon – and then her son is announced as the Premier Sire of the Heifer Show, it was just a remarkable feeling.”
Adam Zehr encapsulates the possibilities when one gets involved with a prolific cow family. “I told my wife the other day that I’m living out my dream. My dream was always to breed a Premier Sire at Expo or the Royal. I don’t know if Solomon could do that one day, but Sidekick winning that banner gave me a good taste of that dream! I’m very proud of what that family has done here at Walnutlawn, and I’m so thankful and grateful to all the breeders who used the genetics from Sue and Summer.” And he also tosses out a reminder that we all need to hear in this business occasionally. “An interesting thing about the Summer story is that we only flushed Sue once to McCutchen. She was an excellent flush cow and made over 10 embryos almost every time, but with the flush to McCutchen, she only made five embryos – four #1s and one #3. I was really disappointed! We sold the four #1 embryos to Australia (where they resulted in two bull calves), and we implanted the #3 embryo – which became Summer. So don’t give up on a below average result – IT ONLY TAKES ONE!”