Hilmar Jerseys, a 6,000-cow dairy operation located in Hilmar, Calif., was named the 2015 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year during an awards ceremony at the International Dairy Foods Association's Dairy Forum in Boca Raton, Fla. The award recognizes U.S. dairy producers that apply creativity, excellence and forward thinking to achieve greater on-farm productivity and improved milk marketing.
Hilmar Jerseys was nominated by McKenzie Klein, producer relations manager for Hilmar Cheese Company. She attended the awards ceremony along with Hilmar Jerseys co-owners, Chuck and Mark Ahlem.
Animal well-being and respect has always been important at Hilmar Jerseys, which was formed by Chuck Ahlem in 1982. The operation now comprises five dairy facilities that cover 4,000 acres and market a total of 143.8 million pounds of milk each year.
Training Program Brings Dramatic Improvements
Chuck Ahlem and his son Mark didn"t intend to become animal welfare leaders, but their employee training program on animal care and stockmanship produced dramatic improvements on the five dairies. As employees learned to understand cow behavior and how to handle animals properly, they began to take more pride in their jobs and proactively identified areas of improvement for cow care and comfort. Also, employee injuries related to working with the cows dropped by 50 percent.
Noting these positive changes, the Ahlems shared the results with Hilmar Cheese Company, their milk processor. Impressed with the results, Hilmar Cheese partnered with the Ahlems and Elanco, a global animal health company, to promote the animal care and employee engagement concepts that Hilmar Jerseys was using. To date, more than 200 people representing 50 dairies have participated in this animal welfare training.
Previous winners of the Innovative Dairy Farmer title are Mason Dixon Farms, Gettysburg, Pa. (1999); Clauss Dairy Farms, Hilmar, Calif. (2000); Baldwin Dairy/Emerald Dairy, Emerald, Wis. (2001); Si-Ellen Farms, Jerome, Idaho (2002); Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy, Kewaunee, Wis. (2003); C Bar M Dairy, Jerome, Idaho (2004); North Florida Holsteins, Bell, Fla. (2005); KF Dairy, El Centro, Calif. (2006); Joseph Gallo Farms, Atwater, Calif. (2007); KBC Farms, Purdy, Mo., (2008); High Plains Dairy, Friona, Texas (2009); Haubenschild Dairy Farm, Inc., Princeton, Minn. (2010); Brubaker Farms, Mount Joy, Pa. (2011); Sweetwater Valley Farm, Philadelphia, Tenn. (2012); McCarty Family Farms, Rexford, Kan. (2013); and Milk Source LLC, Kaukauna, Wis., (2014).