History of the Professional Dairy Heifer Growers and Dairy Calf & Heifer Association
By Roger A. Cady
The concept of a dairy heifer growers association was introduced in a fit of frustration on a snowy morning at the NRAES Calves, Heifers, and Dairy Profitability Conference in Harrisburg, Penn., in January 1996. It was in the middle of the worst blizzard in 100 years in the northeastern United States. I had just finished presenting a paper to about 200 dairy farmers on the non-financial issues they should be considering when determining whether or how to contract someone to raise their heifers for them. In the audience were about 15 dairy heifer growers from throughout the U.S.
Following the formal presentation, I became frustrated with my inability to answer the questions being posed by the heifer growers that related to the demographics, scope and common practices of the dairy heifer grower industry. In a fit of panic, I answered one question with a question that had just crossed my mind, and I stated it without any consideration or forethought. The question was, "Have you as growers ever considered forming an association?" I then proceeded to enumerate roles and services such an association could provide to the industry.
After the program, virtually every grower in the audience surrounded me to discuss the issue. Robert Lewis, of Windsor, Colo., asked the question that everyone else was avoiding asking me, "Could I help them in forming such an organization?"
Not being one to shirk responsibility, and knowing from experience that one who speaks often must follow words with action, I swallowed hard and said "Yes,” without a clue as to how it was all going to happen. In addition to organizational skills, it was very clear that such an endeavor was going to take people and money. Two very big questions loomed; who were the right people and how to get in touch with them, and where was the money going to come from?
I have forgotten much of the rest of the conference. I became preoccupied with what to do next and found myself talking to many people over the next two days. Fortunately, some key people were also at the conference. Not long after the presentation, Rhonda Franck of Dairy Herd Management, Lenexa, Kan., approached me with information that her magazine had done a survey of their subscribers and had a list of about 4,000 names of people who classified their primary dairy function as a heifer grower.
Jason Karszes, of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Warsaw, N.Y., and Pat Hoffman, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, were there and were supportive of the concept of a growers’ association; both agreed to serve on a planning committee. Representatives of Elanco Animal Health and Roche Vitamins were also present at the conference and expressed interest in the concept.During February 1996, a small mini-proposal to form a planning committee comprised of four extension personnel, three industry representatives, and five growers was submitted to Elanco Animal Health and Roche Vitamins. They agreed to co-fund the proposal. Coincidentally, I presented the paper from Harrisburg at the Southwest Animal Nutrition Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.. At that meeting, there was also support for a national association of heifer growers. Mark Kibler, of Willcox, Ariz., was particularly interested.
Thanks to the financial support provided by Elanco Animal Health and Roche Vitamins, the following people met in Las Vegas in April 1996 to plan the first steps: Ray Williams, grower, Milton-Freewater, Ore.; Mark Kibler, grower; Steve Bechard, grower, Plattsburg, N.Y.; Maynard Moen, grower, Mora, Minn.; Robert Lewis, grower; Rhonda Franck; Glenda Borcher, Elanco Animal Health; Fred Nye, Roche Vitamins; Dave Winston, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Pat Hoffman, University of Wisconsin; Jason Karszes; and myself (I was at Washington State University, Puyallup, at the time).
We developed a plan to put together a national heifer conference with two purposes: 1.) to bring growers from throughout the U.S. together to develop the framework for an organization and 2.) to provide a high quality educational program developed specifically with the heifer grower in mind.
The conference was scheduled for mid-April 1997 for Atlanta, Ga. Because of the ties to Georgia, Dr. Larry Guthrie, well-respected Dairy Extension Specialist from the University of Georgia, was asked to join the planning committee in June 1996. Eugene Rodberg, of Roche Vitamins, was also added to the committee.
Thanks to a quality program, lots of teamwork, and strong industry support, the first National Dairy Heifer Growers Conference drew 250 people, more than one hundred of which were growers from throughout the U.S. One day prior to that conference, a facilitated, organizational development meeting took place. The purpose of the meeting was to develop some key concepts that could be used to provide the framework of a national dairy heifer grower association. More than 80 growers attended that meeting. Key accomplishments of that meeting were:
A New Chapter Begins – Dairy Calf & Heifer Association
- Development of an association name (Professional Dairy Heifer Growers Association - PDHGA)
- Development of a mission statement
- Division of the U.S. into representative districts
- Formation of a PDHGA task force charged with the development of an organizational structure
At the 11th Annual National Dairy Calf and Heifer Conference in Burlington, Vt. in 2007, the board of directors voted to change the name of the organization. The Professional Dairy Heifer Growers Association became the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association. The name change was prompted by the desire to convey that the organization represents, and is open to, everyone who raises dairy calves and heifers, and not just contract growers. The new name was chosen to make the group more inclusive to all dairy calf and heifer raisers, including those who raise dairy beef calves.