Since 1978, the Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeder Award has honored an individual who is an active Missouri dairy cattle breeder and has achieved recognition for accomplishments in breeding and developing outstanding cattle.
John Denbigh, whose career at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources has spanned more than 30 years, took home the award in 2018. Denbigh, the farm manager at the Foremost Dairy Research Center, began working at the Center in 1986 as a herdsman. He has served as the farm manager for the past 20 years.
“John Denbigh has been a mentor to a lot of MU students who have worked at the Research Center during their college years, and in the process, those students have acquired John’s passion for dairy cows and breeding top genetics,” said Joe Horner, an Extension specialist in agricultural economics. “All of the trustees of the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors were unanimous that John was the perfect choice to be inducted this year.”
The Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors Foundation was established in 1988 after the Association of Missouri Dairy Organizations and the Missouri Dairy Association merged. The foundation has two goals. The first is to recognize outstanding leadership in the Missouri dairy industry, which includes excellence of achievement among dairy cattle breeders. The second goal is to archive and preserve records and memorabilia of the Missouri dairy industry, in cooperation with CAFNR.
Additional awards include the Dairy Leadership Award; Meritorious Service Award; and Pioneer Dairy Leader Award. Denbigh was honored during the 2018 annual meeting and awards presentation on Friday, Feb. 2, in Eckles Hall.
“The Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeder Award is not something that I ever expected, and I am honored to receive it,” Denbigh said.
Denbigh is a native of central New Jersey and grew up on a family farm that included 30 Holsteins. He received an agriculture business degree from the College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, Mo.) in 1985. A few months later, he was employed as a herdsman at Foremost Dairy.
Denbigh understands the value of genetics in the dairy industry. Foremost Dairy began conducting genetic tests on its herd three years ago. As a result, Denbigh has been able to select the best animals for greater improvement. The Center was awarded the Progressive Genetic Award from Holstein USA in 2015 and 2016 for its work with genetics.
One heifer, U-Mo Mogul Pastel, was among the first group that was genetically tested. Holsteins are generally black and white, but the test revealed that U-Mo Mogul Pastel carried a recessive gene for red. When the genetic numbers came back, they showed +2,561 on the Holstein USA’s Genetic Total Performance Index (GTPI). The average is +1,800 – making U-Mo Mogul Pastel one of the highest GTPI red carrier heifers of the breed. Foremost Dairy sold the heifer for $25,500 to a farm in New York and she was soon entered into their embryo donor program.
“I have been picking cattle from the University of Missouri herd for about 10 years,” said Bob Griggs, an evaluator for COBA/Select Sires and a selector for the Oklahoma State Sale. “After looking at consignments, I would say, ‘For a college herd, this is one of the best herds I’ve seen.’ After 10 years, I have changed my quote to, ‘This is one of the best herds that I go to, not just an outstanding college herd.’
“The herd has progressed so much under John’s leadership and genetic decisions. This is evident by the consignments they send to Oklahoma. They are always among the high-selling animals.”“I have been picking cattle from the University of Missouri herd for about 10 years. After looking at consignments, I would say, ‘For a college herd, this is one of the best herds I’ve seen.’ After 10 years, I have changed my quote to, ‘This is one of the best herds that I go to, not just an outstanding college herd.’ The herd has progressed so much under John’s leadership and genetic decisions. This is evident by the consignments they send to Oklahoma. They are always among the high-selling animals.”
―Bob Griggs, an evaluator for COBA/Select Sires and a selector for the Oklahoma State Sale
The Foremost Dairy Research Center milks more than 200 cows twice a day. The Research Center originally milked 140 to 150 cows before building a new facility that houses up to 180 cows. That building was constructed in 1991 and opened several doors for Foremost Dairy. The barn is split down the middle with calan feeding doors on one side, which allow for feeding trials. The other side has standard commercial dairy feeding lots for the cattle.
Foremost Dairy includes 180 Holsteins and 25 Guernseys. The Holsteins produce around 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of milk per cow per year. The Guernseys producers around 16,000 to 17,000 pounds of milk per cow per year.
“When we built the facility in 1991, we wanted to do it in a commercial type of atmosphere, with research capabilities mixed in,” Denbigh said. “We wanted something where dairymen could come in and see what would work in their system. Our main goal was to make sure the barn was well ventilated. We built it to include a lot of natural ventilation. We quickly found out that there’s no such thing. That’s when we added more mechanical ventilation – which includes a lot of fans.
“It took us a few years to work out all of the kinks and bugs. It’s been a really good addition.”
The Foremost Dairy Research Center plays a big role in student education and experience as well. Several pre-veterinary and animal science students either work or participate in projects at the Center. Denbigh manages between eight and 12 student workers each year. Student workers generally begin working with calves and feeding them. As the experience grows, the job responsibilities follow suit.
“I want the students to be familiar with the livestock and the terms we use with them,” Denbigh said. “To go along with that, I want them to understand how to use some of the equipment.
“We have to have workers here on weekends and during the holidays. It’s not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. There are no days off. The students have an opportunity to do a lot of things while they’re here, and it can be really beneficial to them.”
While operating the dairy is a full-time job, Foremost Dairy gives tours to several elementary and high school students, and other groups. Denbigh said they usually have between 2,000 and 3,000 children stop by the dairy during the spring and summer months.
“We’re always happy to show people around the dairy,” he said.