by Sally Colby
Joy Widerman is busy. She’s a wife, a mother and a herdsman for JoBo Holsteins, her family’s 1,000 head dairy farm in Gettysburg, PA. So when Owen Weikert, Region 3 organizational director for Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, encouraged Widerman to apply for the Young Farmer and Rancher (YF&R) Achievement Award toward the end of last summer, Widerman didn’t think she had time to meet the deadline.
The YF&R award honors a farm individual or couple who have shown leadership in the ag industry, and who have been an integral part of their farm’s growth. As Widerman considered whether or not she’d enter the contest, she realized there were several significant events on the farm that brought her to where she is today. One was a devastating fire in the winter of 2010, and the other was a teat dip disaster about 10 years ago.
“That’s when I realized how much this farm meant to me,” said Widerman, recalling the pivotal event. “We had started dipping the cows with that teat dip on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning, when my sister and I were milking, their teats were burnt. We went from being able to milk cows in four hours to it taking us ten to twelve hours to milk.” Unfortunately, since there were several milking shifts with different employees, the teat dip was used for about 24 hours before the problem was identified. By the time the source of the problem became clear, significant damage had already occurred.
Somehow, the farm received an order of teat dip that had acid in it. Widerman says she watched her father, who had built and improved the herd over the years, become distraught over the event. “If we survived this, this is where I want to be,” said Widerman. “I hadn’t officially come into the partnership yet, but that was the determining moment.” Soon after the teat dip issue was settled, Widerman became herdsman. As she was compiling her essay for the contest, Widerman wrote about how everyone on the farm worked together through the crisis, and how important it was for her to see that work ethic. Once the 14-page application was complete, Widerman put the document on a thumb drive and took it to the farm to print.
“The deadline was Saturday, Sept. 1,” said Widerman. “The Thursday night before, at 11:30 p.m., my husband and I went over it. It was ready to print and mail. At the time, I didn’t have a printer at home, so I had to download it to a thumb drive to take to the farm to print.” Widerman says she was proud of herself for completing the application on time, but decided to check to make sure the application was safely on the thumb drive.
Widerman says knowing the document wasn’t there led to a restless night. She came to work the next morning and asked for help searching for the document on the drive. After an unsuccessful attempt to locate the document on the drive, Widerman was ready to give up. But her husband Brock reminded her of how hard she had worked to complete the application and encouraged her to re-do the entire application. The family arranged for Widerman to take the day off, and a family member cared for her two younger children while Widerman and her oldest son worked through the day to redo the entire application. “My hands started to hurt from typing, so he helped me type it,” she said. “As I think back, I didn’t give him enough credit for helping me.” She started the application from scratch, finished at 9 p.m. that night, and printed it out the next morning — just in time to make the deadline.
Widerman soon learned that as one of the top three applicants, the next step was a personal interview. However, due to bad weather, that interview was postponed until the annual Pennsylvania State Farm Bureau convention in Hershey.
During the evening banquet at the convention, Widerman was announced as the winner of the YF&R Achievement Award. In addition to cash, tools, a turkey fryer and the use of a Case IH tractor delivered to the farm by Hoobers of Chambersburg, Widerman and her husband won trips to the state YF&R conference in Altoona and to the AFBF’s 94th annual meeting in Nashville, TN.
Today, as herdsman at JoBo Holsteins, Widerman is in charge of all aspects of herd health. She also works with the herd nutritionist and makes decisions about herd genetics. “I choose sires,” she said, “and if bulls go to stud, I organize that.” Widerman had already been working on the farm through two major expansions, so she was familiar with the herd and its potential.
JoBo Holsteins’ initial expansion in 1996-1997 took the herd from 200 to 500 cows. “We added a freestall barn, and moved from milking in a flat parlor underneath the bank barn to a double-10 parlor,” said Widerman. “Then in 2007, we built another freestall barn, added 450 more cows and expanded the parlor to a double 18.”
Like other farms with strong cow families, JoBo is using genomics as a tool for improvement. “We’re getting some interest in our Swiss bulls,” said Widerman. “We also have interest in two Holstein cow families for A.I. so we’re doing genomics on them.” Last year, five Brown Swiss bulls were placed with Select Sires and one bull with New Generations. This year, JoBo has seven A.I. contracts for Swiss bulls.
JoBo Holsteins has a Facebook page, which Widerman says is a direct result of having attended sessions on social networking. “Prior to Nashville, I was one of those people who thought Facebook was a waste of time,” she said. “I changed my mind after hearing about the contacts I could make and how people could see the farm.”