EMBRUN — The international dairy community will have its eyes on Embrun this month when one of the most prominent Holstein breeders in Canada hosts a live auction of more than 100 top-flight cattle for the first time in 15 years.
Recently in the headlines as the home of the greatest lifetime milk-producing cow on the planet, Ferme Gillette expects 1,000 visitors from around the globe to attend the Sept. 21 sale in person, with many others bidding online through Internet simulcast.
Dubbed Gillette Visions 2012, the auction block will feature 106 of the finest examples of the breed, including approximately 45 animals from other respected Holstein producers around the country.
The occasion will also double as an open house for Gillette, allowing the public a chance to gaze upon two of the operation’s celebrity bovines: the Guinness Book of World Record-holding ‘Smurf’ as well as the 2011 Canadian Cow of the Year, Gillette Blitz 2nd Wind.
The latter cow "is pretty much the star of the sale," says a smiling Eric Patenaude, 30, a fifth-generation member and partner of the Patenaude family farm whose corporate moniker "Gillette" derives from the merger of his grandfather and grandmother’s first names — Gilles and Lorette.
"She’s the dam of many great bulls that have come out," Patenaude says of 2nd Wind and her burgeoning line of elite male offspring leased to EastGen and GenerVations for semen production.
"We’ve had much success over the past couple of years with the 2nd Wind family," he remarks, seated in a barn office with walls covered in red show ribbons. He notes such distinguished bulls as Gillette Windbrook, Winhammer, Stanley Cup, Willrock and Wild Thing yielded by their famous travelling mother, recently returned to Ontario from "doing some IVF [In Vitro Fertilization] work in the States."
Of course, neither 10-year-old 2nd Wind nor 16-year-old Smurf — full name Gillette Emperor Smurf — will go under the gavel of auctioneer Pierre Boulet on the 21st. These accomplished Gillette cows are only for the looking — and the marvelling.
(Patenaude even suggests the more elderly Smurf — whose image now adorns the sign outside the 120-head tie-stall barn housing the best of
Gillette’s 600 milking cows — is destined to be buried in a prominent spot on the farm one day. This month, he adds, her record production of seven-plus tanker truckloads’ worth of milk will be officially published in Guinness’s 2013 edition.)
Sale animals will represent the highest quality Holsteins available anywhere, right up to the very crème de la crème of black-and-whites. If not Ferme Gillette’s own stock, the cows will otherwise hail from some of the most respected breeders around the country on consignment.
"We wanted to take in some consignments from people who have bought from us in the past, and have believed in us. And some of these consignments are top-notch, some of the best genetics in Canada."
A brief sampling of consignors comes up with such recognizable Ontario and Quebec names as Sunnylodge of Chesterville, Midlee of Osgoode, Knonaudale of Crylser, Greenlane, Misty Spring of Little Britain, Comstar of Victoriaville, Brabantdale of Navan, GenerVations of Campbellville and Group Génibeq.
"It’s the right place for someone to find themselves a bull mother, a show cow, a 4-H heifer or an all-around milking cow," says Patenaude of the coming event. "Some could sell for over $100,000, and some could sell for $5,000," he adds.
The last Gillette Visions event in 1997 auctioned 168 animals and grossed over $1.3-million.
"We don’t do it that often because it’s a lot of work. But this one has come together really well, so maybe in the future we can do it more often," he says, raising the possibility of reprising the sale every five years or so going forward.
They’ve brought in sale co-managers to assist the 2012 edition, with Mark Smith and Yvon Chabot jointly managing in cooperation with Louis Patenaude, another Ferme Gillette partner.
The sale will also offer two "first choice" calves that have yet to be born — an increasingly popular sale technique, according to Eric Patenaude. In one lot, bidders will vie for first pick of four current pregnancies, while the other lot represents first pick out of eight calves now in utero.
It’s a good time to offer high-quality dairy cows for sale, he says. "For that type of genetics, the market is great."
Potential buyers will be flying in from the U.S., France, Switzerland, Japan and Australia, he says.
Bidders who participate in person will watch the proceedings from seats set up inside a converted machine shed personally refurbished by 82-year-old Gilles Patenaude, a dentist who steered the family farm — founded in 1878 by his grandfather — into the realm of purebred Holsteins a little more than 50 years ago.
In a first for a Ferme Gillette auction, this one take place online, too, through the services of holsteinworldproductions.com, linked to the sale website at fermegillette.ca. Preview videos have been posted to the site.
A public breakfast kicks off the morning of the sale, 8-10 a.m., sponsored by Embrun Co-op, inside the sprawling shed at 1623 St. André Rd. The sale itself begins at 10:30 a.m.
Sponsors for the day also include CIBC Embrun, Semex, Jason Donnan Hoof Trimming.