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Bonshaw farm captures Holstein Canada’s most prestigious honour

MacTalla Farms in Bonshaw has been named Master Breeder by Holstein Canada, the most prestigious honour in the dairy industry. Allan (wearing the ball cap) and his wife, Coleen MacQuarrie, operate the farm with their son, Jeff.  ©THE GUARDIAN
MacTalla Farms in Bonshaw has been named Master Breeder by Holstein Canada, the most prestigious honour in the dairy industry. Allan (wearing the ball cap) and his wife, Coleen MacQuarrie, operate the farm with their son, Jeff. ©THE GUARDIAN - Dave Stewart

Coleen MacQuarrie said she was ecstatic when she was informed by Holstein Canada that her farm had won the most prestigious award in the Canadian dairy industry.

MacTalla Farms in Bonshaw has been named a Master Breeder, basically the Academy Award for dairy farmers in Canada.

The MacQuarrie family will pick up the award at a ceremony in Quebec City on April 14.

Allan and Coleen have been operating the farm since 1981.

“I was ecstatic. It’s kind of hard to describe,’’ Coleen MacQuarrie told The Guardian. “I told them I could die a happy girl now. It is a very exciting thing but also a humbling thing.’’

“It’s the most prestigious thing a dairy farmer can receive, I guess,’’ Allan MacQuarrie said. “We were pretty thrilled.’’

“I think it will sink in more when we get there,’’ son Jeff said, noting that he pumped his fist repeatedly when he got his own call from Holstein Canada.

Holstein Canada has been giving out the Master Breeder award since 1929, and there have been only 19 winners from P.E.I. This year, the MacQuarries are the only Maritime winners and will be among 20 winners from across Canada honoured at the banquet.

Ann Louise Carson, chief executive officer with Holstein Canada, said the award criteria states that for a period of 14 years, recipients have to have herds with a balance of above breed average production and fat/protein components and conformation (what the herd looks like).

“A fitter cow will last longer, produce more milk, etc., so you make more money,’’ Carson told The Guardian in an email. “If you have one less than average year, you may slip down in ranking and other herds pass you, so it is very much a tribute to constant, excellent herd management and smart breeding decisions.’’

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Canadian Holstein Facts

- There are seven dairy breeds in Canada – Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, milking Shorthorn and Canadienne

- About one million cows can be found in Canada, and 94 per cent of them are the Holstein breed

- A healthy Holstein calf weighs about 90 pounds at birth

- A mature Holstein cow weighs about 1,500 pounds and stands about 58 inches tall at the shoulder

- While some cows may live considerably longer, the normal productive life of a Holstein cow is six years.

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Carson visited the MacQuarrie farm in late January.

“There is no doubt they love what they do and pay a great deal of attention to every detail – such a great herd of healthy, happy, good producing cows,’’ she said.

The MacQuarries have also done some work to their farm, adding a large new barn with rubber floors and rubber stalls to make sure the cows’ necks don’t shafe when they’re feeding.

“They’re pretty happy out there,’’ Jeff said.

“Good air, good light and lots of fresh water,’’ his mother added.

“There’s very little metal because the stalls are plastic,’’ noted Allan. Where they eat is plastic. It flexes and moves ahead. The old way they’d rub their necks on it and end up with bruising or scraping.’’

And, a happier cow is what everyone wants in the end.

“They’re milking more than ever before,’’ Jeff said.

Coleen, Allan and Jeff, as well as other family members, will be attending the awards celebration where they will pick up their plaque or, as Holstein Canada calls it, the shield.

That means the MacQuarries have been busy finding friends and neighbours to take over the farm while they’re gone.

And, it just so happens that Holstein Canada’s 2019 convention is coming to Charlottetown for the first time since 2007.

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