September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
In March, Jeff Borst leapt into a new leadership position at Union Dairy in West Union, Minn., as the herd manager on the 1,400-cow dairy. Prior to that, he was an assistant herd manager at Clauss Dairy in Hilmar, Calif.
"When the chance came for me to learn more, I'm glad I took it," Borst said about accepting the new role at Union Dairy.
The 2014 University of Minnesota graduate has always had an interest in dairying after having grown up on his family's 200-cow dairy farm near Rochester, Minn.
It was during his four years at college that Borst realized he would pursue his dairy career on a farm other than his own.
"Up until college, my plan was to return to the home farm," Borst said. "But with my dad, uncle and now, older brother, involved there wasn't room for me."
Borst spent the summer of his sophomore year in Dalhart, Texas as an intern for the Hilmar Cheese Company working on their newest dairy. The following summer he continued with the company, this time at Clauss Dairy.
"I liked it enough there [in Texas], that I applied for another internship with Hilmar the following summer," Borst said.
After spending three months immersed in the California dairy industry - meeting new people, working on a farm structured differently than those in the Midwest and being supervised by great bosses - Borst decided that after graduation he would relocate and start his career out West.
"I was willing to learn, and they took a chance on me," he said about returning to the 3,000-cow Jersey farm after graduation last May.
The skills Borst was able to acquire during his 10-month stint in California have been of great help as he develops into his new management role.
While in his previous position, Borst was the assistant herd manager and much of his responsibilities revolved around cow management.
"I did all the day-to-day cow things, like monitoring cows and routinely giving shots," he said.
Being the assistant herd manager allowed Borst to help out where needed. He was able to work with the herd manager, Danny Avila, and watch how he interacted with the employees. In hindsight, this prepared Borst for the position at Union Dairy.
"I'd watch how Danny would go about a situation and show them [the employees] the correct way of doing something," Borst said. "He was helpful in explaining protocols step-by-step, and the trial and error that he went through to come up with those specific practices."
The ambitious dairyman was hopeful that in time he would be placed into a role with more responsibility like that of Avila's. However, that opportunity arrived sooner than expected when the dairy in West Union had an opening.
"In California, I was working with the cows and hoping to grow into a management position," Borst said. "Here, I have that."
Taking the job also meant being closer to friends and family, both important aspects in Borst's life.
Now, Borst spends much of his time receiving feedback on the daily operations of the farm and helping decide what needs to be done differently. It has been an adjustment for him to work with people rather than cattle.
"I no longer focus my time on the cows. That's Edgar's job," Borst said. "I work with the employees and manage the records on Dairy Comp."
Edgar Sanchez has been the assistant herd manager at Union Dairy for the past 10 years and is responsible for proper care of the cows. With help from Sanchez, Borst has been able to effectively speak with employees.
"I'm getting better at Spanish, but the language barrier is difficult," Borst said. "Edgar speaks Spanish fluently and has been a great help relaying any messages to the employees who may not understand me."
The presence of Sanchez has also helped solidify the positive relationship between the other employees and Borst.
"They're confident in what I know," Borst said. "It's something I'm always worried about, but they trust Edgar and he helps me communicate with them."
Given the privilege to dairy in different regions of the country, Borst noticed practices that best suit each operation, including employee and feed management, and herd health.
In the hot climate of California, open barns and wash pens are necessities that help easily manage somatic cell count. Similarly, those dairies focus much of their time on micromineral management with machines that precisely measure nutrients.
"That's not necessarily unique to California, but a growing trend that hasn't hit Minnesota," Borst said about managing microminerals.
Perhaps the largest difference Borst noticed is employee involvement on the dairies.
Out West, the newest employee Borst worked with had been on the farm for four years. In Minnesota the turnover rate can be higher because employees are looking for ways to become a more valuable asset to the operation.
"Back there, everyone knew their job - they did it, did it well, then left when they were finished," Borst said. "Here, there is more turnover, especially with the milkers, because they are looking for a more prominent role on the dairy."
In all the experience Borst has had traveling across the country and learning a skill set that is valuable to his career goals, he doesn't regret any decisions made and encourages other young dairy farmers to do the same.
"If I hadn't moved out to California, I might not be here right now," he said. "You have to be open to learn something new."
The short time that has already gone by at Union Dairy has been a remarkable one for Borst. He has been given the opportunity to learn more about dairying as a whole - from calf and feed management to procedures, such as correcting a DA.
"Before, I was only working in my comfort zone. Now I'm confident in other aspects of the farm," Borst said. "I've learned so much, so fast and that's been great."
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