What has two heads, four eyes, eight limbs and can raise, show and sell cattle? That would be the ultimate dairy couple, otherwise known as Chris and Jennifer Hill of MD-Hillbrook. The Hills are marriage-partners as well as business partners and it all started from their shared farm backgrounds, Chris raised at Wauwatosa Ayrshires and Jenn at Glad Ray Farm. As they proceeded through education and work experiences they developed resumes that when combined provided a great foundation for their business.
The Lure of the Crowd
Chris worked for Maple Dell Farm in high school and went on the road as a full time fitter afterwards. Jen rounded out her agricultural roots with a degree in communications and a minor in marketing. With this broad spectrum, the couple was well prepared for a full service dairy business with emphasis on show animals and auction sales. Throw in a motivated crowd, microphones and the possibility to set new records and who among us doesn’t envy them the opportunity to work every day in the industry’s two showplace settings – the show ring and the auction ring?
Call to Auction
Chris Hill’s show fitting skills provided him with a large network to build from for his business. He graduated from auctioneering school in 1990 and managed his first sale – the start of the March Madness Sale series – in 1993. Today, with so much riding on the buying and selling of top animals, Chris has mastered the technique of making the crowd comfortable and keeping it light with a little humor. Words come easily for him and both Chris and Jen say that for them the real measure of success is a satisfied client.
Two’s Company: From Feed Pails to Shows and Sales
Chris and Jenn Hill live 5 miles away from Jen’s parent’s farm where their cattle are housed. They develop primarily show heifers with a few genomic or polled females. Jenn works at the farm five days a week. Between the two of them they oversee the development and marketing of both show cattle and auction sales. With such a constantly changing work schedule, Chris and Jenn’s enterprises provide a daily barometer for what is happening in the show and sale end of the dairy business.
Finding Their Calling
Through tapping into each other’s strengths the husband-and-wife team has a unique ability to provide customers with everything that is needed from genetics, to animal fitting and marketing. “Being a sale manager and auctioneer gives us many purchasing and marketing opportunities.” Together they build excitement for the sale or the show animals being exhibited. Jenn outlines some of the tools they use. “We use print media such as Cattle Connection, Red Bloodlines and Holstein World. We also have a website and Facebook page.” Referring to the latter Jenn points out why it’s effective. “Facebook brings a lot of traffic and is the fastest way to ‘spread the word’.” Whether it’s giving orders, taking orders, receiving order or everything in between Chris and Jenn make a great team. Jenn says “We don’t think of it as balancing endeavors, we look at it as everything working together.” Chris points out that it has definite paybacks. “Being contacted to sell or manage/assist with a sale is a huge compliment for us.”
From Raising Cows to Raising Hands
Jenn outlines the parameters they work within. “Our breeding philosophy changes depending on what market niches we are in at the time.” Regardless of the area she makes one thing quite clear. “We always keep in mind a solid pedigree and try not to sacrifice type.” She goes on “Roxy has been a tremendous influence but the Ada family is gaining ground lately with popularity of Aftershock, Atwood, Attic, etc.” She outlines four in particular:
Palmyra M-O-M Manhattan ET: She is owned in partnership with Ryan Shank. She is the number 2 Red/RC cow of the breed. We purchased this cow for her outcross pedigree as well as being a high genomic RC Man O Man and realized her numbers would rank in the top of the breed. She has flushed well. We have exported embryos and have several pregnancies. The cow herself will be offered in this year’s National Red and White Sale.
Bella View Shot of Gin: We purchased her because she has a great pedigree and was a Shottle that could show. She is now VG89 as a two year old. She will sell July 27 at the International Intrigue. He stall mate, Briar Berry Contd Tabby Red is VG89 as a two year old as well.
Whitdale D Hvezda Sky Red: Reserve All American as a fall calf and Reserve Junior Champion at Madison last year and All American as a Yearling. We purchased her as a calf based on her type and pedigree, potential 9th generation EX Red Roxy. She is just fresh and we are excited about her future
Greenlead Redl Mi Red: Purchased with Chad Umbel and James and Sharon Keilholtz as a calf. She is turning into a nice brood cow. She produced Glad Ray More Fun Red 3x All American nominee. Junior Champion at the Royal as a yearling and unanimous All American that year, Grand Champion at the Eastern National as a 2 yr old. Her full sister Glad Ray Mamajuana Red was Res. AA Summer Yearling last year and is due in June to Alchemy. We have done IVF work on her and have several more females due.
From a Ringside Seat
Both Hills are naturally drawn to those areas that bring out the drama, the competitive streak and the heart pounding excitement. This has led to considerable success in the show rings as well. “The greatest cow we have ever bred and owned is MD-Hillbrook Sunburst Red EX92 (max score). Undefeated in red competition 4x All American R&W. Reserve All American Black and White Senior 2. Sold for $200,000 at the 2011 International Intrigue and continues to do well (Intermediate Champion, Res Grand of the 2012 Red Show at WDE) for her new owners. Chris has had the honor of working with Cathland Lilac EX97, C Aitkenbrae Starbuck Ada EX94 and C Hanson Prestar Monalisa EX95.”
Keeping Pace with Change
The Hills feel quite strongly that recognizing and adapting to change is the key to success in today’s constantly evolving marketplace. High type and solid pedigrees (that we started with and continue to appreciate) are no longer the driving force in the industry. The biggest change that we have seen most recently is the impact of the index system. When genomics hit now, it’s like a lottery system. The game now is to see who can get the largest four digit number without paying attention to essential breed characteristics. There is also more of an impact from polled. We see more of a unique pedigree coming into play with the genomics as it continues to grow.”
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
Undoubtedly there are many opportunities ahead for MD-Hillbrook but Jenn and Chris are already happy with the successful business which makes it “possible to do a job we love.” Jenn and Chris appreciate their parents for the work ethic that keeps them productive. They appreciate each other’s talents for teamwork. To the passionate dairy breeders they strive to please, they give this advice. “You need to be open-minded and take risks. No one ever succeeds by standing on the sideline.” Now that’s a good call!!