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Cream rises to the top in Prince Edward Island

Alice Guthrie Published on 07 June 2013
Shorthorn milking herd

Oceanbrae Farm got its start back in 1923 when John and Vera Barrett purchased 165 acres near Belmont, Prince Edward Island.

Their son, Keith, later took over, introducing the first Dual Purpose Shorthorns in 1950.



Breeding stock purchased from Canada, the U.S. and the UK all contributed to the formation of the Oceanbrae herd.

ROP testing began in the ’60s, and the family began showing their cattle both locally and nationally, including the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF) in Toronto.

Fred and Matt Barrett
Keith’s son, Fred, entered into a partnership with his dad in 1976, which continued until a few years ago when Keith retired.

Fred’s son Matthew has now come alongside his dad, while an older son, Ryan, handles marketing and the website in addition to his position as secretary-manager of the Canadian Milking Shorthorn Society.

Both Keith and Fred are past presidents of the society, and Fred is currently a director representing the Maritimes.

Oceanbrae has consistently worked to maintain both good type and good production, and has been rewarded for their efforts with a Master Breeder Award in 2008.

Known today as Milking Shorthorns, this breed was previously called the Dual Purpose Shorthorn, which reflected its early days as an animal that could produce both good milk and good beef.

In the ’90s, reflecting the change in focus to an efficient dairy breed, the name changed to Milking Shorthorns. They are red, roan or white in colouring, a quiet-natured breed, known for efficient feed conversion, high reproductive efficiency, sound structure and longevity. Most are easy calvers – and good mothers – and have lower incidences of metabolic diseases than other dairy breeds.


The milking herd at Oceanbrae numbers about 50 cows, of which approximately 40 are Milking Shorthorns, with the balance being Jerseys.

The Oceanbrae herd has consistently produced good animals, which have performed well in both the show ring and the milking barn. The Barretts have made good use of ET technology, and cattle from their breeding can be found in many countries.

In addition to the milking herd, there are 40 to 50 head of youngstock. Prince Edward Island’s dairy industry in dominated by Holsteins, so the Barretts use Holstein heifers for recipient cows when they flush their own cows. These heifers are then re-sold following birth of the ET calves.

The cows are housed in a tiestall barn with a pipeline system. The cows are provided with comfort mats. There are two rows, tail-to-tail. The last several years have seen a number of general improvements to the barns, including raising the roof to add air space. Ventilation has been improved by more fans.

Renovation is a more viable option here than new buildings, as costs in building barns (particularly concrete) are much more expensive on the island. It is hard to justify massive capital outlays if there is not additional available quota to go along with expansion.

The Barretts do not use a TMR ration. They use a purchased 16 percent supplement along with corn silage and wrapped round baleage containing alfalfa, mixed grasses and white clover. They take their second cut as dry hay, and cows are fed this in the evening.

Pasture is utilized during the summer months. Shorthorns are a good grazing breed, heat-tolerant and efficient at converting forage. “Our cows keep grazing throughout the day, even on the warmest summer days,” Fred says.

“We think having cows on pasture in the summer is the most cost-efficient option for our operation, as it frees us up to make the best-quality stored feed for the rest of the year while the cows feed themselves and are more comfortable outside. Normally, our kilograms per day of milk goes up in the summer months while the cows are on pasture.”

He adds, “Our Shorthorns are easy-keeping cows. We know that we feed a lot less grain than many Holstein herds and our cows just seem to give us less problems than many other farms.”

Cream always rises to the top, and it certainly has done so for the Barrett family. Their Milking Shorthorn cow, Oceanbrae Fawn’s Accent-P, has set a new record for fat production in a single lactation.

The all-time single lactation fat record was set during her second 305-day lactation, during which she produced 9,815 kilograms of milk, 696 kilograms of fat and 355 kilograms of protein. That is 7.0 percent of fat, which is a full 4 percent higher than the Milking Shorthorn breed average.

The amount of protein produced, at 3.7 percent, is good enough to give her second place on the all-time protein leader list for Milking Shorthorn 3-year-olds, Her 3-year-old BCA is an impressive 371-644-413.

Fawn is the product of a purchased embryo, one of two they obtained from the most-recognized polled cow in the breed, a cow that excelled in both show ring and production.

“We were interested in Fawn’s mother, Rovin Derek Ali Accent-P, because she was a rare cow that had high production, components and type in one package while being polled.

We were particularly interested in adding genetics with higher component levels, so we decided to purchase some embryos from the Kulp family in Pennsylvania,” Fred says.

While the Barretts made this purchase with a goal for increasing fat and protein content, they were not expecting this much increase.


When Fawn produced 6 percent fat in her first lactation, they considered it a fluke and were surprised to see her go even higher in the second lactation. Some individual tests were more than 9 percent fat.

Fawn is not managed any differently from her herdmates, and the Barretts don’t feed specifically for fat production.

Fawn is also a naturally polled cow, a trait that is increasingly sought after by breeders. She has classified VG-86 at 3 years, in her second lactation. Already she has three daughters milking from her first flush.

These were recently classified, all VG, with scores of 85, 86 and 87. Impressive, as most years only about 10 2-year-olds across the country will classify that well.

She is dry now, due to calve again in late summer. Still a young cow, Fawn is becoming that animal breeders dream about, the one that combines all things good in one package.

The Barrett family is hosting the 2013 Canadian Milking Shorthorn Society Annual Field Day and AGM in July. They are planning to make this a “don’t miss” event for Shorthorn breeders and are offering a tag sale of about a dozen Oceanbrae cattle. This sale includes a bred daughter of Fawn.

Check out their website for more information.  PD

TOP: Shorthorn milking herd at pasture near the shores of Malpeque Bay on Prince Edward Island.

BOTTOM: Fred and Matt Barrett are the third and fourth generation of their family to milk and breed Shorthorn cows. Read about their record-breaking 3-year-old. Photos courtesy of the Barrett family.