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A legacy for the generations

Progressive Dairy Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 19 April 2021

Few things warm my heart more than images such as the one on the cover of this magazine. Three generations of the de Graaf family from Pixley, California: Gary de Graaf, his son Daniel de Graaf and grandsons Klaas and David.

But it’s not just those cute little snap-button shirts and mischievous grins hiding underneath cowboy hats that make me smile. It’s the story of forward thinking, risk taking and pioneering. As you may read the article (Making it in the Jersey Market -Jer-A-Boyz Ranch), the de Graafs converted their black-and-white herd to brown more than 25 years ago, a move that positioned them to meet the milk components desired by the Hilmar Cheese Company. That move paid off. Today, the Jer-Z-Boyz operation has grown to include more than 13,000 head of cattle between the dairy, youngstock and feedlot businesses.

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It’s one generation planning for the next generation and beyond. This brings to mind the Seventh Generation Principle, an ancient Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. As humans, when we plan with seven generations in mind, it can be a bit hard to grasp something we cannot see. Yet, we know our choices have an influence over not only what our children, grandchildren and grandchildren’s children will look like, but also their traditions, belief systems and values.

On the dairy, we must only look to the pens to see the evidence of selective planning over multiple generations. For the de Graafs, it was a foundation cow whose blood lines continue to run deeply through their herd. Perhaps there’s a cow like that in your barn too, whose progeny is a proud representation of desirable traits transmitted down a robust maternal line.

For some of us, cows like that aren’t just cows. They are special. For me, one of those cows was Cher. She was the first registered heifer I owned. Together, my mom and I dug through her shoeboxes of paperwork to trace back a couple of generations in order to catch up Cher’s registration as a purebred Holstein so I could show her at the Wisconsin State Fair. I was elated to have my very first registered calf.

As time would have it, I grew up and moved away from home and, for a while, kind of forgot about good old Cher, as my husband and I bred our own little show herd. But I was reminded of her the day of my parents’ herd dispersal. As we clipped off the cows in their old tiestall barn, there was a shaggy Red and White heifer. With each pass of the clipper blade, we revealed a beautiful frame, long and lean neck, and a wide, snug udder bursting with potential.

My husband and I really didn’t need another cow. Heck, we don’t even milk cows at our little hobby farm. But as the saying goes, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy cows, and that’s pretty much the same thing.”

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So as my parents’ little homebred herd went through a sale ring on a warm June day two years ago, my husband bought me that young cow.

After the sale, when we finally got a chance to sit down with my mother, she informed me this pretty little heifer was the seventh generation out of Cher. More than 20 years had passed and, unknown to me, my mom continued to register the family in my name. Not only did the sentimentality of this moment hit Kevin and I both, but it also stirred some excitement as to what we could do with this heifer. Just fresh, barely 2 years old and aged just right to be a milking summer yearling at the Wisconsin State Championship Show for Red and Whites, only weeks away.

This heifer still needed a name, a paper and a lesson in halter breaking. She happened to be one of the first milking daughters out of a young genomic bull, Lucky-PP-Red. We fittingly named her “Charm” and fondly referred to her as “Lucky Charm.” A few weeks later, she was the Reserve All-Wisconsin Red and White Milking Summer Yearling.

I look back on this and hold an appreciation for seven generations of that cow family and how my mother had made that extra little effort all these years to pass her on, not just to me but to my children. It makes me pause for a moment and think: What am I doing today that will leave a legacy for not only my children, but for generations to come?

I leave you with the same challenge: What will be your seven-generation impact?  end mark

Peggy Coffeen
  • Peggy Coffeen

  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairy
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