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Success of Avonlea Genetics leads to sharing tools for dairy’s progress

Progressive Dairy Editorial Intern Courtney Moser Published on 30 September 2019
Andrew, Jennifer, Taylor and Will Vander Meulen gather with Avonlea’s show crew and Chocolate Chip.

Avonlea Genetics Inc. aims to supply tools for dairy’s progress while striving to earn World Dairy Expo champion honours to add to their herd’s award tool chest.

For this well-known Canadian Jersey herd, exhibiting at the international dairy show has been a long-standing tradition and an annual event not to be missed.

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“To us, World Dairy Expo is the best dairy show that we can be part of in North America,” Andrew Vander Meulen of Avonlea Genetics says. “That’s why we continue to make an effort to go there.”

Avonlea Genetics currently includes Andrew Vander Meulen and his wife, Jennifer; their children, Taylor (18) and Will (16); and Jennifer’s parents, Jim and Liz Livock.

For them, the trek from Brighton, Ontario, to the coloured shavings in Madison, Wisconsin, is about more than competition; it opens up doors for marketing as well.

“As much as we go there to show our cattle, we go there to promote our genetics and make contact with potential buyers and breeders from not only the U.S. but all over the world,” Andrew says. “It’s our best and our biggest opportunity to market to the world.”

A tool chest of honours

The Avonlea prefix, which comes from Jennifer’s family, did not take long to catch attention in the show ring after making their first World Dairy Expo debut in 1982.

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Just one year later, in 1983, Avonlea Valiant Kitty earned Junior Champion Female of the Jersey show. Kitty went on to be the patriarch of the “K” family, for which Avonlea is known.

As momentum of Avonlea Genetics built following Kitty’s win, their participation at the expo did too. They have been regular exhibitors since 1993, with the exception of the years the border between the U.S. and Canada was closed due to concern over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

While not an official World Dairy Expo award, Jennifer highlights an exciting event which occurred in 1995 when she and Andrew began dating at the show. The couple has now been married 22 years.

As part of the Avonlea team, the couple has gone on to exhibit several World Dairy Expo class winners and animals worthy of high remarks at the end of the show day.

One of which was Avonlea MCT Becky, who snatched Intermediate Champion and Reserve Grand Champion awards in 1996. The following year, Reserve Grand Champion went to Avonlea Juno Kracker.

Avonlea added to their tool chest of honours in 2000 when they were awarded Premier Breeder of the Jersey show.

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During the time the border was closed and animals from Canada were not allowed to exhibit at World Dairy Expo, Andrew was still involved, serving as a judge of the 2007 Jersey show.

With the border re-opened in 2008, Avonlea once again returned to the show ring as an exhibitor. That year, they nailed down the honour of World Dairy Expo Grand Champion with Alexvale Made Me Giggle. In 2010, Avonlea CF Baby Breeze seized Junior Champion honours.

Their farm has been well represented by cattle over the years, but one of the people behind Avonlea has also earned top honours for herself. Taylor Vander Meulen was named the winner of the 2017 Intermediate Showmanship contest.

Taylor Vander Meulen won the 2017 Intermediate Showmanship class.

As 2018 rolled around, it proved to be another year of awards for their cattle. Avonlea Premier Chocolate Chip, a homebred 5-year-old, was honoured with several awards.

She topped her class, winning Best Udder and Best Bred and Owned of her class and went on to be named Honourable Mention Senior Champion Jersey.

“We’re very happy to have those results, but we also don’t want to take them for granted,” Andrew says. “We’re glad to have the opportunity to achieve them and lucky enough to have them.”

Andrew Vander Meulen exhibits Avonlea Premier Chocolate Chip at the 2018 World Dairy Expo.

Sharing tools for dairy’s global progress

Avonlea Venom Keep Me Klose, another homebred cow, placed second in her senior 2-year-old cow class at the 2018 World Dairy Expo.

“Following the show, we were fortunate enough to sell her,” Andrew says. “That’s part of the reason we show them. It’s very rewarding when other breeders and people show interest and go on to do well with the cattle they purchase from us.”

Under new ownership, she went on to win her class at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Avonlea also had success with Chocolate Chip at the show, taking home first in her class as well.

“It brings me a great deal of satisfaction to sell a cow and see her thrive. That’s very rewarding,” Andrew says. “In our opinion, when we sell a cow – whether it’s a prominent show cow or any other animal – we want a happy customer, and we want the cow to do well for them.”

As Andrew and his family packed their supplies, loaded cattle and made their 745-mile journey to World Dairy Expo for another year, they looked forward to strengthening connections and building new ones.

While exhibiting their cattle in the show ring is important, Andrew particularly looks forward to marketing Avonlea’s genetics on a global scale, saying, “The door is always open for business.”

Building a champion herd

For generations, owners of Avonlea have chosen to breed cows that are attractive in the show ring but also from an overall production standpoint. Andrew says this is important for each cow to “earn her keep in the barn as well as in shows.”

Of the 130 head of Jerseys that call Avonlea home, 40 are milking cows with classification scores and production records to prove their worth in the barn. Currently, the herd includes 19 Excellent, 33 Very Good and 3 Good Plus animals; no animal is scored lower.

“Each generation has made an attempt to carry on the same philosophy for breeding cows,” Andrew says. “Cows with deep, strong breeding pedigrees and strong cow families are a necessity here. That’s what we strive to develop.”

Over the years, Avonlea has bred or exhibited over 300 All-Canadian-nominated Jerseys including 55 All-Canadian, 42 Reserve All-Canadian and 39 Honourable Mention.

“We are proud of the successes we have had with our cows, and we really don’t try to take it for granted,” Andrew says. “We try to work hard at it and breed a cow that is appealing to ourselves and other people in the marketplace.”

Avonlea strives to build upon their successes – both in the show ring and the barn – for themselves and as a tool to share for dairy’s progress.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Andrew, Jennifer, Taylor and Will Vander Meulen gather with Avonlea’s show crew and Chocolate Chip.

PHOTO 2: Taylor Vander Meulen won the 2017 Intermediate Showmanship class.

PHOTO 3: Andrew Vander Meulen exhibits Avonlea Premier Chocolate Chip at the 2018 World Dairy Expo. Photos provided by Jennifer Vander Meulen of Avonlea Genetics.

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