Mizzou dairy cattle experience connects generations

Recent animal sciences graduate Sarah Estes and her mother, Amy Jo, both found love for animal sciences at Mizzou.

Sarah Estes, B.S. Animal Sciences 2020, considers Mizzou’s Foremost Dairy part of her legacy. Photo by Elizabeth Wyss.

When Amy Jo Estes became a student at the University of Missouri in 1988, she was a “city girl” with an interest in animal sciences, but not a lot of animal sciences experience.

“My grandparents had a farm, but I grew up in the suburbs,” said Amy Jo. “I got to my first animal sciences class and we had to halter break a heifer. I got into a group with a bunch of big strong farm boys who knew what they were doing, but after they got the halter on, they handed the lead rope to me! We’re still friends and we laugh about it now, but I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Two women smile for a selfie.
Amy Jo Estes, left, and daughter Sarah Estes, right, both got hands on experience at Mizzou research farms. Photo courtesy of Amy Jo Estes.

Soon, though, Amy Jo became familiar with animals through the hands-on classes she took at Mizzou. As her comfort level increased and she learned from her friends with traditional agricultural backgrounds, she started volunteering to help with animal sciences research projects at CAFNR’s research farms. While she enjoyed all of these experiences, she discovered a love for dairy cattle when she volunteered to help in the dairy barn and milking parlor at the Missouri State Fair.

While Amy Jo changed career paths and graduated with a degree in elementary school education from Central Methodist University, she kept her love of dairy cattle close, becoming the Missouri State Fair (MSF) Dairy Superintendent in 2015, after many years of volunteering in the milk barn. She met her husband, John, during her time in CAFNR, and both of their daughters, Hannah and Sarah, spent time in the MSF dairy barn from a very young age.

When it was time for Sarah to pick a college, Mizzou and CAFNR were easy choices after hearing her parents reminisce about their time there, but this time Sarah was the one handing off the lead rope to the urban students.

“Being from a rural background, having FFA experience and those resources prior to college, I was able to teach some of my classmates and peers when we did hands-on activities I had done before on the family farm,” said Sarah. “That influenced my learning as well, because I had to be able to communicate well and had to educate myself at the same time, combining the class knowledge with my previous farm knowledge as I helped my classmates with less livestock experience.”

When Sarah was offered a job at Mizzou’s Foremost Dairy, part of the Central Missouri Research, Extension and Education Center, her sophomore year, she accepted on the spot.

Amy Jo was proud to watch her daughter gain the same skills and experiences working with dairy cattle that she gained in her time at Mizzou.

Three people stand with dairy cattle.
Amy Jo, center, helps with the Little American Royal in the Trowbridge Livestock Arena in 1992. Photo courtesy of Amy Jo Estes.

“John and I watched her blossom,” said Amy Jo. “We saw the ownership she took in the work. She was so dedicated to taking care of her ‘girls’ at the farm. One morning she called us at 2:45 a.m. because it had snowed, her car wouldn’t start, and she had to go milk. We couldn’t come get her, we were two hours away, but she found a way to get there when most college kids wouldn’t have.”

Sarah credits her work at Foremost for her in-class and career confidence as well.

“I was confident enough to speak up more when we would discuss dairy cattle topics in classes because of my work with the girls,” said Sarah, who now works as a food animal veterinary assistant at the School of Veterinary Medicine. “My work on the dairy farm is probably a big reason I was offered the job. Most of the doctors had been out to the dairy farm and I had worked with them multiple times. I use of lot of that experience now, especially if a young calf comes in with a health problem, I can already think of ways we would have treated it on the farm.”

Today, Amy Jo works as the Heartland Regional Manager for Ayusa, an organization that helps foreign exchange students find host families in the United States. While her day job might be outside of agriculture, she always shows her visiting students the wonders of working with animals, and experience that has meant so much to her throughout her life.

“I’ve never owned my own dairy cow, but the people I came in contact with through Mizzou animal sciences and through MSF are like my family,” said Amy Jo. “I would do anything for them and they have my utmost respect for the job they do, and I never would’ve had that opportunity if I hadn’t agreed to help milk cows at 4 a.m. as a college student.”

“I had always wanted to go to Mizzou,” said Sarah. “My parents met there; it’s my legacy. But because of my mom’s connections, I felt like being part of the dairy was a huge part of my legacy as well.”