Located in the heart of Alberta, Chubanna Holsteins is one of the many great stops on the Canadian National Holstein Convention farm tours in April.
Featuring the first Lely Robot milking barn built in Alberta, Andrew and Anna Wildeboer and their children Adyson (9), Graison (6) and Keaton (5) have established a reputation for top management and production.
Third generation farmers, at the home farm near Lacombe, AB, Andrew’s grandparents, Hendrik and Jenny Wildeboer moved to the farm in 1957. Andrew’s parents, Alex & Ann, purchased the farm in 1972. After farming on their own near Falun, Alberta, for 2 years, Andrew and Anna purchased the home farm in 2007 from Andrew’s parents. Barn renovations from a free-stall setup to loose housing, allowed them to milk 60 cows while Anna taught grades 4-6 in Lacombe. Cow comfort concerns, which included struggling with a tired old barn in the winter time along with the demands of Andrew cattle brokering & auctioneering, Andrew & Anna decided to take a closer look at their future in dairying. In late 2009 after touring a number of robot operations in Ontario, Andrew and Anna made the decision to build a new robot, free-flow, free-stall facility.
“One piece of advice I would certainly give to anyone building a new barn, is to tour around and look at others’ barns. Find out what works well for people and what doesn’t. Use other people’s experiences to build the best barn possible,” said Andrew.
With expansion in mind, the first half of the barn was built and the first robot installed in February 2010. The summer of 2014 brought the purchase of the Coytee Holsteins herd, making a total of 100 cows, then prompting the second half expansion. In addition to the installation of the second robot, larger stalls were constructed for the bigger cows.
Today, Andrew and Anna run the farm with the help of full time employee, Ben Ford. Starting part time 4 years ago, as a high school student with no farm experience, Ben has been at Chubanna through much of the development and changes. “I have nothing but praise for Ben. He has really stepped up to the challenge and it has been fun to see him progress and develop over the past few years. Recently he took his AI course and he has taken real ownership around the farm. He continues to exceed all expectations as an employee,” said Andrew.
Now in charge of feeding and nutrition, Ben works with their nutritionist, Trevor Hamilton from Cargill, to make sure the cows are staying healthy & producing well, at all times. Without the daily milking routine, Andrew’s role has changed to being more of an overall manager. He still gets up at 4:30 every morning to go to the barn. “I have more time to spend in the barn now than I did before. The robots have given us more flexibility and more data to analyze, to be better managers,” said Andrew.
No stranger to hard work and the “glue” that keeps it all together, Anna has used her experience from her family’s 350 cow/calf beef operation and involvement in 4-H to be a driving force on the Chubanna team. Retired from teaching for the time being, Anna is responsible for the calves, marketing, and record keeping, including the financials. Anna also keeps things organized for her children and the farm while Andrew brokers cattle & quota, dispersing around 800 head of cattle per year with his Countryside Dairy Sales partner, Harry Makkinga. They also provide herd dispersal auctions when the need is there. Both Andrew and Anna are involved with their local church, and their kids are in the local 4-H club. Andrew is also a director on the Central Alberta Holstein Club and Alberta Holstein Branch boards.
The passion seen in this young family is evident. “I couldn’t milk cows if I didn’t love doing it. It is very rewarding, dairy farming with my family,” said Andrew. Expecting their fourth child this fall, Anna admits, “It is exciting to see both the next generation of kids and calves develop. The kids are taking on responsibilities and learning what it takes to look after an animal just like we did as kids. We consider ourselves fortunate to be able to provide this lifestyle for our family.”
Andrew’s dad Alex has a big role in planning crops and getting field work done. The rest of the year he helps out around the barn and keeps close eye out when Andrew and Anna are both gone. Both sets of parents have been models to Andrew and Anna for their work ethic, and have supported and assisted the Chubanna success in numerous ways. “The fifth boy of five,” Andrew admits, “My dad always ran with the attitude… It’s yours to do with what you want. Thankfully, we have all been successful.” It is obvious Alex takes great pride in the success his sons have had whether it be in farming (Mike, Andrew, Jason) or Clarence as project manager with Baxalta.
Success driven by an effective team, Andrew uses the data from Lely and Cow Signals as well as DHI and Holstein Canada classification to help make his breeding, reproductive and culling decisions. “I truly believe that with all of the robot operations being built…at some point the breed associations, milk recording & milking equipment companies are going to have to come together & find a way to utilize the data that is already provided in our systems instead of duplicating the process,” said Andrew.
Deep beds, using chopped canola straw in the free-stalls, scraping of beds three times daily, temperature controlled curtains, a footbath upon exit from the robot, as well as a stress free calving line, all contribute to cow comfort. Good management practices are combined with improved genetics to increase profitability. Using the philosophy of “breed for type and feed for production” a herd classification of 5ME, 7EX, 68 VG & 33 GP, and production over 13,000 kgs for milk continues to prove this theory works. “I’ve always focused on good udders, however my focus for more extreme type has changed and I am now breeding for a more moderately framed cow,” said Andrew. Using 60% proven and 40% genomic young sires, Andrew admits he still has more faith in the reliability of proven bulls. Bulls like Talent and Gibson followed by upcoming Atwood’s & Fever’s have built a strong foundation, while McCutchen, Doorman and Prodigy are making their mark in the heifers. Andrew admits, “One thing I don’t mind is 83-84 point 2 year olds. I find that heifers that don’t come out of the gate quite as fast, tend to develop into better cows with each calf, and are around for the long run.”
Proud of their progress in a short period of time, Andrew and Anna are thankful for the help and advice they have received from breeders like the Simantons (Crestomere), Chalacks (Wendon) and of course Tom Hofstra (Coytee). “Both Everett and Marilee and Don and Wendy and later Logan were instrumental in my early involvement in 4-H, Western Canadian Classic & Hays Classic. They helped develop my passion for purebreds,” said Andrew. “The Wildeboer’s are one of those “Complete Success Stories”. They have already had many achievements in many areas of the industry,” said Don Chalack.
“The trust Tom Hofstra had in us, by giving us the opportunity to buy his herd, was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our herd immediately realized an increase of genetic value as well as depth of pedigree,” said Anna.
The sale of approximately 25 fresh heifers per year, along with Andrew’s off-farm income, has allowed Chubanna to expand and bring in outside genetics. Andrew and Anna are breeding and developing both black and white and red and white lines in their herd. “One of our goals is to be a player in the purebred game someday but I also know it takes generations of breeding to build that foundation,” said Andrew.
Rietben Gibson Ruby VG-86 2* has been a leading foundation cow in the Chubanna herd. A daughter of Hanoverhill Rudolph S Roxete VG-86 8* plus four more generations VG or EX from the Roxy’s, Ruby is noted as Anna’s favorite for her consistent breeding ability in both production and classification. “Ruby has been such a valuable contributor around here. Each of her daughters & granddaughters fill the tank – they score Very Good and they milk like crazy.” Just completing her ninth lactation, Ruby has produced 90,310 kgs of milk lifetime with 4.2% fat and 3.4% protein and she continues to transmit her incredible will to milk. Her daughters Chubanna Marion Rhinestone VG-88 2* and Chubanna Stallion Rio VG-87 already are making their mark with promising daughters by Duplex, Braxton, Atwood, McCutchen and Windhammer.
Petrice, a 5th generation VG or EX from Wendon’s famous Petra family has an EX daughter, Chubanna Talent Paige. Paige already has a VG-88 Atwood daughter, Paisley and two other promising daughters by Atwood and Supersire born in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
A strong passion for Reds has brought their herd to 25% Red and White or Red Carriers. Heading up the Red genetic pool is Lacross Talent Dahlia EX-94 3E 1*. Andrew admits Dahlia was a real stroke of luck. “As payment for helping him at a show, August Luymes (Lacross) gave me an embryo. As luck would have it, that one embryo resulted in Dahlia,” said Andrew. Fresh and ready for the 2016 show season, Dahlia already has grabbed third spot as a Mature Cow in 2012 at World Dairy Expo and Royal Winter Fair Red & White Holstein shows. Backed by 3 VG dams, all 5 of Dahlia’s milking daughters are scored VG, sired by Wisconsin Red, Destry, Camden and Redman. She also has a number of calves on the ground by Wisconsin, Absolute, Raptown and Addiction.
Another prominente red in the herd, Coytee Secure Sunnie EX, backed by 3 generations VG or EX, comes from the Coytee herd and is owned with Tom Hofstra. Sunnie was 1st 4yr old Grand Champion Red and White at Alberta Dairy Congress last summer and shows great promise. She is just fresh and ready for the 2016 show season.
“We are extremely grateful for the partners that we’ve aligned ourselves with over the past few years, one being Luckyhill”, said Andrew. Owned with LuckyHill & Meihaven, Calbrett Acme Simona VG-86 2yr, a 10th generation VG or EX, is the daughter of 2014 Royal Winter Fair Grand Champion Red & White, Blondin Destry Sally VG-89. Due back in March to Prodigy, Simona was 2nd Senior 2 Year Old Red & White at Leduc Dairy Congress in 2015 and has a bright future ahead of her. Also owned with Luckyhill, Meihaven and Robella Holsteins is a Barbwire granddaughter of KHW Regiment Apple Red EX-96 3E DOM 10*. A daughter of MS Apples Aleda VG-87, Westcoast Barbwire Aleda was 1st at Alberta Dairy Congress Red & White show, 9th at the Westerner Black and White show and 12th at World Dairy Expo Red & White show in 2015.
For Andrew, his biggest accomplishment is to STILL be sitting across the table from Anna after all these years. Apart from that, Andrew feels they have been fortunate to come as far as they have in a very short period of time. “We are proud to have a barn that allows us to obtain good production while providing the ultimate in cow comfort,” says Andrew.
Future goals, such as fine-tuning feed efficiencies as well as improving health, butterfat and increasing production, has Chubanna Holsteins striving for excellence. While continuing to be on the forefront of technology, they’ll also remain focused on developing top quality genetics. Visitors to the farm will notice the attention to detail…come see for yourself.
- 30 Acres owned with Farm, 900 acres owned by Alex and Ann is farmed in partnership to make Corn Silage, Barley Silage, Hay, Wheat, canola and Barley making feed for the farm and selling any excess
- Production: 13315M kgs 498F 3.8% 429P 3.3% BCA 282-286-282
- Classification: 5 ME, 7EX, 68VG, 33GP
- Calves pasteurized milk with milk replacer added to make up enough. At 9-12 weeks calf starter introduced as well as hay. Weaning at 10-12 weeks with water added to program. Calves in hutches until 8 weeks then group housed for the last month.
- Heifers fed balage and bought in grower and barley until pregnant
- Pregnant Heifers fed hay with silage introduced
- Milk Cows- PMR corn or bailey silage, haylage/balage, ground barley and a dairy supplement fed in the robot
- Sires currently used: Solomon, Doorman, Bradnick, Avalanche, Incredibull
- Labour costs
- Cow comfort with new barn and 3.5 times per day milking
- cows extremely quiet in the barn
- increase in production
- less stress on udders
- more information about cows
- more time to spend with family
- always on call
- expense up front
- up keep and maintenance – important to keep on top of this at all times
- important to keep expansion plans in mind and the investment it involves