Eve Project seeks 200,000-pound record for Elevation’s dam: Relocated from Pennsylvania to Canada for trailblazing ET surgery in 1974 left 8th lactation incomplete
By Sherry Bunting, published Farmshine, January 15, 2021
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Less than 4000 pounds. That’s what separates Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve’s recorded lifetime production from the 200,000-pound mark she is believed to have earned but for the circumstances of her relocation and donor cow surgery at the peak of her eighth lactation.
Aptly named ‘Eve’, the dam of the one and only Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation has touched over 95% of the Holstein breed — given Elevation’s more than 100,000 recorded offspring and around 9 million descendants, worldwide.
In fact, her son’s growing impact was part of the reason she was relocated for several months in 1974 from her last owners in Pennsylvania to Modern Ova Trends, Norval, Ontario, Canada for superovulation and embryo recovery transfer surgery to attempt a multiple repeat of the mating that had produced Elevation a decade earlier.
That move at 12 years of age, in peak lactation, created a lapse in milk recording that shorted Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve’s lifetime record to be 3,970 pounds shy of the 200,000-pound mark at 196,030M 4.1 8070F.
This shortfall is believed to be milk Eve made, or would have made, in the second part of her eighth lactation had she not been a trailblazer. She was housed several months mainly with beef animals as the only lactating animal in a facility without milk-recording and submitted to embryo transfer, which in those days was major surgery, especially for an aged lactating cow.
Bred by the Ron Hope family of Round Oak Farms, Purcellville, Virginia, Eve produced Elevation in 1965 at age 3. She was sold at age 8 in the 1970 Round Oak dispersal to the late Calvin Will of Willsholm Holsteins, Berlin, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The sale occurred when her son was still a young sire, before his prowess for transmitting that rare combination of production, conformation, fertility, and longevity had the world clamoring for Elevation.
For 2019 Holstein USA distinguished service award winner George Miller, Eve is special.
George Miller spent his lifelong career in Holstein genetics, 17 years with Virginia Artificial Breeders Association (VaABA), which merged to become part of Select Sires, Inc., with Miller serving as director of marketing from 1973 through retirement.
Miller grew up helping at his uncle’s Round Oak farm and had early involvement with his cousin Ron Hope’s development of the Holstein herd, even while earning his Master of Science at Virginia Tech. Recognized as instrumental in directing the development of ‘do-it-yourself’ insemination programs to propel A.I. and genetic progress cost-effectively for dairy farmers, Miller’s keen eye for cattle and knowledge of bulls as a sire analyst in those early days of A.I., led to his participation in a series of decisions at Round Oak.
Key decisions included the purchase of Ivanhoe semen in Lancaster, Pa. in 1958, which led to the mating that produced Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve as well as Miller’s suggested mating of Eve to Tidy Burke Elevation that produced Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation.
The rest, as they say, is history, except for a bit of unfinished business for Eve.
During a December 2020 conversation between two 1974-78 University of Guelph classmates, the Eve Project was born. The Eve Project is a proposal to Holstein Associations USA and Canada, requesting Eve’s legacy be reviewed for special consideration of her lifetime milk record based on her circumstances in 1974.
Not long ago, Miller inquired about Eve’s production record. Miller, 94, has been retired from Select Sires since 1996, but continued active in Holstein genetics. He is currently in nursing care, residing with his wife Pippin at Friendship Village in Columbus, Ohio. Eve is on his mind.
A close friend Mark Comfort, co-founder of Udder Comfort and founder of Transfer Genetics, which became TransCanada Select Sires, Ontario, discovered last month that there is more to Eve’s story after communicating with classmate John Birks of Modern Ova Trends, Via Pax Corp Ltd., and TRIAD ET Ltd., Ontario.
As a college student, Birks was a weekend herdsman for Modern Ova Trends in 1974. He remembers Eve as the “iron lady” because of her strength, production and easy going, undaunted nature.
Birks also began looking into Eve’s production record, recently finding that almost half of her eighth lactation is missing.
In a December 2020 letter to Holstein Associations USA and Canada, Birks makes the strong case. Unlike many cows that had trouble coming back after what was major ET surgery, Eve not only continued to milk, she went on to breed back and have a ninth lactation at 14 years of age!
The Eve Project is simply a request to respect her legacy and review her production history, “that she may be awarded the 200,000-pound lifetime record, which she deserves,” Comfort relates in an email.
“George and Eve have influenced the Holstein breed,” Comfort explains. He says Miller’s impact on him and others of the Select Sires family “is absolutely appreciated. We are thankful for the influence he has had on our lives, causing us to be better people. His ideals and principles are second to none.”
At the same time, Miller’s work with Eve touched so many in the Holstein breed.
Nowadays, a breeder can request a ‘special consideration’ waiver from the DHIA company to calculate unrecorded milk for sick cows or traveling cows for up to two milk tests of up to 75 days each. If Eve were alive today, relocating for surgery or traveling on extended show circuit, a qualified waiver could be requested and potentially approved.
In retrospect, this is all that would be needed to account for her time off-test during the ET work in Canada; however, Eve lived almost half a century ago.
“George thinks the Eve project is a long shot, but his love for this cow is undeniable,” Comfort says, relating a recent conversation in which Miller recalled visiting Eve at Willsholm after she returned from Canada.
He had been impressed with her care and how beautiful she looked at 14, how she had thrived after the surgery, breeding back with a Fond Matt bull calf.
“This is a testament to her iron will. All we want is a chance to be heard, to plead our case. In my letter to the associations, I emphasized that Eve had a major surgical procedure. Few people today realize how challenging surgical embryo recovery was then,” writes Birks in an email, listing several top-of-mind examples of high-profile Holsteins that died shortly after this surgery.
Birks observes that Eve’s time under care for ET surgery in Canada easily equates to the special consideration given today to sick cows or show cows away from home for extended periods of time.
“The reality is, Eve did produce these 4000 pounds of milk during her several-month relocation,” writes Birks in his letter. “Please focus on Eve’s eighth lactation starting June 26, 1973, which is recorded as 181 days, 14,949 pounds 4.2% ending January 23, 1974. Obviously, this is an incomplete record, but there is a logical and verifiable reason.”
Birks explains that in the second half of 1973, two embryo transfer facilities were established in Canada, one being Modern Ova Trends. They were initiated to fill a North American demand to reproduce exotic beef imports from Europe. The technology was equally applicable to dairy cattle, but new.
“The owners of Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve chose to submit her to this ground-breaking, cutting edge procedure. In January or February 1974 at 181 DIM, Eve was sent to Modern Ova Trends… to undergo superovulation and embryo transfer,” Birks writes firsthand as he worked there at the time.
“Eve was attended to by a very capable herdsman, Ron Westgate, a former employee of Romandale Farms Limited. Eve was the only lactating cow at Modern Ova Trends in 1974. Ron and I were hired by Dr. Donald C. Wilson (1941-2020) a veterinarian with G.D Stirk and Associates, Brampton, ON,” Birks recalls, stating that Westgate can “verify Eve was milking during winter and spring. He worked with her daily. I was weekend barn staff.”
Birks goes on to explain that, “Official milk recording was not provided to the embryo transfer industry in Canada until 1977 at Via Pax Corp. Limited Woodbridge, Ontario. It was recognised in 1977 that many seedstock cows were away from home and were absent for two or more official tests leaving gaps in their official records. I know this to be factual because I worked at Via Pax at the time.”
Eve’s ET time in Canada was three years earlier. She arrived in mid-winter 1974, was superovulated in early spring 1974 and inseminated to Tidy Burke Elevation by Modern Ova Trends veterinarian Dr. Casey Ringleberg, now retired, according to Birks, who assisted.
“By today’s ET standards, surgical embryo transfer was a laborious and challenging procedure,” he writes, explaining the procedure in detail in his letter. “Eve recovered and continued to milk. She was also able to return to the U.S…. and completed a ninth lactation starting May 4, 1976. This iron lady finished her career with a 14 year 305-day record of 20,000 pounds and 25,000 pounds in 519 days. With the completion of this record, her official lifetime total is 196,030 pounds.”
Dan Will also has great respect for Eve. He recalls the day 51 years ago when his father paid $11,000 for her at the Round Oak dispersal, where Eve was among 15 Ivanhoe daughters sold.
“That was back when a unit of Elevation was still $1.50 and plentiful. Neighbors thought we were nuts, but she was worth that, probably 20 times over. She helped spark my interest in the registered Holstein business, brought people in the driveway, and made dairy farming very interesting for me. We loved that cow,” Will relates in a Farmshine phone interview this week.
From 1970 until 2016, when Dan and his brother John dispersed the Willsholm herd, their North View Farm in Berlin, Pa., was known as “Home of the Eve family.”
Will visited Eve while she was in Canada. “She looked really good and well taken care of,” he recalls.
“She was a tremendous milk cow. She was a strong cow, big framed, a real good eater. The challenge was always to keep the feed in front of her,” Will says. “Eve gave a lot of milk, never kicked, milked out clean in all four quarters. She was a real pleasure to work with. I don’t recall her ever being sick and I don’t recall her ever having mastitis.”
Birks puts the Eve Project into perspective as boiling down to respect.
“Eve left the U.S. at 181 DIM for a procedure that was in the best interests of advancing the Holstein breed. She was absent from her home and official milk recording during the peak of lactation in a country (Canada) and facility (Modern Ova Trends) being submitted to a procedure (superovulation and surgical embryo recovery). Official milk recording was not considered,” Birks explains.
“She was stuck in limbo because she was a trailblazer,” Birks writes. “The stark reality is that the donor population at Modern Ova Trends at the time was almost exclusively European beef imports, many right off the plane or boat, subject to strict quarantine requirements. Eve could not have been sent to an Export/AI herd such as Rowntree Farms Limited for milk recording.”
With a “keen sense of duty to a great cow,” Birks respectfully proposes special consideration for extending the eighth lactation of Eve starting July 26,1973 by a suitable number of tests to “credit this great cow with the additional 4000 pounds. God knows she deserves our every consideration. She earned it,” he writes.
Others have described Eve’s strength in historical writings of the Holstein breed.
During the Century of Holsteins celebration, the Virginia Holstein Association wrote: “No one Holstein animal can claim the impact worldwide as Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation. His dam, Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve (4E-94) was a big, tall, open-ribbed Ivanhoe daughter that traces 20 times to Johanna Rag Apple Pabst.”
Former Loudoun County, Va. extension agent Walter S. McClure, Sr. writes: “Eve was sired by Osborndale Ivanhoe, who was quickly becoming the most exciting bull in the Holstein industry. Over the next few years, I watched her develop into a tremendous cow both in production and type, producing a maternal line 6 generations of Excellent dams.”
McClure was with VABA by 1966 and recalls the day the Holstein Sire Committee agreed to go to Round Oak after the annual field day to see Eve’s yearling son Elevation. “Today, his influence, and that of his dam, is in the pedigree of over 90% of recent Holstein bulls in almost every major dairy country worldwide,” wrote McClure in 2016.
During a 2013 Farmshine interview, Miller recalled the path to Elevation really started for Round Oak with the Hope family’s interest in the line-bred Rag Apple family of Mount Victoria in Quebec. The line descended from owner T.B. Macauley’s purchase of Johanna Rag Apple Pabst in the 1920s.
Eve’s dam came from this line.
“Ivanhoe was the most extreme bull we ever saw,” Miller recalled the stop made in Lancaster at Southeast Pennsylvania Animal Breeder’s Cooperative (which became Atlantic Breeders) on the way to the National Convention in Boston in 1958.
“Ivanhoe was taller and longer, a breed-changer in my opinion. My cousin (Ron Hope) ordered 100 units of Ivanhoe that day for that reason,” said Miller.
Hope had been using two bulls from Glenafton Farms in Canada. One was Glenafton Gaity. “I suggested they breed Gaiety daughters to Ivanhoe. As those Ivanhoe daughters started freshening, they were impressive,” Miller related.
One of those impressive Ivanhoe x Gaity daughters was Eve.
Round Oak’s first significant outcross in 20 years was the mating suggested by Miller of Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve to Tidy Burke Elevation that produced Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation.
In fact, the surgery on Eve at Modern Ova in 1974 was an effort 9 years later to repeat and multiply that breeding. No fertile embryos were recovered.
Eve recovered and thrived according to first-hand accounts of those who cared for and worked with her. The procedures did not keep her from milking. Had she been able to transfer to a facility with milk recording, the remainder of her eighth lactation would have been recorded.
With great respect for George Miller and his love for this beautiful ‘iron lady’, those involved in the Eve Project are hoping the Holstein Association USA and Canada will consider Birks’ letter and proposal. Holstein enthusiasts who are interested or able to provide further details or information are encouraged to contact the association, and/or the Eve Project via John Birks at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mark Comfort at email@example.com.
Fans of Eve are also hoping those associated with the former Pennsylvania DHIA, which Will says did the official milk recording at Willsholm in those days, could posthumously evaluate her eighth lactation for special consideration waiver almost half a century later.