Legacy of Evolution lives on for South Island charolais stud
Brent and Anna Fisher have bred the bull of a lifetime. They talk to Pat Deavoll on what makes Silverstream Evolution so special.
The legacy of a "bull of a lifetime " is living on for the Fisher family, as demand for the genetics of their leading charolais keeps growing.
Brent and Anna Fisher, who own Silverstream Charolais Stud on the south side of Banks Peninsula, claim Silverstream Evolution to be their most successful bull.
"Because of Evolution, we have managed to create a brand that is now really well known. And a reputation that lets people from around the world happily use our genetics," Brent says.
"We have other bulls that have done well, but it's Evolution that put us on the map."
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Praise indeed for the eight-year-old bull whose traits include perfect conformation and structure, and the ability to put his stamp on its progeny like no other.
"That's what everyone who has used him has found," says Brent.
"Plus he is polled. Normally polled animals don't have the natural thickness and constitution of a horned animal. But he does, and that is hugely attractive to buyers."
The stud is approaching its 50th year.
"We haven't changed the type of our cattle in that time - they are very similar to the cattle they were founded on decades back," Anna says.
"Years ago we had a bull called Ulverstone and [its genetics] were sent over to Canada and he did well in a progeny test. But it shows just how fickle this business is - he was a good bull but the trend in the US at the time was to breed big, rangy cattle, and he was heading in a different direction.
"Of course we have improved structure, feet, temperament, and fertility, etc. but as far as the type of animal, we have stuck with it.
"And this type isn't extreme. We like to think we breed a terminal-type charolais, but we are aware of the maternal traits as well," Anna says.
"We want our females to get in calf, calve at two-years-old, and we don't want calving problems. Our cattle fit in the middle. They can be used anywhere."
Often genetics is a numbers game, and the family is small on a global scale but because of Evolution's reputation, breeders are willing to give its sons a go, says Brent.
Silverstream's early success was in Canada and Australia, but now their genetics are being demanded by breeders from countries the Fishers had "never dreamed of," including France, the home of charolais.
It started in 2012 when Australian studs Palgrove Charolais and Moongool Charolais bought the semen rights to Evolution.
"His genetics now go to the outback cattle country of Queensland and Northern Territory. They are used in a semi-stud way by the big farming operations that have a brahman base - they use their elite brahmam cows with charolais-brahman bulls," says Brent.
At last year's Palgrove bull sale, Palgrove Kingdom sired by Evolution sold for $50,000. This year nine bulls from one of Evolution's sons averaged $15,000 with a top price of $40,000 at the auction.
Palgrove sells about 1000 bulls a year, Brent says. At this year's sale more than100 charolais bulls averaging $13,000 were sold but the bulls sired by Evolution averaged $15,200.
Last Month, Evolution son Moongool Lunar Rise sold for $83,000, an Australian charolais record.
"Since the success of Evolution we have sold the semen rights of two Evolution sons," says Brent.
Silverstream Lazarus sold to five studs in Australia with its first calves due early next year. Another son, Silverstream Landmark had its exclusive semen rights sold to Rosedale Charolais in Australia. Both of the sons are retained in the Silverstream herd.
Further afield, the genetics have sold to Wilgenbusch Charolais of Saskatchewan and HTA Charolais in Manitoba for NZ$50,000.
"When we decided to sell the Evolution genetics in Canada, we knew we were taking a big punt," says Brent.
"The buyers hadn't been out to see him and were putting a lot of faith in us. But it went well. We sold half shares with the buyers having a two year exclusive for NZ$25,000. At the end of two years, the buyers wanted to continue and have since done well out of the progeny.
"Since Evolution has done so well, we have sold the semen from one of his sons to Debryuckers Charolais in Montana - the biggest charolais stud in the world. That was a leap of faith on their part.
"And we now have Evolution sired embryos being sold in the UK and in France. France is the home of charolais, and rarely uses genetics from other countries. It's a real honour," Brent says.
But it's not just Evolution that is flying the Silverstream flag. Silverstream Geddes, which shares little of the Evolution genetics, has also been successful overseas. Geddes semen rights were leased by Canadian company Semex and two of its sons have done well.
HBSF Casanova sold for Can$45,000 and SOS Chuckwagon for Can$60,000, the top price charolais in 2015. Chuckwagon went on to be national grand champion at the Charolais Royal in Toronto last year.
"Geddes is a different type of bull; you wouldn't say he has the perfect structure like Evolution," says Anna.
"His is a moderate-frame with heaps of grunt and a big fluffy coat which they love in Canada because of the cold. We think he is a good bull but not exceptional, but the progeny we are getting from him are terrific for our commercial industry."
The couple see estimated breeding values (EBVs) as an important breeding tool, but not a marketing tool.
"We are not the sort of people who go to a sale with everything in the catalogue marked," says Anna.
"We are more likely to look at the animals and if we can't decide between two, then we use the EBVs.
"The problem with the EBV system is that it is outputs based and doesn't tell you about the inputs. You need to be able to look at animals and figure out whether they will work in a certain environment - that's where you need a combination of numbers and stock sense," she says.
"There is no EBV out there that captures the way Evolution is put together, and the way he has stamped this on his progeny. Stock people know that."
It takes a lot to build a brand as a top breeder, the couple says. Breeders can't just be anyone and get into the industry - they have to create a reputation.
They say Facebook has worked well for them and has been good for marketing.
"How else do people around the world see what we are doing?" Anna asks.
"We have 3300 followers, and they are global. That's how you create the hype and brand. We can put up a photo and get over 200 likes. Instant feedback"
"It's like anything; you have to build up confidence that the animals are going to breed on successfully. It's been a slow process, and we have to be very careful that the animals we put out there are going to do a good job," says Brent
"You are only as good as your last bull, so we have to be confident that the genetics we send out are going to work."
Back to Evolution. The prized bull has something extra that's hard to explain, the couple says. People don't have to know anything about cattle to go 'wow' when they see him.
"His sire is Silverstream Brumby B89. Brumby was sired by Palgrove Xcept. His dam was called Silverstream Glossy S120. Glossy was sired by a French sire. We have found that all our best cattle have French bloodlines very close in their pedigree," says Brent.
Evolution has paid his way, and it's a bit hard to say by how much.
"His main legacy for us will probably be the daughters he's leaving as they are breeding so well. The bulls we sell and they are gone, but the daughters keep on breeding and influence the herd and the next generations."
"We are very lucky to have bred an animal like Evolution in our lifetime."