|Mason Family Honored
by Dairy Shrine
October 2004 - by Dennis Halladay, Western Editor, Hoard’s Dairyman
The arrival of
Multiple Component Pricing in Federal Milk Marketing Orders more
than a decade ago was the opportunity Jersey dairy producers had
been waiting generations for. At last was the chance to show dairy
manufacturers, fellow producers, and perhaps even themselves, that
small brown cows and high-solids milk could not only compete in a
market where profitability had long been measured by volume alone,
but they could excel.
It was a pivotal
point in the breed’s history, and it came at a time when something
new and special was needed to help Jersey producers seize the
opportunity. That something happened in 1993 in the form of a
radical new A.I. sire from a virtually unknown farm. Although he
always had a minus fat test, his huge Production Type Index (PTI) so
perfectly fit the needs of the cheese market that Jersey breeders
were almost forced to use him — which they did over and over
again. He ultimately sired more cows than any bull in Jersey
history, and in the process helped redefine basic perceptions about
the breed’s commercial capabilities, raise performance
expectations for bulls that followed, and rekindle interest in
Jerseys that continues to grow throughout the world today.
That bull was Mason
Boomer Sooner Berretta, and it is because of the watershed impact he
and his herdmates have had in the Jersey breed that Bill, Barbara
and David Mason of Buhl, Idaho, have been named National Dairy
Shrine Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeders for 2003. Presentation of
the award will be October 2 at the annual Dairy Shrine Awards
Banquet during World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.
A Most Unlikely Start
That a quantum
genetic leap like "Berretta" would come out of the
commercially oriented Western U.S. was perhaps not a surprise. That
it could come out of Mason Farm becomes understandable after
spending just a few hours listening to their intense passion and
laser-focused philosophy about developing cattle. Still, it was
improbable that such a breakthrough would occur at a dairy less than
20 years old, whose very existence was much more by accident than
ago, Bill and Barb weren’t even in agriculture let alone in
dairying. "We’re still newcomers in the industry," says
Barb. Recently married and living in Portland, Oregon, Bill was a
Plant Repair Superintendent and 18-year employee at GTE Telephone, a
trade he’d learned during his stint in the U.S. Army. One night he
returned from work to find Barb had brought home an injured Jersey
cow to care for.
"That’s how we
got started," says Bill, smiling ear to ear. "Us milking
cows is Barb’s fault, and I’ll always hold her to that."
A short time later
they decided to move to Idaho and raise crops at the 150-acre farm
that is still their home. A handful of Jersey heifers also made the
trip, and they soon found themselves milking a dozen head — with
bucket machines and no bulk tank. They shipped milk in cans until
the early ’80s when their creamery went out of business and they
had to switch to another. The new creamery didn’t accept cans so
they had to buy a bulk tank . . . whereupon they found they needed
more cows because the milk level inside the tank wasn’t high
enough to reach the stirring paddles.
"The next thing
you know we’re milking 50 head," says Bill. "Pretty soon
we decided we really liked Jerseys. Then it seemed like all of a
sudden we’re milking 90 head — in a flat barn with bucket
machines that we empty by hand into the bulk tank. You can’t say
we weren’t hard-headed!"
Putting in a pipeline
made milking more bearable, and in 1987 Bill and David decided to
modernize even more by building a double-4 herringbone parlor . . .
by themselves. They still milk in it today. Over the years they
gradually added acreage, and currently farm 410 acres of alfalfa,
corn, barley, wheat, rye grass and triticale. "Our goal was to
become totally self-sufficient in feed production so we could ride
out these ups and downs in the milk market and still make
money," explains Bill.
Right from the start,
genetics was a family passion. "It’s just something we’ve
always done," says Bill. "When we had Suffolk sheep we
tried to breed the best sheep we possibly could. When we had
Appaloosa horses it was the same thing. It’s a personal challenge
that the three of us enjoy. Whatever you do in life, you try to do
the best you can. Genetics and breeding are kind of a game that
really keeps us interested."
Through A.I., embryo
transfer, and solid calf care, herd size gradually grew to their
current 250 head milking and 200 heifers. Along the way they have
sent 25 bulls into active A.I. service, had 24 cows make at least
100,000 pounds of lifetime milk, and set six Top 25 production
records for milk, protein or cheese yield. "Berretta"
genetics continue to dominate the Active Jersey Sire rankings: Of
the top 30 bulls on the February 2003 list, 26 were either
"Berretta" sons or grandsons.
A Leader Who Loves to
Don’t let the
overalls and grandpa-like appearance fool you; Bill Mason is as
intense and cutting edge a cowman as you’ll ever meet. He seems
quiet and even a bit shy on the outside, but appearances are
deceiving. He loves to laugh, and especially at himself. Ask him if
he’s having fun being a dairy producer, and he answers instantly:
Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. Barb and Dave and I all get a
kick out of little things in life. Sometimes it’s just a matter of
somebody saying something funny or doing something stupid. Laughing
at yourself and laughing with others is the way it’s supposed to
be. If what you’re doing isn’t fun, you need to do something
When the subject
turns to cows, genetics or dairying, Bill is suddenly transformed.
His demeanor becomes serious and focused, with opinions that are
straightforward, reasoned and practical. He does not beat around the
bush. Ask him about a pedigree, a bull, a cow family, or a breeding
philosophy, and be prepared for encyclopedic details that are a
challenge to keep up with.
It is this
combination of friendliness, honesty, down-to-earth practicality,
and forward thinking that have brought many leadership positions
Bill’s way. He has been President of National All-Jersey Inc. for
six years and is a 16-year member of its Board of Directors. He is a
14-year director with both his local milk cooperative and the Idaho
Jersey Cattle Club, and is past President of each. He also served
five years on his local DHIA board and one year as President.
Although they had no
idea how special he would turn out to be, the Masons knew there was
great potential for a bull calf even before making the mating that
produced "Berretta." His dam was OSB E Settler Shadow
Maggie, which they had bought as a feisty one-horned heifer for $800
at the 1986 Idaho State Jersey Sale. "Maggie," who would
later set not one, but two all-time Jersey protein records, came out
of the herd of fellow Idahoan Hubert Osborne. That herd originated
with George Day, and both of these dairymen shared the Masons’
passion for cows with functionality, productivity and longevity.
"We felt the
potential for something genetically special was there in ‘Maggie’,"
recalls Bill. "Dave decided to mate her to Soldierboy Boomer
Sooner of CJF, who was an outlier who created a lot of milk. We
thought that if the combination worked, it could really be
"Berretta" was a calf, Bill recalls that it was impossible
to keep him in a hutch or make him stay in a pen. "So we tied
him to the tire of a little John Deere manure spreader. When we fed
him he would eat his hay and grain and then tip over the spreader,
mount the tub, and mount the tire. That was after every
feeding, so we decided we’ve got get this guy into A.I."
But it took more than
just a little selling to convince A.I. organizations. Bill says Jeff
Ziegler at Select Sires Inc. was the only one who showed much
interest, and it took two calls at that. One was the day
"Berretta" was born on March 18, 1989, but nothing
happened then. The other was six months later. Ziegler finally asked
for a price. Bill answered $2,500. Ziegler said "Sold."
The Jersey world’s
eyes opened wide to "Berretta" a year later when the
national Jersey convention was held in Boise. "Maggie" had
just set her first all-time protein record, and three busloads of
breeders came out to visit her. What they saw was an extraordinary
cow and an exceptional herd, excelling in facilities so basic they
probably shocked most of the visitors. Then, as today, Mason Farm
has no free stalls, no production strings, no fans or misters, no
pampering, and no frills whatsoever.
It was a sight that
probably also sent the visitors’ imaginations soaring. If such
genetics could thrive in these conditions, what might they do with
better housing and cow comfort, more aggressive feeding, and maybe
more frequent milking? Apparently, they all went home and bought
"Berretta" semen and waited to find out.
When he debuted on
the Active A.I. List in July 1993, "Berretta" began an
unprecedented five-year run as the #1 PTI sire in the breed. His
minus fat test made some breeders balk at first, but his enormous
total pounds of protein and milk so perfectly fit the cheese market
at that time, they were compelled them to use him anyway. To date
"Berretta" has sired over 25,000 Registered Jerseys, more
than any other bull in the history of the breed.
"I would give
"Berretta" most of the credit as to why non-traditional
Jersey breeders are looking at becoming involved with the breed
today," says Jeff Ziegler.
"A Cow Must Be
The Masons modestly
credit their success to being in the right place at the right time
in Jersey history. But it was also a time when their philosophy of
breeding cattle with functional type, high components and animal
longevity were the ideal fit for cheese yield pricing.
"Before you can
do anything else with her, a cow has to fit your milk market so she
can make you money. Then she has to stay in the herd," explains
Bill. "That’s what breeding is all about; you have make a
living first. We have always tried to focus on protein and
functional type. Not necessarily to make a fancy cow that will win a
blue ribbon at the fair, but one that will produce and stay in the
herd for many years without a lot of help."
Today, the Masons say
they are in a bit of a breeding dilemma. "We’re still trying
to create a strong functional cow that can do the job on her own
without any enhancements or pampering. There are a lot of good bulls
out there, but not one that really triggers something,"
explains Bill. "Lately we’ve been breeding a lot of our cows
to Danish bulls. The second largest population of Jerseys in the
world is in Denmark, and they also have high components. They’re
good enough that we want to bring those genes in."
Bill also has an idea
of what the dairy cow of the future needs to be.
"There are a
couple of different markets we need to satisfy, with cheese being
the primary mover of milk products," he says. "I don’t
think we can ever have too much protein. When you look how much
cheese France and Germany and other countries consume, it certainly
appears there is still room for the U.S. cheese market to grow. In
the fluid market we need to get higher solids. But there are only so
many bottles of milk that are going to be sold; the rest is going to
go to a manufacturing facility. We need a high production, high
component, long lasting cow, because then everybody in the country
can use her. I think the focus has to be on creating a functionally
sound cow that creates a lot of product by herself and wears
Editors Note: The
Masons join seven Jersey breeders who have been previously honored
as Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeders: Col. and Mrs. H. G. Wilde of
High Lawn Farm, Lenox, Mass. (1978); Mrs. A. G. Rankin & Sons of
Cedarcrest Farms, Faunsdale, Ala. (1981); C. Scott Mayfield,
Mayfield Dairy Farms, Athens, Tenn. (1984); John Bishop VI, Ogston,
Columbus, N.J. (1987); Robert and Laura Pike and John and Allaire
Palmer, Highland Farms Inc., Cornish, Maine (1995); the Robert
Stiles Family, Waverly Farm, Clear Brook, Va. (1999); and Walter and
Sally Goodrich of Molly Brook Farm, West Danville, Vt. (2002).