It is a popularly known fact that happy cows come from California — or more specifically, Hilmar.
Just ask the cows at Hilmar Jerseys. Their residence, a 6,000 cow dairy operation, has just been named the 2015 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year for its emphasis on animal care and well-being.
The news was unveiled at an awards ceremony during the International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum in Florida this week. Co-owners Chuck Ahlem and Mark Ahlem attended the event, as well as herd manager Frank Dinis.
“IDFA and Dairy Today selected Hilmar Jerseys because of its dedicated focus on animal care, which the owners call stockmanship,” said IDFA President and CEO Connie Tipton. “At a time when animal care is gaining headlines and sound bites, we thought it was important to honor and highlight a dairy farm that is doing all the right things and spreading the knowledge to the broader dairy community.”
Co-sponsored by IDFA and Dairy Today magazine, this award annually honors United States dairy producers that go above and beyond to achieve increased on-farm productivity and improved milk marketing.
This award is well-earned, since co-owner Chuck Ahlem opened Hilmar Jerseys in 1982 with a mindset on emphasizing animal well-being and respect.
These priorities have followed the operation over the past 30 years, which has expanded to include five dairy facilities, covering 4,000 acres and marketing a total of 43.8 million pounds of milk annually.
Along with his son and co-owner, Mark Ahlem, Chuck Ahlem implemented an employee training program on animal care and stockmanship, a term defined as “skillful handling involving low-stress approaches, proper methods, effective techniques, gentle tactics, and all of the procedures done in a safe manner.”
The program has led to sensational improvements at all of their dairy facilities, as employees were given the opportunity to better understand cow behavior and how to handle animals correctly.
As a result, employees at Hilmar Jerseys began to express more pride and responsibility in their jobs, as well as increasingly identify and address areas for enhanced cow care and comfort. Employee injuries due to cows also experienced a significant drop of 50 percent, as well as decreased severity of injuries.
This success has been shared with Hilmar Cheese Company, which made the decision to partner with the Ahlems and Elanco, a global animal health company. Together, the three partners strive to promote the animal care and employee engagement concepts that originated at Hilmar Jerseys.
The success of Hilmar Jerseys and the resulting partnership is evident, as upwards of 200 individuals from 50 different dairies have taken part in this animal welfare training.