Stephen Borland at Rapid Bay Farms is no stranger to raising high-quality cattle. Up until about eight years ago, his farm was known for its fine purebred Jersey cows. The farm then decided to expand to include Wagyu cattle, starting with one female purchased from the United States. “We’ve done extensive embryo transfer on her; … we have about 55 and they all originated from her and her daughters and granddaughters; and now, we have her great-granddaughters,” explains Borland.
The Wagyus they breed are a red type called Akaushi. Wagyu cattle are red or black, with 95 per cent of North American Wagyu being black. Borland explains that the red variety has its advantages: “They’re more muscular and they yield higher; they’re faster-growing. They’re more heat-tolerant than the black ones and are becoming super popular all over the world. They’re the hottest breed in the bovine world, currently,” says Borland.
Though they do sell some meat from the farm, the main focus is breeding. At this point, Rapid Bay is selling embryos and semen to farms in around 15 different countries. Borland adds that “We try to use the best bulls available to create the best genetics possible, which has helped us be able to crack this breed as new breeders and sell to old established breeders.”
Borland has become quite the expert in the bovine world, so much so that he was asked to be a judge at the 2022 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. This was Borland’s second time judging there, the first being in 2002. He says he was “quite honoured” to have been selected to judge again, especially during the 100th anniversary of the Royal. Borland has judged cattle in about 15 countries across the world, including the National Dairy Show in Brazil in August 2022; however, the Royal is unique. “Of all the shows around the world, [The Royal] is so well done. It’s got so much class, it’s more than a cow show,” says Borland. There is a lot of pride in Canadian agriculture, and he adds that “It’s a really high-class social event. It features all of the Canadian livestock: beef cattle, dairy cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens; it’s a real showcase for Canadian agriculture.”
The exhibitors at the Royal are the ones who select the judges each year. Borland speculates that “They probably select judges who have shown some high-quality cattle and have done some winning. Especially for a high profile show like that … They want to vote for someone who they are confident would do a good job and be non-partial or political.” Judging was a “great experience” for him and a way to gain more perspective on what it takes to be a top competitor.
At the end of 2022, Borland also shipped 17 heifers to Colombia. Most of them were Jerseys; one was a Wagyu. “We’ve sent about 1000 head to foreign countries. Every year we do a shipment to Colombia. This year we sent 17 of our best heifers to four different buyers.” The animals were quarantined before leaving. “On our farm here, we have a [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] CFIA-certified quarantine station. As far as I know, it’s the only one in Canada.” Borland explains that in many Central and South American countries, wealthy people often invest in farming. Since Canada is known for its high-quality cattle, Borland is often exporting to these countries, especially Colombia and Brazil.
Borland is extremely passionate about the work he’s doing. “When you’re in the purebred cattle business, it’s really 24 hours a day. You’re always thinking about your next move and looking for the next great bull.” He calls this drive a “disease,” and says that “You get almost obsessed with breeding cattle and trying to make them better all the time. A cow is an amazing thing. A dairy cow will produce 10,000 kilos a year of food, so it’s a pretty amazing thing.” Rapid Bay has the only Akaushi herd in Canada, making their cows even more special.