Master Breeder

"Embryos Yield All-Canadian Nominee and $10,700 For Another Less Than A Year After Birth
(courtesy of the Holstein Journal – March 2005)

Brothers Paul and Steven Velthuis, along with their parents Bert and Ann, had flushed members of their Master Breeder herd for 20 years, but never marketed embryos extensively. Most were used to expand their own herd. Ultimately it was the desire to work with genetics from the very elite of the breed that led the Velthuis’ to seek embryos to purchase.

Steven Velthuis met Joel Kietzman of Waunakee, Wis., a co-owner of Krull Broker Elegance with Budjon Farms, Lomira, Wis., at the 2002 Royal Winter Fair. After approaching two other breeders, it was apparent that Budjon-JK were the only breeders with an inventory of embryos ready for shipment from mature cows who formed the heart of their showstring. The Velthuis’ purchased two lots of embryos from Budjon-JK, the first being 15 embryos from two cows, and the second consisting of 10 embryos from three animals. This resulted in five heifer calves: three from Elegance (two by “Derry” and one by “Cousteau”); and two “Durhams” from Tri-Day Ashlyn’s “Integrity” daughter Oseeana Ashlyns Alexus (VG-87-2y) who is a full sister to “Astronomical”, as well as several bull calves.

Of course there were costs and risks involved, and they had to wait for the calves to be born and grow, but the Velthuis’ enjoyed almost instant success with this embryo venture. In 2004 they received an All-Canadian nomination on Budjon-JK-I Derry Elegant, a March 2004 ET out of Elegance. The day after this calf placed fourth in her class at the Royal Winter Fair, the Velthuis’ sold one of Ashlyn’s granddaughters, Budjon-JK-I Durham Ashley, also a March 2004 model, for $10,700 in the Triple Crown Sale to Brilea Holsteins, Cobden, Ont. Not bad for a pair of 8-month-old calves!

“We did not expect to recover all our investment in the first generation, but we do have some very exciting possibilities with the base we have acquired in this deal,” says Steven, who notes that they did recover a portion of their expenses with the sale of the “Durham” heifer, and added value to Derry Elegant with her All-Canadian nomination. He realizes they need to continue advertising and marketing from these heifers to make a profit. The Velthuis family are looking forward to this challenge.

“We see this as a very worthwhile opportunity for ourselves and others to get involved with elite genetics,” they say.

Of course there are pros and cons to buying embryos. The Velthuis’ say the advantages include making it possible to obtain the very best of any flush because calves have not been sorted; that it is less expensive than purchasing live animals of this calibre; and that you are able to see the calves develop from birth.

Under disadvantages, they point out that buying embryos requires patience because it seems like a long time from agreement to purchase and finally seeing a calf on the ground and hopefully in the showring. There is also no guarantee as to the results. The seller and ET practitioner can only guarantee the quality of the embryo when it leaves their control.

The Velthuis family offer advice for those planning to buy embryos:

  • work with people that you feel are trustworthy because they will want payment upfront before delivery.
  • realize that you are expecting to buy the very best genetics a breeder has to offer, and this does not come for free.
  • expect to spend $800 to $1200 each for embryos from virgin heifers with outstanding pedigrees and $1500 to $2500 for those from proven cows.
  • sellers may be more willing to talk discounts for larger orders.
  • buy at least ten embryos to account for conception rates and 50 percent bull calves.
  • track the proposed courier route to ensure your embryos travel the most direct path that allows for all required veterinary inspections at borders.
  • hope for two to three heifer calves so you have the option to sell one or two calves to recover some costs in the short term. This will also tell the world your door is open for business as a marketer.

“Marketing potential is always good when you own animals from two of the most prominent show families in the world,” Velthuis says of the Elegance and Ashlyn families. “Because there are not very many progeny within Canada from these families, there is considerable interest, as shown at the Triple Crown Sale.” Having calves by in-demand bulls such as “Durham”, whose semen wasn’t available in Canada, doesn’t hurt either. The Velthuis’ have their marketing plans in gear. They don’t plan to sit in neutral and wait for the world to come to them. “It will still require considerable effort to advertise the progeny through either the showring or through advertisements in print or the web,” they note.

The descendants of Elegance and Ashlyn have special significance in this eastern Ontario herd of one Excellent, 33 Very Good, 74 Good Plus and 17 Good cows averaging 11,100 kg milk and 245-250-245% BCA. Their milking herd is housed in a free-stall barn built in 2003 for 170 head. Twelve tie-stalls within the structure enable them to display key cows for visitors.

“It is a heartwarming feeling to look in the barn and think of the possibilities that exist and are only beginning to appear,” says Paul Velthuis. “We see it as a privilege to have been able to purchase embryos from such prominent families.”

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