Comfortable cattle, bedded down with ample feed. The fitting crew and caretakers work calmly among the animals while chatting cheerfully. Ken and Pete mingled with the visitors from multiple states across the country and Canada, while answering phone calls about the sale. A steady stream of people came through viewing cattle. A delicious meal (and drinks) was provided, followed with a band for entertainment…
This was the scene Tuesday evening after weeks, months of preparation and an open house in celebration on the eve of Elite Dairy’s complete dispersal today (Sept. 4), what should prove to be a sale for the ages in Copake Falls, New York.
“We have been working towards this all year. You can’t put this together in just 6, or 4 weeks,” Peter observes.
Since joining forces around 2003, Ken and Peter have brought top cows to World Dairy Expo, earning premier exhibitor for a consecutive 13 years. “No breed has done this,” Ken reflects.
“We have had five champions at Expo, and three of them are selling,” adds Peter of the complete dispersal in the morning.
A matriarch now, Cutting Edge T Delilah, stands in the center of the lineup of top cows in the tent. She’ll be first to auction in the morning. She brought famed Supreme Champion honors to New York in 2018 as the World Dairy Expo gained a new Brown Swiss sweetheart.
Of her Expo crowning achievement, she was only the second cow in World Dairy Expo’s 52-year history to be supreme champion of both the junior show and overall supreme in the open show. Among the Expo crowd that year, there were murmurs of Delilah being “that kind of cow” to become a beloved Expo sweetheart like famed Snickerdoodle.
In fact, Delilah was the first Brown Swiss to be named Supreme in Madison since Snickerdoodle did it in 2003, and she is one of only four Brown Swiss to ever do this in the show’s 52-year history.
Ken and Peter had reached the pinnacle, the awards, banners and accolades earned by Elite Dairy Brown Swiss lay on tables and in displays throughout the barn and sale tent as visitors strolled through and cattle lay chewing cud before a new dawn and a new future would begin with the next day’s sale.
Ken and Peter joined forces around 2003 to start Elite Dairy across the road from the Main family’s Berkshire Valley Holstein herd. That 1100-cow commercial herd sold recently to the Williams family of Wil-Roc Farms, based in Kinderhook.
At first, the plan more than 15 years ago was to buy and breed Holsteins. Ken had been in the registered Holstein business before, after spending the first half of his career in hoof trimming and inventing a concrete grooving machine pattern doing barns on his way to Expo in those early days.
But Peter — who made his living in the fertilizer business — had a soft spot for the Brown Swiss breed he had grown up with. It didn’t take much for him to shift Ken’s eye to the Brown Swiss breed. Holstein genetics were increasingly focused on indexes (and now genomics).
With Brown Swiss, they could work with a breed where one could be successful focusing largely on type and components.
The Elite Dairy name had been chosen before they realized they would have to change it for the Brown Swiss breed, so the Brown Swiss over these years at Elite Dairy are prefixed under Cutting Edge Genetics.
The first few years of wise purchases assembled a good foundation, including the Rose Lane Sherrys Shasta cow that produced bulls in stud and is the dam of the Sherry cow that Ken’s grandson Kyle Barton did well showing in 2012.
Ken’s eye for cattle on the purchasing side, followed by eight years of meticulous matings and an aggressive embryo transfer program, along with attention to developing the cattle, all paid off as Ken and Peter were on a roll with a banner week at the 2013 World Dairy Expo.
Their first Expo grand champion was in 2011, but that was a purchased animal.
In 2013, the victory was so much sweeter: Not only did their homebred Cutting Edge B Gretchen-ET earn grand champion of the International Brown Swiss open show, Ken’s grandson Mikey had the grand champion Brown Swiss of the junior show with Fairdale Elite Debra. (The previous year, his other grandson Kyle Barton had the junior champion of the junior show with Cutting Edge B Sherry.)
In May, the news was even better as Gretchen and Debra were both named Brown Swiss All-Americans for 2013. Sherry had been reserve All American in 2012.
The key to what Elite Dairy did with the Cutting Edge Brown Swiss was in the breeding and the consistent management.
“We pick good sires and we use daughter sets,” Ken explained in a 2013 Farmshine interview at the farm. “We have a group of bulls we use and select from, and they all have good feet and legs. We also have good people working here, who have been with us for 20 years. Consistent management is important too.”
It takes a team to show a cow, and in 2014, they had grand champion of the open show and junior show with two different animals again.
Ken and Peter said they were “blessed with the A-Team.” Nearly 20 folks from the Columbia County, New York region had their work cut out for them. Eloc Wagor Kandid — a cow Ken and Peter had purchased as a 3-year-old in 2011 — bested a field of 366 Brown Swiss to become the fourth of Elite Dairy’s five World Dairy Expo champions in 2014.
Herdmate Sherry, bred and owned by Mikey was grand champion of the junior show that year.
This past year at the 2018 show, the grand champion Brown Swiss tally grew to five and their Delilah also went Supreme of both the open and the junior show. Those who work with her every day were ecstatic.
Tim Coon “Cooner” has always been the man in charge on the road. He figures his team of cattle and folks travel more than 6000 miles each fall showing cattle. He enjoys making them look their best in the show ring. It is something he’s been doing for over 40 years and has managed the show string for Elite Dairy since its beginnings.
In fact, he and the team are avid users of Udder Comfort, the choice of champions for softening udders and bringing out the quality, and the comfort.
Cooner led the team getting this top herd ready for the bittersweet Sale of the Century today.
“We have always tried to make the Brown Swiss breed better,” said Mikey in a 2014 interview, the year he showed Sherry. His school friends may not have understood what the dairy deal was all about then, but Mikey and his brother Kyle knew the drill and saw how important it is for the public to understand that, “these cows are treated better than we treat ourselves.
“Our team is the best,” Mikey said after a big win at Expo. “The crew we have had does a great job and the hard work has always felt good.”
Wise words to reflect on from a lifetime of memories as the Elite herd of Brown Swiss moves toward the auction tent on the farm beginning this morning (Sept. 4) at 10:30 a.m. with the sale of 2018 World Dairy Expo Supreme Champion Cutting Edge T Delilah. Check it out at the farm in Copake Falls, and online through Modern Associates Sales and cowbuyer. Catalog at: https://bit.ly/2MiebB7
— By Sherry Bunting, also contributing to this report is Marjorie Struckle. Photo credits Bunting and Struckle.