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Wisconsin's Linda Hodorff credits farm and industry success to taking risks

Karena Elliott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 November 2016
Hodorff family

“Be willing to take risks,” Linda Keene Hodorff advises. As chief financial officer and assistant chief executive officer of Hodorff Enterprises, her career in the dairy industry stands as a testimony to taking advantage of opportunities and embracing risk.

Raised on the Keene family’s registered Holstein dairy farm in Auburn, Maine, Linda’s mother was the 4-H leader, and her father served on the Holstein Association USA board of directors. “My parents gave me and each of my three siblings one animal,” Linda explains. “Other animals I acquired via loan from my parents, which I repaid through wages earned working on the farm.”

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Linda graduated from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1977. Upon graduation, she worked two years for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Otsego County, New York, as an ag extension agent specializing in farm management. She next worked for Carnation Genetics (now Alta Genetics) for eight years in sire development, matings and semen sales.

Today, Linda and her husband, Doug, have been married 34 years. “I am grateful for my parents’ sacrifices in allowing my animals to leave their farm and relocate to our dairy in Wisconsin following my marriage,” Linda says. Her parents later made additional milk cows available via a rent-to-purchase agreement when they downsized their own dairy in working towards retirement.

The Hodorffs have developed Second Look Holsteins, the farm Doug founded in the 1970s, into Hodorff Enterprises. The organization includes three separate businesses – Second Look Holsteins LLC, Peniel Acres Ltd. and Broken Bow Dairy. Linda has worked full-time on the dairy for the past 25 years.

Second Look Holsteins LLC is a registered Holstein dairy in Eden, Wisconsin. This Fond du Lac County dairy operation merged with Doug’s parents’ dairy in the late 1980s. “In 1990, Doug’s parents retired and they worked with us on a 20-year buyout,” Linda explains. During the next 10 years, the Hodorffs grew the herd from 200 to 600 milking cows. Their long-term goal was to have a 1,000-cow milking herd, and they have achieved that and beyond.

Broken Bow Dairy LLC is their second registered Holstein dairy, and it is located in Milburn, Nebraska. A small Nebraska farm with a feedlot was acquired in the 1990s to raise heifers for the business. In 2005, they purchased a 200-cow Custer County, Nebraska, dairy in partnership with Doug’s son Corey Hodorff and his wife, Tammy.

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Peniel Acres Ltd. is their Wisconsin cropping operation.

“Today we have reached our goal of growing the Wisconsin dairy to 1,000 cows and are nearing the goal of milking 1,000 cows in Nebraska,” Linda says.

The current ownership of Hodorff Enterprises includes both family and non-family partners. Linda explains, “The greatest professional challenge I’ve faced has been evolving our business structure from a business and marriage partnership of two to a multiple partner model with both family and non-family ownership and leadership.”

The challenges and risks of growing Hodorff Enterprises have been great as Linda’s professional roles on the farm have also evolved.

“I continued as part of the regular barn crew with a primary focus on calves until Doug and I began splitting our time each month between the Wisconsin and Nebraska dairies,” Linda says. “As the business grew, my role over the last decade became primarily business management and leadership.”

Linda’s leadership extends well beyond the borders of Hodorff Enterprises. “Doug and I share a goal of encouraging young people to become involved in the dairy industry,” Linda says. In addition to developing a viable business so their own family members could choose career opportunities in dairy, Linda coaches dairy judging and dairy quiz bowl, and works with her county 4-H dairy group. They have also hosted 25 foreign agricultural exchange students in their Wisconsin home.

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Linda was also a co-founder of the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge. “The challenge was established after a meeting between Dave Thorbahn, president and chief executive officer of Select Sires Inc., and Linda Hodorff, owner of Second Look Holsteins LLC,” describes Molly J. Kelley, executive director of Dairy Challenge. “These dairy innovators had a vision to create a program that would help undergraduate students enter the dairy workforce better prepared for their career ahead, which likewise would benefit the industry and producers it serves.”

From that meeting between Thorbahn and Hodorff, a management contest was born incorporating all phases of a dairy business. The first Dairy Challenge contest was launched in April 2002 at Michigan State University with 14 participating schools. To date, more than 80 schools across the U.S. and Canada have participated, and student involvement exceeds 5,200.

“She's got a great heart for dairy youth development,” explains Rod Stoll, vice president of marketplace engagement for Illinois Farm Credit. “She's a very articulate and gracious woman who I admire greatly.”

Like her father, Linda has also served on the Holstein Association USA board of directors, one of only a handful of women to serve on the board. During her tenure, eartags were approved as official identification along with the appropriate tagging process. She also assisted in the formation of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) and the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC).

“Through farm chores, involvement in 4-H and the Junior Holstein Association, I knew agriculture was my chosen field,” Linda says. This dairy farmer is leaving her professional mark on the dairy industry, taking risks and meeting challenges while paving the way for the next generation of dairy youth to accomplish even greater levels of success.  end mark

Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer. She makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO: Linda Hodorff operates Second Look Holsteins with her husband, Doug, and sons Corey and Clint. Pictured from left to right are Linda Hodorff, Doug Hodorff and Clint Hodorff. Photo by Ray Merritt.

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