From a Band of Misfits to a Cookie-cutter Consistency

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"My philosophy back then and now, is to identify and visualize the cows I want to milk. And in my case, I wanted 5,700 of them," says Chris Terra, manager of Red Top Jerseys.

Chris Terra was hired in 2006 by the owners of Red Top Jerseys: the Wickstrom and Nyman families. At that time, the dairy was not yet operating and there were no animals on site. Terra oversaw the final stages of construction and was then tasked with acquiring animals. In 2007, he began milking 1,200 cows sourced from all over the country and California – described as a “band of misfits” by Terra and Herby Lutz, Jersey sire analyst.

Within five years, Terra grew the dairy from 1,200 cows to 5,700 cows, continued with construction of a second rotary parlor and other facilities, and made genetics his priority. In the last 10 years, Terra’s drive and determination regarding genetic improvement has not let up. Simplify his goals and you’ll find one common theme: consistency.


Terra describes his ideal cow as “functional, moderately sized, good feet and legs, walks in and out of the parlor three times each day, has 85-90 pounds of fat corrected milk and isn’t in the hospital pen.” To achieve this, he works with only six sires at a time. These sires are of the most elite genetic status with high percent fat and protein and Combined Fat and Protein (CFP) and positive Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR). Terra explains that while he works hard to manage milk production, he also protects milk yield when determining sire selection.

Red Top’s clear and concise genetic philosophy combined with the sire selection strategy has led to phenomenal results and progress for the dairy. What was once described as a “band of misfits” is now one of California’s most successful Jersey herds with high-scoring, high-producing cows. As he walks the pens, Terra describes his cows as “cookie-cutter” and Herby Lutz agrees with a resounding, “consistent, consistent, consistent.”


With Red Top’s genetic strategy in place, Terra’s most recent focus has been on heifer and cow inventories, as well as opportunities for diversification. His first step was working with All West/Select Sires to analyze the herd with a genetic audit using the cooperative’s proprietary Optimal Genetic Pathways calculator. The resulting recommendation was to breed 40-50% of Red Top’s herd to beef semen. At first, Terra was shocked and did not have much confidence in the strategy nor did he feel comfortable with beef semen conception rates. And so, he decided to test the waters and wait on the results. Over time and after seeing great conception rates with beef semen, Terra went all in. Today, Red Top Jerseys breeds nearly 70% of the lactating herd to beef and is taking advantage of the thriving beef x dairy market.


Want to hear more about Red Top's herd statistics and strategies for success? Listen to an exclusive interview with Chris Terra on the Select Sires Podcast.


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