T.J. McClure (shown here with his wife, Aly, and son, Hunter) is a partner in Circle Heifer Development LLC, Garden City, Kan. McClure is South Central Regional Director of the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association.
T.J. McClure (shown here with his wife, Aly, and son, Hunter) is a partner in Circle Heifer Development LLC, Garden City, Kan. McClure is South Central Regional Director of the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association.

My family has had a love of cattle for generations. Whether it was a small cowtown in Wyoming, or in the mountains of Utah, my agricultural roots run deep. As a boy I loved hearing about my dad’s ranching adventures: Billy McClure was one of a kind and I am thankful for his influence on my life.

Like any small town that revolves around agriculture, there are two things to do growing up in Gruver, Texas – work, and play sports. Since sports only lasted part of the year, I started working for a man who owned a feedyard when I was 13. This man, Wes Whitaker, later became my step-dad and has been a great mentor to me.

I started doing all the dirty grunt work no one else wanted to do, but I really enjoyed working with animals. After high school, I took that passion for animal science to Oklahoma State University. My focus was mainly on beef, and I was blessed with a part-time job at an Angus ranch.

The owner, who had a very successful career in large-scale animal agriculture, became a great teacher and mentor to me. We had a conversation during spring break of my senior year, and I expressed thankfulness for an animal science degree, but disappointment that I was not taught much about business. He pushed me to get an MBA. Like most seniors, I was burned out on school, ready to graduate and start making better money, but I decided I could stick out another couple years.

After my first year in graduate school, I landed an internship for a large bank in Southwest Kansas. That turned out to be the longest summer of my life. Punching a calculator and scouring spreadsheets wasn’t for me. Not long after I graduated I accepted an administration

position with a reproduction company. I loved learning more about reproduction, but my love did not run as deep for managing accounts.

The Friday after Thanksgiving in 2007 I was touring a feedyard purchased by a dairy to feed replacement heifers. I opened my big mouth, stating this would be a dream job. To my surprise, the following Monday I was contacted with a job offer. I accepted the position, but after dairy markets crashed, I could see this company was not going to make it.

In the spring of 2009 I was introduced to one of Wes’ good friends, Dean Gigot, who was looking to purchase a feedyard near Garden City, Kan. That June, Dean, his son Marc, my step dad Wes and I formed an LLC, and Circle Heifer Development was born. People thought we were crazy for starting a heifer development facility during the bottom of milk prices. We felt that if we were going to make it, then was as good a time as any. It took us four years to grow from zero customers to full capacity.

Today, we have a capacity to run 7,500 heifers between 5 months old to 220 days pregnant. We bring most of our cattle from the upper Midwest.

Finding a network

After all the trials and triumphs that go with starting a new business, I began searching for an association I could plug into that covered dairy animal management topics from birth to freshening. A friend of mine put me in contact with the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA). I applied for their leadership scholarship, which had classes in conjunction with the 2013 DCHA annual conference. I was accepted, and off to Lancaster, Pa. I went.

I was able to network and form relationships with people who do the exact same thing that I do. After becoming a member – to now serving on the board – I can honestly say DCHA has helped me tremendously, and has been a great return on investment, both for me personally and for our business.

Contact McClure via e-mail: tjmcclu51@hotmail.com

To learn more about the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association, visit http://calfandheifer.org.