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Making it in the Jersey market – Jer-Z-Boyz Ranch

Jaclyn Krymowski for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 April 2021
Sunset Canyon Maximum

With lots of prayers and strategizing, the de Graaf family took a leap of faith in 1995.

In an ambitious move, they transitioned their entire herd of Holsteins over to Jerseys in an attempt to provide additional high-component milk as the Hilmar Cheese company expanded their plant capacity.

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And today that decision has made up for itself many times over with their nearly 5,000-head lactating cow herd and 7,000-head youngstock Jersey operation. They also have a 1,000-head feedlot business of full-blooded and dairy-beef crosses to boot – all of which makes up Jer-Z-Boyz Ranch based out of Pixley, California.

Not only has their herd earned laurels for milk production and reproductive efficiency; they also have an impressive genetic showcase that attracts buyers from all over the world.

In addition to having nearly a dozen young bulls in A.I. service with more to come, they also have an on-farm embryo transfer program.

“Genetics has always been what I’ve enjoyed most about the dairy business,” says Gary de Graaf, original founder of Jer-Z-Boyz with his wife, Donna, and their two sons, Dustin and Daniel. “And that was instilled in me by some local breeders when I started working full-time at our family farm in Southern California.”

The de Graaf family, along with Tim Baumgartner, the farm’s genetics manager – plus the two additional partners, the Lord and the bank, whom Gary also likes to credit – has built a marketing style around their highly sought-after Jerseys that, ultimately, has paid off.

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Developing elite animals

From early on, the de Graaf family sought to build their Jersey herd from a strong maternal foundation with longevity and high components. Among the most notable genetic influences is none other than the great Jersey matriarch, Tenn Haug E Maid, EX-93, herself.

“Maid was a springboard for us and the entire Jersey breed,” Gary recalls.

Maid’s son, Sunset Canyon Maximum, was one of the farm’s early purchases, and he went on to become the number one bull in the nation for Jersey Production Index. As such, he quickly made his mark on the Jer-Z-Boyz herd.

“There’s always been a high genetic base in (this herd),” says Baumgartner. “The marketing aspect we have is the result of some of that.”

Jer-Z-Boyz Mackenzie Mae

From early on, high-component milk has been a main attraction of buyers to Jer-Z-Boyz, a trend which continues to this day. More recently, the added benefit of high genomics has opened other marketing opportunities.

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Currently, their breeding program puts a strong emphasis on the cheese merit index.

“The ultimate goal,” explains Baumgartner, “is to create a cow that is long-lasting, trouble-free, doesn’t require hospital days, breeds back, et cetera.”

He says they’ve found cheese merit follows that description closer for them compared to some of the other indexes.

And their formula has certainly been working for them. They continually attract buyers from around the globe, and their animals are often among the featured lots in the various public sales they attend throughout the year.

Baumgartner attributes having animals who appear high on lists for genomic merit or production really has helped them attract attention from private buyers, public sales and Jersey Marketing Service.

Jer-Z-Boyz Klay Mae

As former Holstein breeders, the de Graafs are unique in the Jersey sphere, and that has been an aid in helping them work with other Holstein breeders in search of adding a splash of brown to their operations.

“For various reasons,” says Daniel de Graaf, Gary’s son and managing partner, “Jerseys are attracting attention, and I think the breed will continue to grow.”

He says their buyers are a fair mix of Holstein herds converting breeds, expanding Jersey herds and even some new Jersey startups.

Modern-day marketing

In today’s tight dairy economy, even with highly desirable animals, good marketing tactics and different avenues of income are a pivotal part of success. Both active and passive modes of marketing have helped Jer-Z-Boyz maintain a steady stream of buyers from different backgrounds.

Each month, they send out truckloads of fresh first-lactation Jerseys to private buyers with whom they have established relationships.

On a monthly basis, they get requests from international buyers for embryo exports. Many of them, Baumgartner says, are from countries with minimal Jersey genetics wanting to propagate the breed and its renowned milk quality.

“Facebook is a tremendous asset,” says Baumgartner, “because it’s free promotion and I think a lot of people, especially international people, find us that way.”

Besides their own company page – which boasts 1,148 followers – to interact with perspective buyers, the team at Jer-Z-Boyz is also able to share advertisements from stud companies using their genetics, promote lots at upcoming sales and put the spotlight on the latest cow pictures of their leading families.

Likewise, having a few bulls in A.I. service also gets them a lot of looks and inquiries.

Gary says that they have also had an emphasis on A2 milk and the polled gene. As demand for this sector grows, 75% of their herd is confirmed A2 and 1,750 animals – nearly 15% of the total herd – is polled.

Of course, great stats and animals can only go so far without professional relationships and communication.

“Relationships are key when marketing cattle through a broker or private transaction,” Daniel stresses.

He adds they believe it’s important for their buyers to ask questions, review records and other stats on their cattle before they even get on the truck.

That, coupled with their own wisdom and experience, has been shared with many buyers now around the globe – all thanks to that “leap of faith” decision the family made back in 1995.

“We probably would not be in the business today if we had stayed milking Holsteins,” Gary says. “We’re so grateful to have something that we can potentially pass down to our grandkids and successive generations.” end mark

PHOTO 1: Sunset Canyon Maximum, a Jersey Production Index (JPI) leader and son from Jer-Z-Boyz’ foundation cow, Tenn Haug E Maid EX-93, has been a strong genetic influence on the Jer-Z-Boyz herd and beyond.

PHOTO 2: Jer-Z-Boyz Mackenzie Mae 57667 VG-86 is the dam of 614J1885 Jer-Z-Boyz Jadyn-ET. Jadyn was a top-selling bull for Select Sires in January 2021, with high wellness traits.

PHOTO 3: JX Jer-Z-Boyz Klay Mae 61978 {4}-PP-ET VG-83 is the dam of 507J1899 Jer-Z-Boyz Goals-P-ET, an up-and-coming bull that will debut as one of the top polled bulls in the marketplace. Photos courtesy of Jer-Z-Boyz Ranch.

Both cows are fifth-generation “very good” descendants of one of the herd’s original high genetic females, Jer-Z-Boyz Maximum 25062 {5} VG-85. 

Jaclyn Krymowski is a freelancer based in Ohio.

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