BIG-MONEY CATTLE

Quick—what are Holsteins? No, they’re not just good Canadian cows any more. The Jet Set has taken over to make them the world’s

JIM ROMAHN February 1 1967

BIG-MONEY CATTLE

Quick—what are Holsteins? No, they’re not just good Canadian cows any more. The Jet Set has taken over to make them the world’s

JIM ROMAHN February 1 1967

BIG-MONEY CATTLE

Quick—what are Holsteins? No, they’re not just good Canadian cows any more. The Jet Set has taken over to make them the world’s

JIM ROMAHN

EVERYBODY KNOWS RICH MEN love to fool around with race horses. But — dairy cows? Sure, a tycoon might keep a few dozen head as a hobby. But would you expect him to dote on a cow the way a horse owner would dote on Northern Dancer? More than that, can you see millionaires from all over the world flying into Toronto to sit around peering at udders and comparing milk-production records the way horse fanciers compare track times?

Well, really!

Yes, really. For one thing, these animals aren’t ordinary run-of-the-pasture cows and bulls. They’re Holsteins — the most productive dairy cattle in the world. And the most eager bidders you see here belong to an international clique of big-money men who have lately turned the business of Canadian Holstein breeding into one of the world's most expensive hobbies. In the process they've made several Canadian farmers rather wealthy (sales totaled an estimated $15 million last year), and boosted this one breed of black-and-white cattle into a prominent place among Canada's farm exports.

The clique includes Japanese industrialists, Argentine financiers, and at least one Italian aristocrat — Count Marzotto, who owns the world's largest herd of Canadian Holsteins (about 3.000 head). Pope Paul has a small herd at his country retreat.

And when it comes to paying the price for a show winner they want, the men who like to fool around with Holsteins no longer fool around. Before the boom, a farmer with a best-ofshow bull was lucky to get $4.000 for it. Now the front rows at Holstein auctions are packed with millionaires willing to start bidding at $4.000. and the prices they pay are often startling. In Ontario not long ago, one Holstein cow sold for $42,000; in Colorado, one bull, an offspring of a Holstein bull bred in Canada, went privately for $1 15,000. At a recent auction, similar to the one pictured here which followed the annual show of Holsteins at the Royal Winter Fair, one Canadian owner grossed $51 1.225 in the sale of 21 1 head. Among those who drove the bidding up that high were cattle-fanciers from France, Italy, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Argentina and Canada.

The owner of those 211 head was R. R. Dennis, a Toronto real-estate developer who is one of the few Canadians who even try any more to keep up with the international set of Holstein fanciers. Dennis, whose current business project is a $9'/2 million hotel complex for downtown Toronto, admits he uses his Holsteins as an excuse to slip away from his office. But he has wanted to own Holsteins, he says, ever since he was a kid.

On the other hand, one of Dennis's friendliest rivals, Angelo Agro, got into the Holstein hobby by chance. Agro is a Hamilton millionaire who made his fortune / continued overleaf in the wholesale fruit business, then bought a farm. As it happened, there were Holsteins on the farm, and he decided to keep them. “But I told myself, if I was going to have Holsteins, they'd be the best.” That resolution has proved expensive. Once, to get one cow he wanted, Agro paid $33,000.

Among bidders at the big Holstein auctions, it’s getting ha

And then there's Stephen Roman, in a class by himself. Roman, president of Denison Mines, is the only millionaire who’s an expert judge of Holsteins. About the only thing Roman doesn’t work hard at is disguising his scorn for cattle fanciers like R. R. Dennis. “Dennis doesn't know anything,” Roman says bluntly. “He's just a rich playboy who can’t tell his winners from the also-rans. He just lets his herdsman run things.”

In the show ring, it's hard even for an expert to tell the great from the merely good. At an actual sale, no monkey business is allowed; but for the show ring, herdsmen have developed dozens of crafty tricks to make their animals look better than they really are. Just recently, cattlemen strengthened their code of ethics to stop a few handlers from rubbing their cows’ bodies with irritants, which made them swell out attractively, and injecting the udders with fluid or stopping up the teats for a day, which made the cows look like better milkers than they really w'ere.

But almost anything else still goes. Hair that can’t be trained into place with a brush will be treated with women's hair spray. A tail that looks too skimpy may have a false hairpiece added. A few herdsmen are not above keeping their prized cows hungry the night before an important show, then letting them gorge themselves in the last few hours to make their stomachs bulge. A big belly is an important attribute, because the more a cow eats, the more milk she produces. Other handlers get the same appearance by forcing beer down the cow’s throat. At one show, a cow took in so much beer she couldn’t stand unaided.

Can judges be fooled? Showmen try

Farmers and herdsmen remain just as unsentimental at breeding time. Natural insemination is now almost a rarity — a million cows a year are bred artificially in Canada alone, to just a few dozen of the best bulls in the world. Some Flolstein bulls have fathered as many as 100,000 calves. And breeders soon may not have to let a prized cow “waste” herself carrying a calf through a full pregnancy. In the experimental stage is a method of transplanting a one-month-old fetus to the womb of another cow. The original mother can then be impregnated again. That way, a prized cow can produce as many as seven calves a year.

But perhaps the most awesome practice of all is the storage of semen. The most highly coveted breeding bull in the world today is ABC Reflection Sovereign — and he died 12 years ago. In his lifetime he produced several hundred vials of semen, and many were put into storage. Not until long after his death was the superiority of his offspring fully evident. Last year, a few of his vials were sold — at $1,000 apiece. Today, 16 vials remain, stored at 340 F. below zero, in a chamber at Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph. Any one of these could be used to make ABC Reflection Sovereign the father of a champion calf once again, as late as a century from now.

What will one of his calves be worth then? Half a million dollars? A million? The way things have been going, any figure sounds a little conservative. ★