From the Farmer's Tractor
October 24, 2010
How did you get into Holstein calf farming?
The current Kennedy Achers is an agricultural enterprise whose Arizona roots began 24 years ago as a hobby farm with approximately 20 Holstein calves. Within five years, the hobby farm grew to the point that it was able to support the family, and my parents quit their off-farm jobs to work full time on the farm. The original Kennedy Achers was operated by my father in Hollister, California from 1946 to 1978. There he raised tomatoes, alfalfa, walnuts, apricots, and prunes.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
The farming practices for raising Holstein calves are fairly consistent. The special dietary needs of young calves do not allow for variations in feed; consequently, most of our husbandry practices have not changed in the last 10 years.
How will Holstein calf farming evolve in the next five years?
Dairymen are in the milk business, which means they prefer their cows give birth to heifer calves as opposed to bull calves. Heifer calves grow up to be cows and produce milk. Bull calves don’t have quite the same economic value for a dairyman. Most dairymen use artificial insemination to breed their cows. Advances in breeding technology have led to sexed semen that favors heifer calves. Consequently, there will be less bull calves based on the sexed semen used in the dairy industry. With fewer bull calves coming from the dairies, we will need to find additional dairies to buy calves from or will need to diversify by raising Holstein heifers or crossbred animals.
What is your greatest challenge as a Holstein calf farmer?
The varying cost of inputs is probably the greatest challenge. Corn is an especially important feed input. However, the government subsidies ethanol producers receive create an unfair advantage at the cost of ALL livestock producers.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
Retailers are aware of consumers’ demands and trends, and farmers need to be just as aware and ready to respond. However, generally the retailer wants a consistent, quality product, which Holstein beef is able to provide.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
Farming and dust go together. Tilling the soil and driving on dirt roads will always generate some level of dust. Living in the desert also means dryer than usual conditions. Eliminating all the dust is impossible, but keeping the dust under control is beneficial for our animals, employees, neighbors, and family. We use reclaimed water to control dust on the farm’s roads and driveways. This method of dust control is environmentally sound and economically viable.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
Once our calves weigh 300 pounds, they are sold to a local commercial feedlot. From there the animals are fed until they weigh approximately 1200 pounds and are ready for processing. Some of the meat is then distributed to the local market through grocery stores or is exported to countries such as Japan.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Most people are interested in finding out more about what we do and how we raise our calves. Their reaction is generally positive, and they ask great questions, like do we use antibiotics. It is a great opportunity to educate the public on our practices and help them understand why using antibiotics helps keep our animals healthy.