The Labbé family’s cow-first approach recently landed them a spot among Canada’s Master Breeders – earning their first shield!
Give a brief history of your operation along with how you got your start in registered dairy cattle. Who is involved on the farm now and what is their role?
The Aquarel prefix was created by my parents in 1983, but the farm has been in the family since my grandfather purchased it in 1939. I, Jean-François, joined the family business as co-owner alongside my parents in 2010. My dad, Michel, still works on the farm on a daily basis, managing the fieldwork and equipment. My mom, Anita, does relief work during busy times. We also have an employee who assists with daily chores.
Prior to the mid 2000’s, the Aquarel herd was smaller in numbers and average in quality. We began to put more emphasis on our mating choices and exhibited heifers at our local show as a hobby. I was able to meet other like-minded farmers and apply what I learned from them with our own herd. Today, I continue to focus on animal care and breeding with high genetic matings.
Which cow families have influenced your herd the most in terms of contributing points for the Master Breeder Shield?
Our entire genetic herd traces back to Aquarel Outside Obeline EX90-2E 7* – our first VG 2-year-old, first cow to score EX and first brood star cow. Half of the points contributing to this Master Breeder shield come from her offspring. Standing the test of time, she lived to be 14-years-old and gave us 9 daughters, classifying: 1 EX, 6 VG and 2 at GP-83. Her mobility and longevity shine through in her offspring.
Another cow with a big impact in our herd is Aquarel Blitz Laretta EX91-3E 7*. Throughout her 6 lactations, she received a Super 5 award and produced over 127000 kg. Laretta and her progeny consistently show tremendous mammary systems and produce loads of milk!
Who are a few of your herd favorites today that represent the ‘complete cow’ in your mind?
A current cow building her own legacy at the farm is Aquarel Kingpin Obelnoche EX91-3E. At 3-7, she is our youngest cow to score EX. She’s a 6th generation VG or EX from herd matriarch, Aquarel Outside Obeline. She calves back every year and produces well. Her first two daughters are classified VG and are following in their mother’s footsteps. We also have two more Lambda x Obelnoche daughters we are excited to watch develop.
How has the operation and/or your goals changed overtime? What are some management strategies you’ve implemented that have had the most positive impact on your herd?
When I finished college in 2009, my first big move was to build a cold barn for the heifers. It gave them a more suitable environment to develop better and faster. I also started managing the herd matings and deepened my knowledge in the genetics that would compliment our herd’s specific needs.
In 2015, we made the move from a tie-stall barn to a freestall setup. We gained 5kg of milk per cow per day and a lot of longevity within the herd.
Describe what this honor means to you. Do you have any advice you’d offer to new breeders?
As a breeder, earning a Master Breeder shield is the ultimate accomplishment. It validates the decisions I’ve made and makes all the hours we spend taking special care of our cows worth it.
My advice for new breeders is to go the extra mile in caring for your cows and breed from the cow families that have proven their longevity.
What’s next?! Tell us about the short- and long-term goals you have for the future of your operation and herd.
For now, our plans are to do more with less – being more efficient with the same number of cows while continuing to take cow care to the next level. We would also like to add more polled genetics in the herd.
- The Aquarel herd consists of: 101 head total – 62 milking cows, 12 dry and 27 youngstock
- Herd classification average: 10 EX, 34 VG, 25 GP with an 84.9 point average
- Herd production average: 11883 kg BCA 254-268-260
- Sires you’re currently using: Delta Lambda, Aurora Mitchell, Peak Jagger, Blondin Revelation, Duckett Crush Tatoo, Vogue A2P2