For producers like Elizabeth Quinn, organizations like the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) are about improving the family operation and reconnecting with old friends. Others, like Santiago Gallo, use the information and connections gleaned from the group to build the first-ever custom heifer-raising operation in Mexico.

A library of knowledge

Twenty-three-year-old Quinn has been involved in the organization all of her life. Her father served on the board for several years, so the DCHA annual conference became her family’s annual vacation. To Quinn, the connections she’s made there are like family, and her experiences have encouraged a life of learning.

“The most important is not what I’ve learned from a specific conference,” Quinn says. “It’s what I’ve learned every year from every conference and all the connections and friends I’ve made throughout the many years.

DCHA has helped build me to who I am today; I have grown up with DCHA. I have a library in my head of everything I’ve learned at the conference sessions, and even things I’ve learned through small talk with other members at the conferences.”

Through the organization, Quinn was given many opportunities, including a scholarship and the opportunity to work as an intern on DCHA Secretary Vickie Franken’s heifer operation, City View Farms, in Sioux Center, Iowa.


Here, the girl from upstate New York learned the “Midwest style” of heifer raising. Needless to say, that was vastly different than anything she had experienced on her family’s operation in Easton, New York. However, she enjoyed it immensely and still jokes that half of her heart is in Iowa.

The following year, Quinn graduated from Cornell University and became the Northeast director for DCHA. A year ago, she rejoined her family on their 1,900-head custom heifer-raising operation, K.A. Sunset View Farm, where her official title is herd manager but her actual role often varies day-to-day depending on what needs to be done.

While she may have graduated from college and no longer holds the title of student, she is not done learning. The conference last year is one example of that. Here, she learned two new things that she has since applied to her family’s operation.

The first lesson she learned was from Peter Westra, an agronomist at Hull Coop Association, who presented on “Manure management strategies.” He showed her the value of manure. In addition to raising heifers, her family runs 2,000-acres of crops.

The two operate as separate entities, and while they always valued the manure as “something” because it cuts down on fertilizer inputs, they never really bothered to put a true value on it.

Their manure is tested every year to determine its nutrient value, but as a result of what Quinn learned at last year’s conference, they have started hauling all of their composted manure solids to their farthest fields and spreading their liquid manure on their closer fields, making the process more economical and efficient.

“Having the farms run as separate entities makes it more important for us to put a price on manure,” Quinn says. “This way, the heifer facility is getting compensated for the manure fertilizer that was applied to the crop-farm’s fields, and the crop farm is paying a fair and accurate price for the nutrients they’re getting from the manure, which lowers their need and cost for purchased fertilizer.”

Her second lesson came from a seminar by Dr. Ryan Leiterman, director of technical services at Crystal Creek. A barn on their property is in need of better ventilation. They have already opened it up as much as they could, and tube ventilation is their next step.

After listening to Leiterman’s seminar, Quinn was more confident in its successful implementation on their operation. She also had a better understanding of what kind of setup they would need. The project will not be completed until this summer, but Quinn believes it will have a positive impact on their calves and looks forward to its completion.

Building a vision

Santiago Gallo and his brother, Ricardo, have only been DCHA members for one year, but they wasted no time putting the organization’s resources and networking opportunities to use. In December 2014, these two brothers started their own calf and heifer-raising operation, Crianza Estrella de Xalpa, in Querétaro, Mexico.

During last year’s conference, they toured a number of dairies, sat in on seminars, talked with equipment representatives and made connections with fellow producers. The brothers were able to use this experience to vet and enhance their business plan.

“We learned that raising heifers is a very aggressive, big-volume business that depends on being very efficient in terms of cost and in terms of a resource to dairy farmers,” Santiago says. “If you are able to really have a good enough volume of heifers and combine that with very effective costs and proven results to the client, it really pays off well.

That’s our vision. We are very small now with 75 animals which is very small number, but we have a vision to grow in stages to the first 200, then a thousand, and then the sky’s the limit. That’s what we are aiming for.”

After the conference, the brothers visited two of the producers they met there. Ricardo was even able to spend a week on two of the farms learning the ins and outs of how they operate.

Learning didn’t stop once they returned to Mexico, however. Santiago and his brother are still in contact with many of the producers they met through DCHA. Any time a question or problem arises, advice from these producers is just an email away. This resource has been invaluable to them.

This year, Santiago and Ricardo plan to attend the DCHA conference again and will bring with them their first and only customer. Their hope is that by educating him on calf and heifer raising, he will see the superior quality of care his animals are receiving and not only continue to send them his heifers but recommend them to his fellow dairymen as well.

Learning is and will be critical as the dairy industry moves forward, whether the producer has grown up in it or just started their operation last year. The industry is constantly changing, and those in the industry need to change with it. Producers’ desire to learn and to share their knowledge with each other will be a major part of this. DCHA is one of many platforms where this takes place. PD

jenna hurty

Jenna Hurty
Progressive Dairyman