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The key to success in diversifying: Finding the right people

Kylie Lusk for Progressive Dairy Published on 21 April 2021

The Webb family and their partners at Heglar Creek Dairy in Declo, Idaho, led a virtual roundtable discussion at the 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, sharing their story of how hard work and a positive attitude have contributed to their growth and success.

Five generations ago, the Webb family moved their family and dairy operation from Utah to Raft River, Idaho. The family has now expanded into an empire, with agriculture as its roots. The family now has two separate milking facilities, after outgrowing the original herringbone parlor in 1991. The new robotic dairy started milking 1,000 cows in December 2018.

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One of the first enterprises the Webb family branched out in was the beef sector. Twenty-five years ago, the Webbs started their feedlot business. They now own three, 600-head feeding yards, a 400-head cow/calf sector and a custom calf-raising business. On their custom calf-raising farm, they raise 8,200 head of both heifer and bull calves – 1,000 of these being from Heglar Creek and the rest custom raised for other farms. The family quickly realized that a larger scale of operation is more efficient, which brings in more customers.

While the Webbs have held onto dairying as their core, they began branching out to other areas of business outside of livestock farming. These include Raft River Sod, Heglar Creek Electric and a transportation business. When the Webbs started their electric company, the first customers were farmers. However, they have now expanded to industry and commercial work as well.

“Everything fits together; the dairy fits into the feedlot, which fits into the cow-calf farm, which fits into electrical, robots, trucks and all the rest. They help serve each other,” said Todd Jensen, Heglar Creek chief financial officer.

Six years ago, the neighboring farm to Heglar Creek was selling their sod farm, so the Webbs bought it and have been slowly growing the business. They focus on good-quality products and are now harvesting over 400 acres of sod.

Snake River Robotics is based in Heyburn, Idaho, and was started in 2016 where they have 18 robots. When the Webbs were updating their milking system, they found there were no robots in their area, and so they began a Lely dealership and servicer.

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042121 pd heglar creek robot

River Raft Transport is based in Delco, Idaho, and began two years after the sod business was started. They now own 15 trucks and use them to transport their sod and for dairy purposes, as well as dispatching them. They already had the equipment and found a need for the business.

After getting to see a tour of the Webb family’s several companies, attendees sat down with the family and partners of Heglar Creek Dairy and asked questions. In the panel were two Webb brothers, Josh and Eric, as well as Todd Jensen, Lewis Anderson – the calf ranch manager – and Austin, who works in the robotic dairy and feedlots.

In the discussion, Josh shared his family’s philosophy about going out into the world after high school. He said his father told him that they could not come back to the farm unless they found a way to be contributing to the farm.

Early in life, the latest generation of the Webb family knew they all had different interests and different ideas they wanted to bring to the table. For example, Josh spent eight years as an ag lender and incorporated this into the new generation of Heglar Creek. Eric found interests in the sod and transportation companies, and he was instrumental in bringing them into the business.

“We're not going to fit this square peg in a round hole. We are going to figure out how to build a square hole for you,” Josh explained.

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This mentality of building square holes is how the Webb family started to branch out into different areas of the agricultural industry. Throughout the various companies, the family employs almost 200 people. The panel was also asked how they managed to have so much success in bringing outsiders into the family business. Jenson credits their success to finding the right people to achieve their goals.

“Humble, hungry and smart,” this is how Jensen describes the type of people they are looking for when it comes to employment with Heglar Creek.

When the Webbs decided they wanted to diversify their farm, and not just grow it, they knew they had to find the right person to start the businesses and ensure they flourished.

“They bring the ideas,” said Eric, recalling his father’s words. “We hire them to make them come true.”

When it comes to growing these businesses, the family is not focused on being the biggest; they only want to be the best in what they do. Anderson came to Heglar Creek through word of mouth and loved what they were doing. He especially liked how they were diversifying. There were no family traditions that were being broken by growth. He was free to build up the calf ranch as he, a professional in the industry, deemed fit. All he had to worry about was if the company would turn out how the owners envisioned.

“They allowed me to build something and, if you're building something, you're happy. If you're just there and nothing is happening, nothing is moving, it becomes routine, so this was a building opportunity,” Anderson said.

Though it may not seem like it, everything the Webbs touch does not turn to gold. Jensen shared that they have had some wild ideas in the past that did not pan out. However, they emphasized the value in learning from your failures and putting those lessons to good use.

The Webb family has a broad horizon, with agritourism as the next segment of the agricultural industry that they aim to tackle.

“The voice of ag needs to be larger than those opposing it,” Eric said.  end mark

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Kylie Lusk is the 2021 communications intern with Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence.

PHOTO 1: Josh and Eric Webb provided a tour of their robotic milking facility in 2019 to Dairy West staff. 

PHOTO 2: When building the robot facility, the Webb family also established a Lely dealership and service business. Photos courtesy of Dairy West.

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