Farm Talk

June 4, 2013

Love for Jerseys grows into acclaimed dairy herd

by Frank J. Buchman

Parsons, Kansas — “Jerseys are huge. They’re not going away. Jersey cows are producing a lot of milk that is rich in fat and protein. They are more efficient. You just can’t find enough of them,” said Christy Ratliff.

The Garnett dairywoman isn't talking about her Jerseys' size wise, but rather their influential impact on the dairy industry.

“Jerseys are the most unique. They are tough, healthier, don’t get sick as often, and respond quickly to treatment. Jerseys are the most efficient convertors of feed to milk. The cows breed back more readily. They’re easier to handle and take care of,” she stated.

According to Ratliff, “Jerseys are very passive, demure. I like them better. They fit my personality.”

Ratliff Jerseys are recognized worldwide by show records matched, by their outstanding milk production, both quantity and quality.

Growing up on a dairy farm operated by her grandfather, Dwaine Ashcraft, and father, Howard Kennedy, Ratliff showed dairy cattle, Holsteins and Ayrshires. “But I always liked Jerseys. Under protest, I finally got a heifer from Richardson Jerseys, when I was 10-years-old, and have had Jerseys ever since,” Ratliff reflected.

After attending Labette County Community College, Christy married Ron Ratliff, who operated Anderson County Livestock Auction, as he continues today.

“Ron said he didn’t milk cows, and there weren’t any facilities to do that, so I leased my Jerseys to other dairymen,” she said, “But, when I sold a Jersey cow for $15,000, Ron had a change of heart, and said we should start milking our own cows. We built a barn 18 years ago, and I went to Canada to select additional seed stock.

“I wanted tremendous pedigree cows, not show cattle, but cows with family,” Ratliff added.

However, Ratliff continued to exhibit and prove that top milking cows are also top show animals.

Enhancing development of her Jerseys, they have always been artificially inseminated to top bulls of the breed with Ratliff’s embryo transfer program started 13 years ago.

“Due to complications of Jersey eggs freezing, we decided to try ‘in vitro fertilization,’ and it’s worked very well, allowing us to grow without giving up the genetics we’ve worked our lifetime to develop,” Ratliff explained.

Ratliff Jersey cows are taken to Chillicothe, Missouri, where eggs are collected, and shipped to Texas, for fertilization. Then, embryos “reverse sorted for all heifer calves,” are implanted in recipient beef cows owned by the Ratliffs.

“We have 85 stock cows, mostly Angus and Red Angus, for recipients. There are 33 pregnant cows now, and 50 open stock cows I’m working through, for use. The beef cows are on a very strict health, vaccination, mineral and diet program, too,” Ratliff said.

As soon as the Jersey calves receive their first colostrum, they are taken from the recipient stock cows and go into Ratliff Jerseys heifer development. Orphaned stock calves are allowed to go on the lactating beef cows.

Ratliff always wanted to breed and exhibit a national champion.

“My dream came true when Ratliff Price Alicia was named grand champion of the All American Jersey Show,” she said.Alicia earned the prestigious purple banner two more times, being the only cow in breed history to be named national grand champion Jersey three times. Alicia was also the first-ever supreme champion at the North American International Livestock Exhibition, and claimed the honor again the next year.

Ratliff Jerseys has bred or exhibited a top-six placing female at the National Jersey Jug Futurity six of the past seven years, with their champion Ratliff Sambo Martina in 2007, and Ratliff D Dean Allie reserve the year before.

Premier Breeder and Premier Exhibitor titles have been earned a number of times at the national Jersey shows as well as many state and regional competitions.

“This spring, we showed the intermediate champion and reserve grand champion at the Wisconsin Spring Jersey Show, and we were also the Premier Breeder and Exhibitor,” she noted.

Presently, there are 30 cows in production at Ratliff Jerseys. “We sold our milking cows after Ron was severely burned in an accident, but now we’re building the herd back up to milk about 65 cows,” Ratliff said.

Her brother, Mike Kennedy, and two other full time employees are credited their important work on the dairy.

Enrolled in REAP (Registration, Equity, Appraisal and Performance) of the American Jersey Cattle Association, Ratliff Jerseys had a 2012 herd lactation average of 18,535 pounds of milk, 959 pounds fat and 694 pounds protein.

In type evaluation, there are 20 Ratliff Jerseys classified “Excellent,” and 26 “Very Good,” with an average appraisal of 89 percent.

Five Ratliff Jersey cows have been inducted in the Jersey Hall of Fame based on conformation, milk, fat, protein and “cheese.”

Having merchandised high selling cows at leading sales throughout the country, Ratliff Jersey sold 91 lots in their first Proof of Progress Sale at Garnett in 2010, for an average of $3,671. Their second personal sale just a year ago saw 83 lots sell for $3,807 apiece.

“Our cattle have sold throughout the United States and into several foreign countries,” Ratliff stated.

“We hope to have a sale again next year, but have to have results. Our ‘in vitro’ calves are also consigned to sales all over the United States and Canada,” Ratliff added.

Maintaining her optimism for Jerseys, Christy Ratliff is less optimistic, yet contends “realistic” about the dairy industry in general. “It is bleak, making one wonder if it’s time to get out. Computerized robots are replacing human employees at some dairies; corporations are taking over,” she explained.

Still, Ratliff has no inclination to change professions: “I am fortunate and thankful to follow my passion of breeding, raising and showing quality Jersey cattle. I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love.” £