Garnett Dairy Wins Historic Jersey Award
By Raney Rapp, from farmtalknewspaper.com
Lured away by softly dished foreheads and curious black eyes, Christy Ratliff spent much of her childhood days at dairy shows abandoning her grandfather’s Holsteins and Ayrshires for the undeniable magnetism of Jerseys.
Since then, Ratliff pursued her love of the breed with sheer force of will — never backing down in the face of adversity. On June 27 in Canton, Ohio, Ratliff’s years of dedication to the Jersey breed will be rewarded as she accepts the American Jersey Cattle Association’s Master Breeder award.
“My goal first was to be the premier breeder and exhibitor at Louisville and what happened along the way just fell into place,” Ratliff said. “I wanted to be a breeder versus someone who buys a winner and I’m still that way today.”
A native of Garnett, Kansas, Ratliff is only the second recipient from Kansas to ever receive the Master Breeder award since it was established in 1944. She will also be one of only four women with their names listed as the primary recipient.
“It was unbelievable when I got that phone call,” Ratliff said. “It was close to 10 o’clock at night and I don’t think I slept for hours trying to get over it.”
The application process for the Master Breeder award is rigorous at best — requiring a board member’s nomination as well as recommendation letters from prestigious dairy industry professionals. While Ratliff’s application listed significant wins from national and international livestock shows — including owning and breeding the only three time national champion cow in the history of the Jersey breed — the real focus of her operation came through in the statistics outside the ring.
As of January 2018, 29 of Ratliff’s cows appraised at Excellent and 28 appraised as Very Good, with an average of Very Good 89.6 percent. In her 35 years within the Jersey breed, Ratliff has bred over 175 cows scored Excellent 90 percent of higher, with more than 90 of those cows producing 20,000 pounds of milk or more.
“When I started out, I bought cows that I considered good brood cows,” Ratliff said. “I showed them and didn’t care about being first because I would much rather stand in fourth or fifth place at that time and have a quality cow to breed from.”
Ratliff applied for the Jersey Master Breeder award alongside her husband and brother, Mike Kennedy, who has been an influential part of the operation. From helping with chores and milking cows to owning his own All American-winning cows, Kennedy has enabled Ratliff to successfully continue her operation.
The Ratliffs have built on their original brood cow prospects using an intensive embryo transfer program, where they flush donor dams weekly in the spring, fall and winter. Ratliff currently collects bulls from her own program to use in conjunction with the embryo transfer and keeps around 100 beef cows as donor recipients in conjunction with her dairy herd.
With around four times more baby calves than milking cows in the herd, Ratliff often has her hands full caring for the never-ending amount of replacement heifers. As the owners of the Anderson County Sales Company in Garnett, Ratliff and her husband Ron have a built-in outlet for their farm to host high-end registered cattle sales, typically holding a production sale every one to two years.
“The great cows stay here, but with as many sales as we have had, we’ve also sold some great cows too,” Ratliff said.
It’s important to Ratliff that she sells cattle worth owning, worth milking and worth showing, because she doesn’t accept anything less than the best in her operation.
“Now the goal is to just get deeper,” Ratliff said. “We’ve had the three-time national champion and now winning Master Breeder — all we can do now is continue to improve.”
Day in and day out for nearly 35 years Ratliff has pushed herself to become one of the premier breeders and exhibitors of Jersey cattle. From convincing her husband a dairy was a viable business for their family to recovering from the sudden death of a foundational cow in her herd, she has continued to show her love for the Jersey breed.
“Who would have ever thought we’d get here?” Ratliff said. “When I was little I just wanted one of these purple banners from the North American, just one and now here we are.”