We are glad you have joined us at The Bullvine for Part 2 of the Hometown Jerseys success story. In Part 1 we saw how Neil and Melanie Hunter started a dairy farm which in some ways seemed to be “Against All Odds”. (Read more: HOMETOWN JERSEYS: Against All Odds). Mentored by family Melanie and her sister Tiffany started in 4-H with two daughters of Springville Designer Jewel VG. Neil too was mentored by his Uncle Ralph Cherry and local dairy farmers, Doug and Mary Anne Peart of Peartome Holsteins. Once married, the young couple saw past the drawbacks of purchasing a 265 acre farm that hadn’t shipped cream in 15 years. They claim that they took advice to “find a way to get started and worry about everything else after.” However they continued to carefully plan and evaluate their choices. Despite BSE, changes in quota regulations, financial and family health impacts, this young couple persevered thanks to hard work, due diligence and, above all, the ability to take advice. They learned from the best mentors in the business including family (Glenn, Ann and Tiffany Babcock, Ralph Cherry, Earl and Jean Baker), friends (Doug and Mary Anne Peart) and cattle breeders near and far who shared their passion for good cattle.
Great Accomplishments & Very Good Two Year Old Streak
Hometown Jerseys have recorded several successes but they agree on what Neil describes as their greatest accomplishment. “For us it was simply getting started to milk cows against the odds and all of the people who said it couldn`t be done. That includes our bank client rep at the time, who told us in 2009 that we should sell it all and buy a house in town.” A benchmark of which they are also justifiably proud is this one “We have had a VG 2yr old in every round since we started milking 8 years ago , including the round when we only had 1 cow to show, a VG 86 2yr. old. And over 50 percent of our homebred 2 year olds (Hometown prefix) have scored VG.” Very good indeed!
Strategic Climb to Opportunities and Hometown Recognition
With growing confidence after their purchases in Virginia and Tennessee, Hometown returned the following year to Gaby Jersey Farm’s Production Sale and purchased lot #1 “Pick of the Herd” for $25,000. Neil covers the highlights. “We selected Gabys Action Baby EX 91 who was the 3rd high seller in the US that year. She has put 5 bulls in AI. Our relationship with Gaby Jersey Farm was further strengthened in Nov 2011 (15 months later) when we travelled back to Louisville KY (the 1st time since representing Ontario on the judging team) to show Gabys Artist Ambrosia in the Mature Cow class of the All-American. Ambrosia created quite a bit of interest since there had never been as high a genomically tested Jersey at such a high profile event. She had already been 2nd Mature Cow at both the Quinte and Stratford Championship Shows in Ontario, also winning the highest BF record in both shows. Ambrosia placed 10th in Louisville, but opened the eyes of many conventional breeders that there may be something to this “genomic thing”. Completing the list of awards for 2011 was the highest Butterfat produced by a Jersey cow in Canada presented to Gabys Artist Ambrosia. Our herd had never achieved anything like that before and certainly had never made it a goal. The strategic purchase of these cows in 2010 was proving its worth in recognition of the Hometown herd name worldwide and was starting to pay dividends.”
Hometown Bred. Hometown Owned.
Two cows have fulfilled Neil and Melanie’s goal of working with and breeding the best. Neil describes his first Hometown Owned choice. “Way-Bon Counciller Mystery SUP EX 95-5E was bought at the end of 1st lactation. She has wowed visitors anytime in her lactations with her huge, long dairy frame that looks the same all year long. This is the cow which gave us confidence to take some chances after selling her son first son, Hometown On The Money, to AI. She is a 3* brood cow off of the 1st 4 milking daughters. She will continue to increase as she will have at least 4 sons in AI and likely all but one daughter will be EX.”
Next Neil goes on to describe Hometown bred J Meant To Be VG 87 2yr. “Meant To Be has attracted great cattle people like Gerald Coughlin’s interest since a being a Sept Calf. She lived up to our expectations when she went 87pts 10 days fresh and later that week was 1st Senior 2yr old, NY Spring Carousel 2013 and a major contributor to our 1st Premier Exhibitor banner at a major show. Meant To Be is from the prolific heifer giving family we are developing which traces back to the original Jersey cow Melanie’s grandfather gave to her and her sister Tiffany.”
Hometown Marketing Programs and Initiatives:
Melanie and Neil have a 4-step approach to marketing. They outline what they use and why.
- Unique Niches: “We aren’t large and don’t have a large budget, therefore we buy or develop unique cows and market sons to AI or privately sell semen, leaving us with the females for the next generation”.
- Facebook: “For the past 5 months we are continuing to increase our use of this marketing avenue as it is cheaper, simpler and more current than a webpage or magazine advertising.”
- Magazines: “This is used for large announcements and ads when we have a need to speak to a larger audience than the keenest or most aggressive 25% which we feel already use Facebook.”
- Face To Face Contact: “We attempt to be in contact with people as often as possible by supporting the breed events like shows, sales, meetings and judging opportunities. We feel people buy from people in the majority of cases, therefore, pure use of the internet as a marketing tool will have a limited reach.”
The “Bull Business” and “Genomics” Growing at Hometown Jerseys
Neil and Melanie are keen and look for opportunities to take advantage of such as Genomics. “The advent of genomics gave us a trend to recognize and get ahead of. It has become a key, but not exclusive, decision making tool when deciding which sires to use and which donors to include in our flushing program. It will also be utilized as a culling tool in the same fashion, but will never supersede our “cow sense” related to their visual appearance.” They go on to provide examples of how it is working. “In the recent April proof run, Hometown privately genomically tested 9 bulls; 6 of them will be high enough to see AI service. The future of our business should include bulls sold to major AI’s as well as privately proven. The decisive factor of which ones will be private will relate to the size of the potential market and the “net” value attached to them by ourselves vs. conventional AI businesses.”
Hometown Breeding Philosophy:
Hometown sticks to a sustainable breeding plan. Neil describes the parameters. “We breed for pleasing general appearance cattle with snuggly attached udders, solid feet and legs, deep rib and wide enough chest and muzzles to eat large amounts of homegrown forage in order to convert it to high amounts of BF and Protein in the most cost efficient manner possible. This has led us to use a base of more typically type sires and cross them with the more attractive general appearance “production sires” that possess extreme rear udder width.” They make use of genetic tools. “We do rely on genomic testing as one of the influencers in narrowing down our sire and donor dam selections, but not exclusively. Finally, we breed from the deepest cow families as they will always be in demand as they have the highest probability of transmitting the traits they are recognized for.”
The Bullvine Bottom Line
With the courage of their convictions and a dream that they shared through whatever came their way, Melanie and Neil Hunter are building Hometown Jerseys in a way that is making the family, friends and fellow dairy breeders who encouraged them very proud. We know that they will use their experiences and enthusiasm to encourage and mentor those who aspire to thrive against the odds. For Hometown Jerseys they’re working hard to make sure the odds remain in their favor.