History of Select Sires offers insight for today’s dairy farmers

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andreas farm holstein dairy cows
Cows eat at their leisure in the free stall barns at Andreas Farms.

On June 17 and 18, COBA held its annual meeting and a celebration of its 75th anniversary.

To mark this accomplishment, the first day featured tours of COBA’s headquarters and Select Sires’ facilities in Plain City, in addition to a parade of bulls, lunch and annual meeting under a tent on a beautiful day. The COBA/Select Sires teams were ready for the crowd of more than 500.

Program

I had the privilege of participating as a spouse, as Steve is serving as a delegate from our area. Julie Zeigler and her colleagues did a phenomenal job of planning, organizing and executing a packed, multi-venue program.

Along with the rest of the dairy industry, Select Sires has changed and grown tremendously since my first tour of the bull barn and collection facilities as a student in 1980 (back when tour groups just walked through the barns and hung out at the back of the collection facility, no plastic boots involved).

The parade of bulls took the place of past walks through the barns. A special outdoor ring, designed for the safety of the bulls, handlers and viewers, was the focus as 10 upcoming and proven bulls, including Conway, Chrome and Payload, were brought out and discussed.

At the delegates’ meeting the next day, the group heard about The History of COBA/Select Sires, Inc., by Richard Kellogg, written in July 1980. COBA has deep roots in northeast Ohio, born out of a merger of the Northeast and Western Ohio Breeding Associations in 1946.

How it started

In northeast Ohio, the first calf born from an artificial insemination arrived at a Trumbull County farm on Christmas day, 1941. The new Trumbull-Ashtabula Breeders Association, which was incorporated in February, 1941, provided that service.

The organization owned two Holstein, two Jersey and two Guernsey bulls. They rented a barn and house at the Trumbull County Experimental Farm, where they built stalls for their bulls and adapted the facilities for the new organization. Local dairy farmers signed up to be members, with 260 farms signing on in the first year.

Bulls were collected and early insemination work was done by a veterinarian with fresh semen. It would be 12 more years before frozen semen (using dry ice rather than liquid nitrogen for transportation and storage) began to take the place of fresh semen. In 1942, the Columbiana-Mahoning unit was formed, with 110 members and more than 1,000 cows signed up.

Other counties also wanted to make improved genetics available for their farms and started similar groups across Ohio. Some kept their own bulls, others contracted with other associations for semen, and the local county associations hired inseminators to breed their members’ cows.

In 1943, the Trumbull-Ashtabula Breeders Association changed their name to the Northeast Ohio Breeders Association, with the addition of the Columbiana-Mahoning group and service expanding into Portage County.

Kellogg’s history indicates that the board worked closely with their Ohio State University county extension agents in Trumbull, Ashtabula, Columbiana, Portage and Geauga counties, who helped successfully start and grow the organization.

Just four years later, in 1945, leadership of the Northeast and Western Ohio groups considered a merger to address mutual issues of locating and financing new facilities. Following approval of both groups, the Central Ohio Breeders Association formed and bought the current farm from Mabel Rarey, as it was located the same distance from Ohio State University and the post office.

The cooperative has continued to grow and change since the 1940s, bringing genetics and reproductive services to Ohio’s member dairy farmers as well as member farmers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona.

As it became clear that deeper resources would allow a greater selection of bulls to be proven and available to Ohio dairymen, COBA was instrumental in bringing together the resources of multiple cooperatives to form Select Sires, which is owned by member cooperatives, in 1965.

Planning

This very brief history cannot begin to do justice to the hard work, long discussions, forward-thinking and planning of the leadership, from the very first county associations, to the fledgling COBA, to today’s farmer-members, delegates, directors and management teams.

It is clear that evaluation, planning and a willingness to change course when needed has led to today’s strong organizations, which are well positioned to take on the next 75 years.

As dairy farmers, we should take note and strive to incorporate those same practices into the management of our dairy farm businesses. Evaluate, plan and change course when needed, so our farms are ready for the next 75 years.

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