Belmont, ON, located just to the southeast of London, has been home to the Thompson Family and their Cavanaleck herd for more than a century. Jim, George and Nathan Thompson are thrilled to be receiving their third Master Breeder shield from Holstein Canada in April.
Give a brief History of your operation. How did you get started in purebred cattle? How have the facilities changed over the years?
‘Cavanaleck’ is the name of the town land in Fermanagh county, Northern Ireland, where the Thompson’s were tenant farmers before immigrating to Canada. Cavanaleck Farms was first settled by Jim & George’s great great grandfather in the 1830’s and in 1852 the farm was officially transferred into his name. The foundation of the current tie-stall barn dates back to the 1880’s. In 1922 the Thompson’s were forced to rebuild after a fire burnt the barn down to the foundation a year earlier. Since then the barn has been renovated and expanded to its current size of 74 tie-stalls, with a coverall barn for fresh cow milking. Purebred calves first arrived on the farm in 1937, but the use of a purebred Holstein bull dates back to 1889.
Who is currently involved in the operation? What are their roles?
George and Jim are the 4th generation of Thompson’s to farm at Cavanaleck, making Jim’s son Nathan the 5th generation. All three of them are actively involved in the management of the farm. Neighbour, Matthew Finch, helps on weekends or during the week as needed.
How many cows do you milk? What is your current herd classification and herd production average?
80 cows are milked at Cavanaleck, all purebred Holsteins. We received 5 new Excellent cows in our most recent classification making the new herd breakdown 15 ME, 15 EX, 55 VG & 8 GP. Our rolling herd average is 11,100 kg milk with 540 kg fat and 360 protein, 4.1% butter fat and 3.3% protein.
What bulls are you currently using? Do you do any embryo transfer or IVF?
Doorman and Unix are popular choices, along with higher genomic type bulls to a lesser extent. We have not done any flushing recently since embryo sales have dropped off for us.
How many acres do you manage? Do you grow all the crops you need or do you buy and sell feed as well?
We manage 615 acres of land where we grow hay, corn, winter barley, winter wheat, processing peas and cranberry beans. We grow most of what we need for our herd, purchasing a protein supplement, and we sell forages when we can. Milk cows receive a ration of TMR (haylage, corn silage, barley, high moisture corn and protein supplement) and dry hay. Dry cows and heifers get grass hay and corn silage and are pastured in the summer, while calves get whole milk until 2 months old as well as a grain mix and grass hay.
What cow families have most impacted your herd and contributed points to this shield?
Shirwill Ultimate Betty EX 2* and Banella Highcroft Sula EX-2E 2* were purchased on the same day in the early 1980’s. Both of these cows have proved to be great foundation cows for our herd and their descendants have contributed to each of our Master Breeder shields. Betty’s daughter, Cavanaleck Shiek Betsy VG-85 5*, provided one Excellent and 5 Very Good daughters in her own right, making the many branches of the “B” very prolific in the herd. Two exciting family members currently are Cavanaleck Dempsey Bozica and Cavanaleck BG Bruin who are both EX-94. While Bozica is a daughter of an EX-94 6E 2* Gibson and resides in Quebec, Bruin is a daughter of an EX 2E 3* Dundee and makes her home south of the border. Both cows go back to Cavanaleck Outside Branwyn VG 7* who is a great great granddaughter of Shiek Betsy. Bozica and Bruin are no strangers to the show ring and stood 2nd and 5th this past year at World Dairy Expo in the 5 year old class for their respective owners. They have both won state and provincial shows and earned nominates in both the All-Canadian and All-American competitions.
Describe your thoughts on winning this award! Is this something you’ve always had as a main goal for your breeding program?
Receiving our 3rd Shield is a huge accomplishment! We enjoy working with good cattle that have exception type which is what this award reflects for us. It is equally exciting to be honoured in this way, even though it’s our 3rd time – now Nathan can start working on the 4th one!
Our future plans include a major barn build for next year. We plan to build a freestall facility and are still deciding about whether or not to go robotic or put in a parlour, either way this will be a pretty big, but exciting change for us and the future of our herd.