From Commitment Comes Good Things at Pol Butte Holsteins

By Bonnie Cooper

   Gys and Silia Van Den Pol and their three daughters of Van Den Pol Dairy have only been in Canada 12 years, but their enthusiasm and talent for breeding and developing top quality, highly sought after Holsteins is quickly putting their Pol Butte Holsteins on the map. Located just east of Coaldale, Alberta, in the southern, and always windy, part of the “Wild Rose” province, the Van Den Pols are proving that when you commit yourself fully to something, good things do happen.

Both Gys and Silia Van Den Pol grew up on dairy farms in the Netherlands. When Gys was ready to get married and go farming, his father was still too young to retire. With no room for him yet on the family dairy farm, he got into the hog breeding business instead and raised purebred Landrace sows. Gys heart, however, was always in dairying. He had always been competitive and enjoyed showing and working with cows. He had been on an international agricultural exchange program to New Zealand and Canada before his marriage in 1985 and at one point considered moving to New Zealand. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, however, that Gys and Silia decided to finally seek greater opportunities in agriculture elsewhere. They visited Canada in February 1998. A year later, they were living here with their family. They came to Canada says Gys, now 51, “with an open mind” and a “small budget”.

The Van Den Pols initially bought a dairy farm near Picture Butte, Alta. Purchased as a “going concern”, the price included a 60-cow purebred Holstein herd and a quarter section of land. Having not milked cows for a while everything was new for the Van Den Pols and for the first six months Gys admits he felt like the hired help on his own farm as he learned how to do things in Canada. His hog business background however, where things move fast, technical results are important and management skills are crucial, proved to be good training as he and his family embarked on their new venture.

The Holstein herd, which carried the Womo prefix, was 50% Good Plus or better. There were two Very Goods in the herd that averaged over 10,000 kg milk. A member of that herd was Womo Dragon Dia (VG-85-12*), a Glen Drummond Dragon daughter who became the Van Den Pol’s first Very Good cow. She and her Very Good-86 Carnation Bionic maternal sister would be the first animals the Van Den Pols ever flushed. Dia went on to make 84,104 kg milk, 4.4% fat, 3.2% protein (224-261-222) lifetime and had one Excellent-2E, seven Very Good and six Good Plus daughters. Gys got some of the first “Shottle” semen released in Canada and some of his oldest “Shottle” daughters come from this family. One of these is Pol Butte Shottle Dawny (VG-85), a fourth generation Very Good great-granddaughter of Dia who has made 19,069 kg milk, 3.9% fat, 3.2% protein (367-383-361) at 3 years.

The Van Den Pols remained at the Picture Butte farm for six years. In October 2005 they moved to their present 160-acre farm outside of Coaldale. They started milking two months later in a newly constructed 80-head tie-stall barn. They built everything new here, except for the two houses and a machine shed. Free-stall barns dominant the landscape in this part of the province and the Van Den Pols’ tie-stall barn is the only one you’ll find south of Calgary. A couple years ago, they added a “free-stall training area” to the barn for heifers to enhance their ability to sell more animals into the local commercial market. “We try to keep things simple,” says Gys. “That is important to us. The simpler you keep things, the less mistakes you can make.” Cows are fed a TMR once a day comprised of hay, corn silage, and a complete dairy ration which also includes 10% beet pulp. The “Home of Contented Cows” is their slogan and speaks to the emphasis they place on cow comfort throughout the operation.

Gys and Silia’s three daughters – Corien, 25, Djoeke, 23, and Tilly, 17 – are as equally committed and part of this family farm as their parents. Oldest daughter Corien in particular is extremely knowledgeable and keen about the cows. She has her own prefix, Chinook, and is a partner in 15 animals. She presently splits her time between working on the farm and as a veterinarian technician in nearby Taber. Also assisting the Van Den Pols on the farm currently is employee Anthony Smith. The Pol Butte herd, which now numbers close to 300 head in total, has made great progress since 1999. The milking herd, which is 97% Good Plus and better, consists of 00 Excellent, 00 Very Good and 00 Good Plus cows. The herd average in 2010 on 71 records was 12,343 kg milk, 448 kg fat, 389 kg protein (271-264-269). Van Den Pol Dairy has been the highest production herd in southern Alberta for the last four or five years and ranks among the top ten herds in the province for production.

When the Van Den Pols started out their only plan was just to “go dairying”. Then they started buying a few better cows locally and then began investing in deeper-pedigreed cattle at major sales like the RockyMountain High and Morsan Mountain High sales in Alberta and then at other sales in North America. “Good, all-round animals from strong cow families” have been a must when buying, and if the animal has “Durham” blood in it that is even better as Gys is a huge fan of Regancrest Elton Durham-ET. Today, with the breed’s growing emphasis on genomics and index, the Van Den Pols are also paying closer attention to these factors too when making purchases.

In 2008, Gys travelled to the United States with good friend and mentor Charlie Thomson of CBS Holsteins in British Columbia. Among the farms they visited was Regancrest Farm in Iowa. “That is where I saw Barbie,” he says referring to the great “Durham” brood cow, Regancrest-PR Barbie-ET (Ex-92-USA-GDM-DOM-3*). “Barbie was just fresh. It was a couple months before she died. If you had seen that cow…that big black frame, humongous rump and well attached udder…you never forget that,” says Gys. “And then when you walked in the barn and saw so many offspring from her. They were all stamped the same.”

After seeing Barbie, Gys was determined to one day own a member of her family. The next year he realized that dream when he purchased Butz-Butler Gold Banner-ET, an August 2009 “Goldwyn” granddaughter of Barbie. She was bought for $45,000 as an unborn ET and the first choice of three female pregnancies. “I bought her over the phone in the Opportunity East - Goldwyn Edition Sale in March 2009 in Prince Edward Island,” Gys says. “She was lot number one in the catalogue and had been consigned by Mark Butz and Jeff Butler.” The following February, Gys drove to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he made his pick. “Banner was the best calf, and she came back with good genomics,” Gys says with a broad smile. That same month her dam, Regancrest Brasilia-ET (VG-88-2y-USA-DOM), sold for $1.5 million with an offspring package in the 2010 Parade of Perfection Sale in Wisconsin. A seventh generation Very Good or Excellent, Brasilia is the high indexing “Shottle” daughter of Barbie.

Banner has proven to be the “door opener” for Van Den Pol Dairy, generating name recognition and greater marketing opportunities for this Alberta farm. At +18 for type, Banner is the number one GPA (Genomic Parent Average) “Goldwyn” daughter in Canada for conformation. She has a GPA LPI of +2283. As a result of Banner’s numbers, and “lots and lots of e-mails” and effort by the Van Den Pols, more A.I. sire analysts and sale managers are making the more than two hour drive from Calgary to see, contract or gain consignments from her. Banner has produced over 40 embryos in flushes to Gen-I-Beq Seagual, a young “Million” son with a high type rating from the Splendor family, and “Windbrook”. Many embryos from her have been exported to Europe. She has sons on the ground by “Seagual” who are destined for A.I. and the first pick of a November 2011 “Windbrook” female from her sold for $10,000 in the RockyMountain High Sale this past summer. Banner is due herself in February to “Iota” for an A.I. contract.

“Banner is pretty much the one that got people out here, but because of her we have gotten other animals noticed,” says Corien. The depth and strength of the Pol Butte herd today reflects the Van Den Pol family’s determination and success at creating a top notch herd built around breed leading cow families.

One of the cows they are building from is Carnation Durham Catria-ET (VG-88-1*). Gys had Charlie Thomson buy Catria as an 11-month-old calf in the 2004 Carnation Milk Farms Dispersal in Washington. Sired by “Durham”, she is from a Very Good-87-USA, 1-Star “Charles” dam who is backed by eight generations of Excellents in the Diamond-S Eve Corry (Ex-90-2E-USA-GMD-DOM) line, the same family that produced “Counselor”. Because of the BSE embargo, Catria could not come across the border right away and so was flushed to “Marshall” and “Encore” while stateside. She had a “Marshall” son sell to Independent Breeders Service. Catria was grand champion at the local Green Acres Show in 2009 and made two Superior Production records including a 5-year-old record of 19,796 kg milk, 3.2% fat, 3.0% protein (330-287-315). She has three Very Good and three Good Plus daughters. One of these is Pol Butte Shottle Christi (VG-85-2y), a “Shottle” who completes 12 generations of Very Good or Excellent and is the dam of the farm’s highest indexing “Planet” at +2334 GPA LPI.

Gys’ love for “Durham” is evident in another purchase he made at the 2005 Mandelyn Sale. She is Vyecroft Eden Champion (VG-85), a “Champion” from a Very Good-87, 11-Star “Eland” granddaughter of Snow-N Denises Dellia (Ex-95-2E-USA-GMD-DOM-5*), the dam of “Durham”. Purchased as a bred heifer, she is a maternal sister to Lyba Jordan Ellen (VG-89), 2009 Honourable Mention All-Canadian senior 3-year-old. A cow who is always eating, doesn’t stop milking, and “flushes like a chicken”, Eden made over 88 embryos in one year. She has nearly 85,000 kg milk lifetime, a Super 3 award and records to 20,174 kg milk, 3.6% fat 3.1% protein (382-371-359). While she has had a couple close calls health-wise, Eden has always been a “fighter” and bounced back. She has two Very Good and four Good Plus daughters to date.

In 2003, Gys bought some “Durham” embryos from Budjon Farms in Wisconsin resulting in Budjon-JK-I P B Durham Joyfull ET (Ex-91-1*) and her Very Good-88 full sister Juanita. They are from an Excellent-93-3E-USA “Blackstar” dam. Joyfull has records to 19,318 kg milk, 3.9% fat, 3.1% protein (342-353-329) at 5 years. She has been flushed and has three Very Good and two Good Plus daughters. One of the favourites is her “Shottle” daughter, Pol Butte Shottle Jasmine ET (VG-87-2y). Junior champion at the Green Acres Show in 2009, she has first lactation credits of 14,599 kg milk, 3.0% fat, 3.1% protein (303-240-293) and young daughters by “Man-O-Man”, “Atwood” and “Fever”.

A fortuitous purchase two years ago put the Van Den Pols into one of the hottest cow families around today. At the 2009 RockyMountain High Sale they bought Idee Rudolph Libby (VG-87-2y), a “Rudolph” granddaughter of Ravenswell Lydia (Ex-92-USA-DOM-19*), making her from the same family as the famous show winning Lustre, Licorice and Lotto. Libby has been flushed to “Shottle”, “Aftershock” and “Braxton” and has had embryos exported. A cow with a gorgeous udder, she has records to 13,785 kg milk, 480 kg fat, 398 kg protein (251-233-221).

Members of other well-known families can be found here as well like Ocean-View Durham Zondra-ET (VG-87-2y), a “Durham” backed by five generations of Excellents in the Ocean-View Mandel Zandra (Ex-95-2E-USA-GMD-DOM) family; Morsan Goldwyn Paradise, a 2-year-old milking “Goldwyn” daughter of Miss Paradises Presence-ET (VG-89-2y-3*), the 2005 Reserve All-Canadian senior 2-year-old; Markwell-I RMH Durham Fanya (VG-85), a seventh generation Very Good or Excellent “Durham” from the Markwell Bstar E Raven-ET (Ex-95-3E-USA-GMD-DOM-5*) family; and Morsan Manoman Hi Five, an April 2010 “Man-O-Man” with a +2364 GPA LPI who has been A.I. contracted and is backed by five Very Good or Excellent dams in the Siemers Mandel Hopeful-ET (Ex-91-USA-GMD-DOM) family.

The Van Den Pols are also excited about a couple other recent purchases. At last year’s Sale of Stars they bought a first choice “Snowman” female from Larcrest Crimson-ET (VG-88-USA-DOM), a high indexing “Ramos” from Larcrest Cosmopolitan (VG-87-USA-DOM), a “Shottle” who has had embryos and bulls sold worldwide. The first of these calves was born in late June and the Van Den Pols are looking forward to making their choice. At this year’s RockyMountain High Sale, Gys and Corien bought Morsan Onward Fools Gold Red, a 2-year-old by “Onward” who carries the Variant Red gene. Fresh at the end of July, she will be flushed. She is from Stoneden Fools Gold Red (VG-88), a “Goldwyn” who completes five generations of Very Good or Excellent and has several Red sons in A.I. around the world.

The Van Den Pols have never hesitated to use young sires in the herd and they have had some great results, particularly from the “Durham” sons. For example, a first-crop “Modest” daughter, Pol Butte Modest Lesley (Ex-90-3E-1*), was their first homebred Excellent, has won two Super 3 awards and made over 90,000 kg milk lifetime to date; Pol Butte Damion Marge (Ex-90-1*) was among the first Excellent “Damion” daughters in Canada; plus they have an Excellent-91, 1-Star “Rhyme”, Pol Butte Rhyme Mariane.

Gys strives for a balance of type and production in their herd. He doesn’t use mating services and relies on his “heart and guts” when making breeding decisions. To stay current and merchandise cattle beyond the commercial market however, he is giving greater attention now to “index and numbers” in his breeding program. He looks for popular bulls with good numbers who rank at the top of the lists. He will use high genomic young sires only if they have a solid cow family behind them. “Strong cow families are important to us,” he stresses. He is also paying attention to the secondary health traits, particularly Somatic Cell Count. At the same time he cautions, “We have to watch that we don’t go too far now and just focus on genomics and index and the end number.”

While Gys is keeping a closer eye on “numbers”, he is balancing that with his continued desire for bulls who can sire long living, good framed, open ribbed cows with good udders and feet and legs. “We don’t need a 64-inch, show cow,” Gys says, “but because one of our biggest customers is the Hutterite Colonies who buy natural bulls, we do need to also breed a good framed, commercial, barn cow with good feet and legs who can walk in a free-stall. And we like to keep the production up too,” he says. “Production pays the bills and the milk cheque is still the backbone of the whole business.”

The Van Den Pols are very conscious of the importance of promotion in building markets and merchandising opportunities for their genetics. They have a web site,, advertise in breed magazines, take new pictures once or twice a year, consign to sales and show a bit. They were Premier Breeder and Exhibitor at the Green Acres Club Show in 2009-10-11. They flush 40-50 cows a year and have genomic tested about 40 animals. They have good connections in Europe and as a result have sold and exported many embryos to Europe. They sell about 50 homebred bulls a year to Hutterite Colonies. They are pleased to have visitors visit their attractive farmstead. The Van Den Pols have invested in many different cow families so they will always have something that will be different and attractive to a variety of buyers. “If you don’t have something to offer, they won’t come here. It’s a fast moving market. You have to find things sometimes outside of the box to attract people,” remarks Corien.

In the future, the Van Den Pols’ goal is to win a Master Breeder shield. Gys and Silia hope to see one of their girls eventually take over the farm.

The Van Den Pol family has accomplished a lot in their short time in Canada. Gys has always believed that in life one should “Do what you do good. Otherwise don’t do it. Don’t do it half-way.” It is that kind of attitude and commitment to Holstein breeding that will ensure further success for the Van Den Pol family in the years ahead.

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