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PEI-bred super cow joins rare $1 million club

CALGARY -- Her name is Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy -- she goes by Missy for short -- and she's the new gold standard in the world of milk cows. Bred in Prince Edward island, Missy was worth $1.2 million as of last week, gaining entrance to a pa...

CALGARY -- Her name is Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy -- she goes by Missy for short -- and she's the new gold standard in the world of milk cows.

Bred in Prince Edward island, Missy was worth $1.2 million as of last week, gaining entrance to a pantheon of $1-million North American cows that contained only five Holsteins before her.

Missy produces 50 per cent more milk than your average cow, a whopping 50 kilograms a day. That makes the three-year-old cow a star in an industry where bovine genetics have attracted growing interest

When she sold at auction, Missy came with all the normal requisites of a good cow -- a flawless pedigree, magnificent genetics and a string of champion showings -- plus something perhaps more important: up to $3.23 million in presigned contracts. If Missy can generate the volumes of embryos her owners believe she can, and if her progeny are as world-class as she is, she could be worth even more.

"You don't run across these kind of cows very often in your lifetime," said Morris Thalen, the owner of Morsan Farms Ltd., in Ponoka, Alta.

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Thalen will continue to raise and coddle Missy at his 3,400-head operation even after a good chunk of her was sold to a Danish investor and a U.S. businessman at an Ontario auction last Wednesday. Thalen will retain some ownership of the cow, but did not disclose what percentage.

Though she was already considered one of the top cows in the world, her thoroughbred-class price tag has cemented her as a symbol of what's possible for dairy farmers, who have seen demand for merely excellent cattle slip with the world economy in the past year.

For them, Missy is proof that elite cattle retain a cachet and profitability even in down times.

In the past year, the price of commercial dairy cows has tumbled by about 25 per cent. Demand for Canadian embryos, which have long been prized for their stellar genetics, has fallen to half.

That has, conversely, boosted the value of those very top cows whose embryos are still in high demand.

"The very elite are still worth a lot," said Ridley Wikkerink, a Cobble Hill, B.C., dairy farmer who also owns some of Canada's best cows. Missy is "young, she has a lot of credits to her already, and she's got a lifetime ahead of her to make money," he said.

Better cows typically have better stamina, have fewer health problems and produce more milk -- all of which makes them more profitable.

Farmers "want to milk better cows, and this is how they're getting them," said Peter English, who owns and publishes the Holstein Journal. "Even guys that really didn't give three hoots and a rain barrel about the purebred business five or 10 years ago, they're seeing the possibility and potential in keeping better cattle."

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The other advantage to having good cows: the rest of the world wants them. Though milk is the main commodity for Canada's dairy farmers, the country exports between $8 million and $9 million a year in dairy cow embryos, $178 million in semen and $100 million in live dairy cattle.

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