‘Father of the Qualified Herdbook’: McKarns receives national award

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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – At an Ohio Holstein Association winter forum in 1986, Columbiana County dairyman Bill McKarns raised an idea about opening the national association’s registry to include grade cattle.
It was a hot potato, but a national committee was eventually appointed and developed a proposal for upgrading. The proposal was shot down at the national convention in 1988.
Fast forward three years to another Ohio winter forum. McKarns again raised the issue. Nobody wanted to touch it, but the members basically told him that if he wanted to pursue it, to put together a committee and do it himself.
So he did. It was that passionate belief in a program to expand the Holstein rolls that earned McKarns the Holstein Association USA’s first Distinguished Leadership Award.
The prestigious award will be presented during the Holstein association’s annual meeting in Knoxville, Tenn., June 25.
‘Unselfish leadership.’ The Distinguished Leadership Award, the first of its kind for the association, will now be presented annually to an individual who, in the opinion of an anonymous selection committee, has provided outstanding and unselfish leadership to the association or the U.S. dairy industry.
“For me, just a little ol’ country boy, to be recognized by your peers this way, it’s kind of mind-boggling,” McKarns told Farm and Dairy.
Top breeder. McKarns, who now lives in Hanoverton, returned to Ohio in 1957 after military service and started his own registered Holstein herd near Kensington in southern Columbiana County. He developed many high-producing cows with excellent type, including eight Gold Medal Dams and three Dams of Merit. He sold embryos for export and had contracts to sell bulls to three foreign countries and to major American A.I. organizations.
He dispersed the herd in 1990, with 93 head averaging $2,374.
He and his wife, Pauline, have been married 48 years and have 11 children (one deceased), and 13 grandchildren.
Behind the nomination. “Leadership is characterized by surfacing a good idea, not necessarily popular at the time and shepherding it through opposition, criticism and debate to its ultimate adoption as policy,” said Select Sires retired general manager Dick Chichester in his letter of support for McKarns.
“Such leadership was clearly exhibited by Bill McKarns regarding the open herdbook issue in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was being considered by the Holstein association.”
Opposition. The upgrading proposal once again went to the national scene in 1991 where it met considerable resistance and was, as McKarns later wrote in the Ohio Holstein News, “cussed and discussed.” But in 1992 at the national convention, delegates unanimously passed the proposal McKarns spearheaded.
Today, more than 90,000 Holsteins, some 30 percent of total registrations in 2005, were less than 100 percent ‘pure,’ but are part of the herdbook.
Because of McKarns’ determination, former Holstein Association USA President Richard Keene once called McKarns “The Father of the Qualified Herdbook.”
But McKarns is quick to point to other individuals who pushed the proposal forward.
“Yes, I lit the match that got the fire burning on it, but there were a lot of people from all over the country who helped carry wood and fanned the fire and keep it going,” McKarns said.
More involvement. McKarns’ involvement with the Holstein association, however, is broader than the qualified herdbook and milking registered Holsteins.
When the Holstein association was tight on funds and short on field staff, McKarns volunteered his time and as a result of his efforts, many Ohio members got caught up on registrations or began their initial membership.
“Many of us join in and help when it is to our personal benefit,” said Florida Holstein breeder Don Bennink. “It is a rare individual like Bill McKarns, who continues to contribute long after his retirement, who makes a huge difference.”

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