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Seeking Success? Find a Mentor!

Ask successful dairy breeders how they got where they are and, chances are, many of them will cite a mentor.  Did they seek them out or did they realize they had one after the fact?  Probably, it was a little bit of both.  Having said that, there is nothing preventing you from seeking a mentor who could help you make the most of your opportunities.

“This is the Way We Have Always Done It!”

While you can’t foresee everything that might have an impact on the smooth running of your dairy cattle business, there are a few things that you can learn from the good – and bad – experiences of those who have gone before you.  Yes, I included “bad.”  Truth be told, you can sometimes learn more from your mistakes than from the relatively smooth successes that happen day to day.  Let’s suppose for a moment that there is nothing particularly wrong with your operation.  Is it exceptional?  Would you like it to be?  One way to move from ho-hum to humming along the path to success is to get a mentor who has already travelled, overcome problems, and succeeded on that path.

Mentors Are All Around You

It isn’t surprising that people in the dairy industry make great mentors.  Even those you may not have a long relationship with.  When well-known classifier Tom Byers first arrived in Canada, he would not have foreseen the mentors who would help him along his career path.  He speaks about the classification job that had been posted at the time.  “The ad had been in the Holstein Journal for a couple of months and I had not applied as I thought I would not stand a chance being an immigrant.  Glen Broadworth and Keith Heron, who were classifiers that came to Flettdale, where I was renting the farm, encouraged me to call Murray Hunt the Breed Improvement Manager at that time.  I did.  Murray said the applications window for the position was closed but he had heard about me and he would invite me to attend the hiring workshop.  I did.”  That was the beginning of three great mentoring relationships that impacted Tom’s career.

Seek People Who Share your Passion

Byers also points out that shared enthusiasm is a great way to meet your best mentors.  He points to two other mentors he also appreciated having in his corner: Maurice Jebson of Elmcroft and Neil Rains of Raivue.  These men shared and encouraged his enthusiasm.  “I had a love and passion for the Canadian Holstein cow which had brought me here from Scotland with my wife and three kids.  Talk about Holstein crazy.  When we landed in Toronto, it was blowing a blizzard and my wife Elizabeth looked at me and said, ‘What have you brought me to?’  I first worked at Paperman Farm in Woodstock then I rented Flettdale farm from Bob Flett and it was from there that I moved to Holstein Canada.” And as they say, “The rest is history.”

Learn from People who are Successful at What You Want to Do

Brian Carscadden juding the 2011 Royal passing some advice to David Crack Jr.

Brian Carscadden judging the 2011 Royal passing some advice to David Crack Jr.

Perhaps your interests lie in the direction of cattle judging.  Brian Carscadden attests to the importance of having an encouraging mentor to learn from.  Speaking personally, he shares his experience.  “I have had a few mentors.  Callum McKinven is one who gives young fitters a chance to work with his cattle and then promotes them as a judge down the road.  He did that with me.”  Brian also feels that good mentors can be as close as the person that you are working with.  He feels that way about Mike Deaver.  “I had the chance to be an associate judge with him.  He’s considered a great judge.  It was a tremendous experience for my confidence.”  Carscadden feels there have been many mentors who impacted the recognition and success he has earned as a judge of Holstein cattle.  “Lowell Lindsay hired me out of school.  He is one of the great judges of all time.  I was able to work side by side and learn from him.  Even though Lowell was not trying to teach, there were always things to learn.”  It is important to have a good mentor.  It is even more important to be a good mentoree.

Take a Close Look at Your Own Family

Sometimes you don’t have to go very far to find mentors that will guide you to dairy breeding success.  Len Vis of Mapelwood Farms Inc found his first mentors in his own family.  “My brothers and Dad always thought of an animal as an investment.  Back in the days of WOBI they would say, ‘I can sell four bulls from this animal, therefore she’s worth about $25,000.  They always knew what studs would most likely buy a son.”  These lessons have stuck with Len and are part of the foundation he has built his herd upon.  Family continues to be a sounding board for him.

Speaking personally, family can be a rich source of mentoring.  Currently, the Hunt family has a geneticist, a writer, a chief operating officer, a nutritionist and a serial entrepreneur.  The bonus is that, although different, each of these careers is connected to agriculture – specifically the dairy industry.  It would be foolish, if any one of us totally ignored the others in seeking to broaden our perspective, goals, or problem-solving abilities.  Do we mentor each other?  Yes.  No.  Some more than others.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the in-laws include a psychiatrist, a project organizer, and an ergonomist.  If we can name the problem, we can solve it.  At the very least, we are a great network for pointing each other to the people who know the answers.  That’s exactly what you want mentors to do.

Listen More.  Talk Less.

To find a mentor, you need to listen a lot.  A good mentor helps you think things through and provides the experience and savvy you’re missing.  You’ll get praise when you deserve it and a heads-up when trouble comes — probably long before you would have noticed it yourself.  Patty Jones feels that this was a characteristic of her mentor, Bob Miller.  He asked her if she had ever thought about cattle photography and forty years later she still loves her chosen field.  “Bob was a great man to be involved with.  He let you make mistakes.  He did not berate.  You had a discussion with him and you always learned something and grew to be better because of it.”  There is nothing better than a mentor who encourages your own ideas.  Patty learned this from Bob too.  “He taught the importance of trusting your instincts.  He gave me the freedom to shape ideas that didn’t always work.  Real achievement first requires that you have the courage to fail.”


Developing a profitable dairy cattle business is a lot of work, stress, and responsibility but you don’t have to go it alone.  Put together a power team of mentors with a variety of skills to guide you along the way.  There are co-workers, friends, family and industry experts who will gladly help you use your limited time and resources to the best effect.  It`s up to you to take advantage of the most powerful weapon a dairy breeder can have.  Find a mentor!  Do it now.

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