April 10, 2023 at 6:02 p.m.

Dairy science club honors Worden, Shearer

Iowa State University recognized members, alumni in awards ceremony

By Sherry Newell- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

AMES, Iowa – Dennis Worden’s history as a dairy farmer is somewhat less than typical. Since receiving his dairy science degree from Iowa State University in 1979, he and his wife, Joan, have milked cows in seven different locations across Iowa. His dedication to dairy and the industry, along with his success at breeding top-quality, show-winning, registered cows, were among the reasons the Iowa State University Dairy Science Club named him its 2023 Distinguished Graduate.
Worden, now from Sumner, and ISU’s Dr. Jan Shearer, a professor and Extension veterinarian, were honored March 26 at the club’s annual banquet in Ames. Shearer received the honorary member distinction for his work surrounding lameness and its implications for animal well-being.
The club also presented student scholarships, judging and dairy challenge recognitions, and club achievement awards.
Worden left the family dairy in Dows to pursue his degree soon after his father sold the family’s Brown Swiss dairy herd. In 1979, he married Joan, a farm girl from his county, and began milking on the home farm with two cows. A friend placed his cows with Worden, and he was soon up to about 10 while developing animals with the Onword registered prefix.
The next location, a rented farm near Elgin, was sold, so the Wordens combined the cows with those of college friends and milked with them near Oelwein. After three years, the couple was recruited by a fellow Brown Swiss breeder in Iowa Falls, where they moved and stayed until a rented farm became available in West Union. One more move took them to a farm in the same area, where they bought out one owner’s share of the land along with all of the cows. The Wordens milked there for 26 years.
“Silly me; I drug cows from place to place six or seven times,” Worden said. “Every time you move, the cows take a hit.”
Still, Worden and his family eventually developed top cows in the Brown Swiss and Ayrshire breeds. They also had success with Holsteins, Jerseys and Milking Shorthorns.
“By the time the kids were done with youth shows, we even had a Guernsey,” Worden said. “My dad thought I should become a banker, but (my parents) helped me move every time. Maybe things could have turned out better, but I’ve got a great family and they are all involved in ag one way or another.”
Worden’s son, Jacob, now milks 120 cows near Sumner, where Worden has been doing what he calls “volunteering” on the farm since the fall of 2021. The Wordens’ daughter, Jonna Schutte, and her family milk near Monona. Two other children, Noah and Logan, are in Minnesota and Nebraska pursuing other careers but remain connected to the industry and the cows at home.
Jonna introduced Worden at the banquet, saying she is proud to be like her father, raising her kids the way she was raised. She and two of her siblings were ISU Dairy Science Club members.
Worden was on the dairy judging team during his time at ISU and assisted youth with dairy projects, activities and breed development. He served on the National Brown Swiss Association Board of Directors and hosted numerous visitors who came to see the cows.
For Worden, ISU dairy science was a destination way back during the time he tagged along with his father to the college’s educational programs. The connections he made through dairy judging, club tours and other activities have continued to line the fabric of his life.  
That life has always included cows.
“You know, cows are my life; the rest is just details,” Worden said. “I can’t explain it. It’s always been about the cows.”
One of his best cows over the years was a Brown Swiss named Onword Combo Viola, named after Worden’s grandmother. At birth, each of Worden’s grandchildren was gifted the next heifer from that cow family. Viola had 23 daughters, with more than a dozen classified Excellent.
But while his work with cows has been an important success in his life, Worden is quick to identify something else for which he has the most pride.
“That would be my family,” he said.


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