I visited probably the most picturesque farm that I’ve ever seen, last week, to learn about cattle judging from a master, Hatley Township’s Callum McKinven. Lookout Holsteins & Jerseys, the farm that Mr. McKinven co-owns and runs with his wife, Katherine Beerwort, and daughters Tara, Brooke and
Alana, sits at the top of a high ridge in an area that bears some resemblance to the rugged land of Scotland, home of his ancestors, and features Hatley, Lake Massawippi and far beyond.
How he came to buy this property, where the family raises over two hundred head of cattle for showing and marketing purposes, and milks thirty, is an interesting argument for the concept of ‘fate’.
The “Lookout” got its name long before the McKinvens bought that property. The land was owned by a moonlight-
ing farmer who charged cars nights, to park on the high point of his land to enjoy the view. “I used to run over there the next morning and collect the empty bottles that were worth one cent apiece,” explained Callum whose parents owned a farm down the road. “My father once asked me what I was going to do with all the money from the bottles. I told him, one day, I’d buy the Lookout!”
Callum was ready to buy his own farm, the Lookout wasn’t for sale so he opted for a property in Melbourne. Then, almost ten years ago as he was driving down Minton Road with his business partner, he saw the For Sale sign being hammered into the ground. the papers were signed.” He even received an interesting offer for the property the next day from the brother of a famous, former politician who lives in the area, an offer he quickly refused!
In less than a decade, the McKinvens have transformed their ‘property with a view’ into a showcase farm that hosts visitors regularly from around the world, be they stagiares who come to learn about cow genetics or heads of State, such as France’s former president, Jacques Chirac, who came to see the outstanding view. The cow barn alone, with its immaculately clean and brushed daily Holsteins and Jerseys, impressive in their bearing and stature to even the untrained eye (me), is a real sight to see with its varnished wood paneled walls and polished windows. There wasn’t even a cow patty in sight! “We get a lot of visitors so we keep things pretty neat,” admitted the cattle judge and showman as we walked through the entrance of the barn, walls covered in awards, ribbons, plaques and trophies, a testament to the family’s talent for raising and showing world-class cattle.
Callum, who has judged cattle in 28 countries and at the world’s most prestigious cattle shows, may have inherited some of his judging talents: his father, Alex McKinven, judged Jerseys all through Quebec and Ontario. Even his father-in-law, John Beerwort, who has judged at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair, may have taught him a thing or two.
“I always enjoyed judging. I never liked public speaking but I’m okay with cows,” commented Callum who began judging at County and State shows in his early twenties. By the time he was twenty-six, he was flying around the world to pick out the ‘best of the best’. Twenty odd years later he has judged in the Portugal, Japan, England, Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Australia and Brazil where he’s been back ten times, to name a handful of the countries he’s seen.
Regardless of the country, a champion is a champion and Mr. McKinven knows what he’s looking for when he enters the arena at a World Fair in his tuxedo. “I like a well-balanced animal: beautiful rib structure, size and stature is less important. A cow’s reputation means nothing to me; my eyes are the boss. My Dad and my father-in-law always told me to pick the best cow that day.”
The expert continued: “Perfection in confirmation goes with functional traits: good feet and legs at the right angle means the cow will last longer; a wind rump means easier calving; angularity and an open rib structure means more milk production. Style, although it’s not functional, also carries a little weight.”
When it comes time to announce the Supreme Champion at a show like Toronto’s ‘Royal’, the crowd goes silent and you could hear a pin drop. When Mr. McKinven says the winner, the crowd roars.
Champions aren’t always the result of careful breeding; sometimes they are found in the middle of an old farmer’s field. “I’ve bought cows that I saw just driving by. But now when the farmers see me coming, they put their price up!”
“I want to be consistent with my judging. First impressions are really important; I usually see the winner as soon as she walks in.” Confidence in his choices is also crucial. “There’s a lot of money involved so the owners want a fair judge. After a show I’ll talk to the guys, explain my decision.”
Besides the judging itself, Mr. McKinven enjoys the traveling that comes with this “hobby” of his. “I’ve made friends all over the world.”
Although Callum also shows his cattle at prestigious shows, he is “slowly surrendering” that aspect of the business over to his daughters. The family has also been supporting our local fair, in Ayer’s Cliff, showing at that exhibition every second year, alternating with the now defunct Quebec show. “We love the county shows. They’re important and there’s good competition in this area. Sometimes I help local farmers decide which cows to show.”
Apparently, the cows like the shows, too. “It’s amazing how well the cows perform when you take care of them. Some of the older cows, when they see that trailer backing up, get excited and they want to go.”
“My wife and I enjoy being in the barn a lot, working with trainees from other countries. We have one arriving from Japan in April, and later in the year one is coming from Denmark,” explained Mr. McKinven about the trainees who come to learn the art of breeding and raising champions. Besides valuable knowledge, they’ll also earn a valuable embryo or two to bring back to their own family’s farm.
“What you see here is a different side to farming!”
Cattle breeder Callum McKinven poses with “Lovable”, a magnificent Red & White Holstein who is famous world-wide, in his immaculate barn in Hatley Township.