By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
The new barn is nice, really nice, but it doesn’t erase the memory of a fire that destroyed the Posthaven Limousin barn along with a semen tank containing both past and future genetics.
In April of 2020, John and Ena Post were sitting in the basement of their home on Sideroad 20 near Alma in Perth County when Ena went upstairs to make coffee. She looked out the kitchen window and yelled, “the barn is on fire.”
Despite an injured leg, John ran outside, his only thought to get the cattle out. His neighbouring son had also seen the glow of the fire and was racing to the barn. A lifetime of genetics was in that barn! The cows and bulls were in the barnyard, frightened and surging at the gates trying to get away from the flames. John, his son and more neighbours opened gates into the pasture and all the animals escaped. Fifteen minutes later, the bank barn collapsed, taking all its contents, including over 380 vials of semen, with it. After the fire, seven of his bulls had to be put down from burns and/or smoke inhalation.
“If we had lost all the heifers and cows, there would have been a good chance I’d have quit,” admits John Post, who has spent over 30 years redefining the Limousin breed with fullblood, heavily-muscled genetics that can be traced back to France and Britain. He believes Limousin cattle should be meaty, with excellent conformation though not necessarily showy, and has built a reputation as a breeder with three bulls in Semex and countless cattle and bulls sold world-wide from his small farm near Alma.
On the day of the fire, the wickedly intense flames were licking at the roof of his house across the yard, requiring 90,000 tonnes of water to save it The house remained standing (and remarkably) undamaged but the barn was reduced to ashes, something every farmer dreads. It was later determined mice had chewed through electrical wires, even though the barn had been rewired 17 years earlier. All the writing in the new barn is protected in conduit.
A barn fire is an emotional event for farmers and has long repercussions. Simple things such as going to feed the cats and realizing the cat dishes were destroyed can bring back the shock. All Post’s tools, stored hay and straw were lost. The fire did not, however, destroy Post’s vision of the breed and his desire to be a breeder of repute even as he has surpassed retirement age.
“I love what I’m doing … I’d like to keep farming until I’m 80!” he states, modifying that to include “until my health permits.” He’s now in partnership with son, John Jr., with the provision that John and Ena can stay on the farm as long as they choose. ‘We love this place. We aren’t ones to go to the beach or on a cruise ship,” says Post, who built the house they live in. They do like to do day trips or overnight stays when delivering bulls.
Being a beef breeder is a different direction than Post expected to take when he was a young man. His dad was a dairy farmer and Post hoped he’d also do dairy one day. First, he started a construction company called Post Farm Structures Inc (now run by his oldest and youngest sons, Herman and Josh) and by the early 1980s realized dairy farming wasn’t going to be possible.
“So I switched to beef cattle,” remembers Post, as he recounts his story from the warm office of his barn. His old dog keeps trying to sneak in and I can see the randy bulls are jumping on one another in the big bull pen seen through the window. There are five pens in total plus a storage section for small round bales of straw. It’s neat, clean, light and organized for efficient movement of animals. There are currently about 60 head in the barn and Post has no plans to become a large cattle farmer as his focus has, and always will be, genetics.
“If there weren’t any bloodlines to track in these animals, I’d rather the barn was empty,” states Post. His focus is to breed big butts back into Limousin cattle, something the showmen haven’t focused on, he believes. “If you have to tell me it's a Limousin, I don’t want ‘em.”
Post breeds fullblood Limousins, where both sides of the pedigree can be traced back to France or Britain. He recently purchased eight animals from the U.S., using hair samples to test the DNA and follow their pedigree back to France. Europeans prefer different cuts of meat and fatten cattle to 2,500 pounds compared to Ontario which prefers a carcass weight of 800 pounds. He thinks Europe has it right because butts are where the meat is, especially the Triple AAA marbled meat that people want.
He sells meat from the farm as well and struggles to understand why 80 per cent of the meat sold is hamburger. Hamburger! He thinks it's a darn shame that so much meat that should be in roasts and steaks ends up as hamburger.
Farmgate sales are a sideline for the main business which is selling bulls. That’s where small breeders like himself can turn a profit since Posthaven bulls sell for $3,500 to $4,800 each. Embryos are sold on order because of all the paperwork, with the last ones sold going to Norway three years ago. Cattle sales during Posthaven’s cattle drive, foundation and online sales have seen them go to six Canadian provinces and 14 American states. Semen from eight Posthaven sires has been marketed worldwide and three bulls have been sold to Semex: Urban Cowboy, Zanzibar and Cyrus. The bull that “has done the most” is Yellowstone, son of Urban Cowboy, which is a top-requested full-polled bull, says Post.
Full-polled bulls take generations to breed and are highly desired as temperament and this is where Post gets fierce. “I cull hard on temperament. If a bull isn’t going to behave, it goes to the butcher,” says Post. “I’ve got grandkids and I don’t want that kind of cattle in my barn. Other breeders don’t want them either.” Limousins have had a reputation for being aggressive but Post says that’s being bred out of the breed. “People from all over come to look over this herd and they always comment on how quiet they are.”
Post’s goals for his business is to focus on the dependability of the Posthaven name. He guarantees all his animals, semen-tests for reliability of bulls and has papers on all the bloodlines. Part of the reason he purchased the eight animals from the U.S. was to introduce different bloodlines. Semen is only collected from Posthaven genetics.
Seeing the animals contentedly eating in the new barn, it’s hard to imagine the herd in any other surroundings but the cattle lived outside with bush cover for most of 2020 while the barn was being built. A neighbour housed the bulls for Post. Post’s sons who took over Post Farm Constructions built the barn while Post’s former foreman, Bert De Haan of Benchmark Construction, did the interior.
“He knows me so well and he knew exactly what I wanted,” says Post. De Haan’s professional help, skill, understanding and friendship is something Post is particularly thankful for. The barn design is everything he could ask for. Floors were sloped for manure to run to the yard for easy cleanup while keeping the pens inside cleaner and dryer. Everything is airy and open, which has improved ventilation and has the extra benefit of making the cattle quieter because they see humans everyday. With everything on one floor, and a new gating system, chores take half the time. That is a good thing because Post seriously re-injured his leg running out to save the cattle on the night of the fire. First hurt in March when a cow kicked him, Post had been favouring the leg but he couldn’t think about his leg during the fire. Unfortunately, while saving the cattle, he wrecked his knee, tearing the ACL ligament and MCL tissue. Walking is painful and doctor visits are ongoing to determine how to fix the knee. It was very frustrating to be immobile for four months while his sons and De Haan rebuilt the barn, admits Post
Still, he can’t thank them and the neighbours enough. “The night of the fire there were cars up and down the road, with neighbours helping,” he remembers. Ultimately, he’s thankful for the new barn and that Posthaven is still in business but he hopes to never experience anything like that again. ◊