Holstein breeders pleased with award

Holstein Canada classifiers rated 25 of the 130 cows as excellent and 95 as very good to win the genomics class

VERNON, B.C. — The Hamming family was not an early adopter of genetic testing in its dairy herd.

However, this year they were the winners of the first ever genomics class at the recent national Holstein show in Calgary.

“We don’t really breed for that,” Jill said at the family operation near Vernon.

The greater focus has been on breeding for type, added Brian, who is president of the B.C. Holstein Association.

“We always say if they look good, they are going to milk,” he said.

So far, their selection program for high quality cows is working.

Brian, who works with his parents, Wally and Peggy, and brother, David, said it was flattering when their program was recognized.

“It was interesting because people said they were going to start watching what we use,” he said.

Holstein classifiers who recently visited the farm classified 25 of the 130 cows as excellent and 95 as very good. Qualified classifiers rank each individual based on cow quality and the requirements are raised almost every year.

Brian is a third generation dairy producer, and the family has always raised purebred Holsteins. They were originally from Langley on the Lower Mainland, but high priced land in the densely populated region prompted the family to move to British Columbia’s northern Okanagan Valley 13 years ago.

“We left with 90 acres and we bought 330,” he said.

Located beside the historic O’Keefe Ranch, the farm was a rundown feedlot that needed to be cleaned up. As well, new barns had to be built to suit the family’s needs.

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“From what this farm was 15 years ago, we get nothing but compliments,” he said.

A double 10 herringbone type milking parlour was installed. The Hammings are not interested in going with a robotic system because they like to check the cows when they come in for milking.

“I don’t want to go to a computer and read a report,” Brian said.

There is no hired help, so everyone takes turns handling the twice-a-day milking. Farm chores are divided equally among family members.

Conditions are different in the north Okanagan than what the Hammings were used to on the Lower Mainland.

Summer daytime temperatures can reach 40 C on the hottest days, and 36 C is normal. Hot nights are common.

New fans are being installed this year to circulate air in the barns, and sprinklers can be turned on in the outdoor corrals to cool off the cows.

Rubber mats line the floor for foot care, and the cow stalls are filled with sand. There is plenty of sand on the farm so it seemed like the more economical choice.

Mastitis problems were reduced when the cows rested on sand compared to sawdust or other bedding.

The extra acres at Vernon has allowed the Hammings to grow all their own corn and alfalfa silage. The cows once ate a tonne of barley a day, but that has been eliminated with cheaper, home-grown feed.

It is a hot, arid area, so the sandy soil is irrigated. However, the farm is productive even in drought like last year.

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“It was our best growing year. If you were dry land, you really suffered. Our corn was the best it has ever been and we actually got five cuts of alfalfa last year,” he said.

“At the coast you can’t turn it off sometimes and here you have to turn it on.”

The family is active in all things agriculture.

David handles cattle shows and they enter five or six events a year in B.C. and the Westerner Dairy Classic in Red Deer. His children, Clayton, Carson and Cayden, are active in 4-H dairy clubs, and Brian is a leader and president of the regional district. His club has 22 members.

Showing can be expensive, but the family considers it a valuable promotion tool when other Holstein breeders are looking for new stock.

Fifty to 60 female replacements are sold locally, and bulls are sold to a Hutterite colony in Alberta as well as other farms.

A dairy is a busy place, but Brian found time to get involved in the breed association when an Okanagan representative was needed six years ago. He eventually became president and considers it a learning experience rather than a political job.

“I like travelling and seeing what other guys are doing and see if it would work here,” he said.

The industry has come under more scrutiny in recent years. The dairy code of practice is mandatory for B.C. producers, although he did not see any changes beyond completing more paperwork.

Holstein Canada classifiers will also inspect herds as part of the ProAction plan, which covers animal welfare, environmental care and food safety.

“If there are a few farms that are bad, then they should be shut down,” Brian said.

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The farm has been invited to host “breakfast on the farm” through B.C. Milk and other sponsors. These events open a farm to members of the public, who get to meet the farmers and tour the operation.