Having invested a lifetime working towards the achievement of a Master Breeder Shield, Guy and Carol Levac don’t mind waiting a bit longer to receive the actual shield itself.

The owners of La Ferme Mirella in St-Bernardin were named as one of 20 winners across Canada of the 2020 Master Breeder Shield. While they were able to join 1,200 others to attend the Gala online last January – using their phone – the couple have yet to meet with officials to collect their prize.

“It wasn’t very big, but we were there,” chuckled Guy Levac, of watching the Master Breeder Awards Gala on the screen of their phone. The couple is hoping to receive the shield at a Holstein Canada event in Quebec scheduled for November, but are waiting on confirmation.

The Master Breeder program is the most prolific accolade awarded by Holstein Canada. Each year, since 1929, the association has recognized breeders among its membership across the country for their cumulative breeding efforts. This award is the pinnacle of success for any Holstein Canada member.

Since its inception, more than 1,000 Master Breeder shields have been bestowed to Holstein Canada members. Master Breeders are recognized for having the best ratio for breeding cows that possess the complete package — high production and outstanding conformation, with high proficiency in reproduction, health, and longevity.

For the Levacs, the award is the culmination of careful breeding and 15 years of data collecting by Holstein Canada. But the work actually began for Guy in 1980, when he joined his father Gaston full-time at Mirella, after graduating from Kemptville College that year. Mirella had been originally purchased for Gaston in 1956 by Guy’s grandfather Eugene to settle his son.

“We’re like everyone else; my father started with nothing – just a few cows and a few chickens,” says Guy Levac of Mirella. “Today we milk 125 cows all the time, with 5,000 litres of milk produced every day.”

The Levacs have built up their herd over the years through careful breeding. The descendants of two cows – Mirella Juror Destiny and Mirella Rudolph Enid – currently make up about 90 per cent of the current herd. Although she passed away years ago, Mirella Juror Destiny will always be remembered as the heart of the farm.

“She’s the matriarch of the herd,” Levac explains. “You have to have cow families that transmit the production ability. You have to think about what you are doing.”

“You can’t just toss everything out there and hope it works out.”

The owner of Mirella notes that Ontario and Quebec are the top locations in Canada for Holstein cattle, and as such receive more awards than other regions of the country. However he is careful to stress that the quality of a herd depends more on dedication and hard work than locale.

“Ontario and Quebec have more herds than the rest of the country, so you have more chance of getting better (cows),” Levac explains. “But quality-wise if you travel across Canada, you will see good herds elsewhere.”

Prescott County has a very active local branch of Ontario Holstein and strong herds, says Levac. Over the decades there have been several winners of the Master Breeders Shield from Prescott Country, including Horace Nixon, who won the award twice – something very difficult to do, as it can only be won at most once every 15 years.

But while the local association remains active – hosting the Prescott Country Holstein Show two weeks ago at the Vankleek Hill Fair – the number of dairy farms in the county is a fraction of what it used to be.

“We are only about 100 and a few milk producers in the county,” Levac observes. “In 1965 there were almost 1,500 producers.”

Progress continues at Mirella, where the Levacs are currently in the process of building a new free-stall barn. The new barn will be much more efficient and comfortable for its bovine guests; however the family has opted to remain somewhat traditional by forgoing the use of milking robots.

“If you think about it, you spend you time milking your cows in the parlour. With the robot, you spend your time watching the robot,” Levac said. “But it will be a drive-through free-stall barn. More comfort for the cows, with sand bedding and better ventilation.”

While Guy and Carol remain full-time operators of La Ferme Mirella, they have their eye on the family’s future generation. The couple’s oldest son Patrick works at Mirella, while their two other sons manage farms in the region.

“I’m 61 and have some health issues,” explains Levac. “I would say I’m not enjoying it as much as I’m used to, because there are a lot of things I can’t do.”

The full information on the winners of the 2021 Master Breeders Shields, along with the scoring and a feature on La Ferme Mirella, can be found in the Spring 2021 issue of The Holstein Ontario Link https://issuu.com/the_link/docs/spring2021_web .

The Levac family (back L to R) Patrick, Robert, Marie-Josée and Marco. In front are Carol and Guy. Submitted photo

Guy Levac with Mirella Juror Destiny, whom he describes as the “the matriarch of the herd”. Submitted photo