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Simmental breeders celebrate 50th anniversary

Seedstock: News Roundup from the January 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

A week of events during Canadian Western Agribition wrapped up the Canadian Simmental Association’s (CSA) milestone year of activities in co-operation with provincial Simmental associations to mark 50 years since the first Simmental set foot on Canadian soil.

Parisien, a 1966 red-and-white spotted Simmental bull calf bred and born in France, was the lone Simmental in a shipment of 200-plus Charolais cattle that left the quarantine station at Brest, France, on October 29, 1966, for the eight-day journey to the Canada Department of Agriculture (CDA) quarantine station at Grosse-Ile, Que. The quarantine period there was prolonged due to transportation issues on the icy St. Lawrence Seaway making it April 7, 1967, before Parisien arrived at the B. Tavers Smith ranch near Mountain View in the Cardston area of southwestern Alberta.

Semen collection began immediately because breeding season would be all but over by the time the final 90-day on-farm quarantine ended and Smith and partners in Cardston-based SBL (Simmental Breeders Ltd.) couldn’t wait the additional year to realize returns on their investment.

SBL had paid $3,620 for Parisien, CDA charges of $1,050 related to quarantine, feed and care in both countries, insurance, transport by ship and rail for a grand total of $5,588, according to Smith’s daughter, S.M. Smith, in her blog Early Years of Simmental in North America.

Smith’s entries include letters sent home from her father as he was awed by the Simmental breed and its potential in Canadian herds during his travels through Switzerland and France to select SBL’s first import. Smith’s dream of importing Simmental cattle from their native home in the Simme Valley of Switzerland had to be put on hold because Canada had not yet opened to imports from Switzerland due to lingering foot-and-mouth outbreaks.

Complications arose when France joined Switzerland in mandating vaccinations against the disease as a control measure; however, Smith was able to find Parisien and two alternative unvaccinated bull calves that would not test positive for the disease because of an antibody response to the vaccine.

SBL did receive a CDA permit in 1967 to import additional Simmental cattle from France or Switzerland and the rest is history. Parisien is No. 1 in the CSA and the American Simmental Association (ASA) registries. Fifty years later, the CSA registry holds 1.4 million pedigrees.

The appeal of the Simmental breed in a cross-breeding program is much the same today as it was 50 years ago — to add hybrid vigour for growth on feeder cattle and/or maternal strengths on the cow side — only with a much wider selection.

“Canadian Simmental breeders have done a good job to supply what fits well in commercial herds here. It’s a diverse breed, now with red, black, purebred and fullblood genetics, that crosses well with British and continental breeds,” says CSA president Lee McMillen of McMillen Ranching at Carievale, Sask.

He has the privilege of hearing first-hand accounts from his father, Jim, about those exciting first years as Simmental genetics began to make a profound mark on Canada’s beef industry, which was predominantly influenced by British breeds at the time.

In 1969, Jim and his brother, Mike, decided to AI half of their Angus cows to Parisien and were hooked on the breed after seeing those crosses excel in their cow-calf and feedlot operation, McMillen recounts. They went on to import three fullblood heifer calves from France in the early 1970s and continued to use AI sires on their best heifers to upgrade the herd to purebred status.

McMillen couldn’t be more pleased that several Canadian pioneers of the breed were able to join youngsters just getting into the business and everyone in between, including approximately 30 international guests at the 50th celebration banquet following the Simmental Innovations Workshop.

The workshop was part of the annual Simmental Federation of Americas Conference hosted this year by the CSA during Agribition week. It also included a tour to Grenfell, Sask., to see Double Bar D Farm, home of the largest registered Simmental herd in Canada, a visit to the legislative building where the international guests were introduced at the morning sitting, and a stop at the RCMP Heritage Centre, all topped off with the 2017 National Simmental Show and Sale at Agribition.

Genetics past, present and future was the topic of the day at the workshop attended by international guests, Canadian Simmental breeders and representatives of other Canadian beef breed associations.

Wade Shafer, executive vice-president of the ASA, led off by telling how 14 Canadian and American breed associations, including the CSA and ASA, have made history by collaborating to create International Genetic Solutions (IGS) to support the development and implementation of cutting-edge software called BOLT to run single-step genetic evaluations.

Instead of running genetic evaluations to generate EPDs and then blending the EPDs with DNA test results, BOLT will pull it all together in a single step with lightning-fast speed. The same set of data using the same model that required 55 hours to run a genetic evaluation on the old ASA system takes 20 minutes with BOLT.

As of November 2017, IGS held records on 17 million animals, collects 375,000 new records per year, and has 85,000 genotypes on file, many of which are for Simmental cattle, and many of those are Canadian Simmental cattle.

IGS continues to receive new DNA test results weekly and Shafer says the way to leverage them to their full advantage is to run single-step genetic evaluations each week. This will become a reality once the transition to BOLT is fully completed sometime this winter.

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