Kerry Alexander and her five-year-old daughter, Lainie, make their home at Maker Jerseys. Alexander has dedicated the last 12 years to milking and developing the herd. As a dedicated 4-H leader, she also welcomes young people to the farm. Many local youths have experienced Alexander’s open-house environment for learning and had an opportunity to work hands-on with some of the best Jerseys in North America. Read on for the full tale of Alexander’s road to dairy success. McFarlane photo
by Holly McFarlane
ROCKWOOD – Nestled on a quiet, rural side road in Rockwood, Ont., Maker Jerseys is a frequently visited destination for dairy enthusiasts of various ages.
It offers all the right ingredients for self-discovery, growth and learning, from a well-respected Jersey breeder, judge, show-person and 4-H leader. For Kerry Alexander and her five-year-old daughter, Lainie, it is simply home. Raised on a large dairy goat farm in Norval, Ont., Alexander has dedicated the last 12 years to milking and developing the herd at Maker Jerseys, operating and owning it independently for the last three years.
Alexander currently milks a herd of 60 dairy cows, primarily Jerseys with a couple of Holsteins. Alexander recalls that her interest in Jerseys began at the age of 16. She joined a local dairy 4-H club, with her first 4-H calf supplied by Lorne Ella of Rock Ella Jerseys, a close friend of Alexander’s father. After many years in 4-H, she asked Lorne Ella about investing in a cow of her own. Alexander purchased Rock Ella Belleman Grace who was generously implanted with an embryo that produced Rock Ella Online Gretchen, a cow that would begin to write the story at Maker Jerseys.
In 2007, Maker purchased the Potwell Jersey herd from the Stern Family in Paris, Ont. This deep-pedigreed herd consisted of 30 cows, 12 of which were EX, and 20 heifers. A rented barn in Shakespeare, Ont., was the home base for Maker Jerseys for the next five years before the operation moved to its current location. In the six years following the purchase of the Potwell cows, an additional 18 cows from the herd were classified excellent.
Today, Alexander is quick to credit the advice and mentoring she has received from longtime friend, Lorne Ella, throughout the years. “Lorne has taught me to look for things in cattle that most people would miss,” she notes. Ella’s advice, paired with the Rock Ella genetics, have been an influence in developing the breeding program at Maker.
“I entered the dairy industry from scratch, with zero quota holdings. It was very hard, especially financially. You come to realize that you may never have a new barn, ten tractors, or big equipment,” says Alexander. She attributes her passion for her cows as the primary element that helped her persevere in those difficult early years in the industry. “We took a hard path, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The Maker show string had a very successful year at the 2019 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, where Alexander was awarded with the Granclare Showmanship Award. “I really like this award because it is awarded by fellow peers within the dairy industry,” she said, in reference to the Butcher family who selects the recipient. “It means a lot to me that the Butcher family, who I consider close friends, recognized me in this way.”
She is quick to share the spotlight: “Each of those animals loves to show because they are taught while used as 4-H projects, have been practiced several times weekly by the kids here at the farm. The 30 minutes that I lead them in the ring doesn’t make me a great showman… the team behind me does!”
Alexander credits Lorne Ella and her former 4-H leader, the late Bert Stewart, for the invaluable knowledge they passed on to her through the years. “[Bert] was hard on us. He didn’t just teach us how to show our calves, he taught us how to speak and how to present ourselves. I just hope to pay forward the experience, education and opportunities I have been given.”
Paying it forward
A dedicated 4-H leader of the Eramosa Dairy Club, Alexander opens her barn doors to youth of various ages. Along with numerous other local farms, she provides a few calves for the almost 30 youth who participate in the club, and other clubs in the province, with 11 projects in 2018 and eight projects in 2019.
Alexander’s heart for teaching and providing on-farm experience for youth interested in dairy doesn’t stop with 4-H. The team at Maker Jerseys is comprised of the hands of many dairy and agriculture enthusiasts ranging in age, some with past experience and some without any experience, just a voracious appetite to learn all aspects of farm management.
“I have a lot of helpers,” says Alexander. “No one has a specific job, everyone needs to know how to do all of the different chores. They all need to learn how to milk the cows, drive a tractor, run the feed cart, etcetera.” Alexander also provides a workplace for co-op students to do their educational placement on a dairy farm, learning the ropes of daily feeding, milking, and breeding cows.
Madison Bratton came to Alexander fresh from the city, with no previous farming experience. Her first taste of dairy was showing a calf at College Royal. “The biggest thing I’ve learned under Kerry at Maker Jerseys is the meaning of hard work and dedication,” she says. “Not only has Kerry taught me so much about cattle and the dairy industry, she’s set an example as someone I would want to be, in the industry; through her breeding program, show program and overall encouragement of dairy work everyday to myself, my coworkers, and every 4-Her that walks through the barn.”
With years of participating in sports teams, Bratton brings a unique “team player” mentality to her job at the farm. It’s a quality that Alexander seeks, as it has become valuable on the farm.
Giving youth a chance
Each year, Alexander hosts a Christmas party for her staff. For the past few years, one of the highlights of the Maker Christmas party is a draw prize: ownership of a calf. The barn help all receive a ballot for each set of chores they complete, qualifying them to win the calf. “The very first year we had the draw, Adam Ostrander won the calf. He went on to take that calf to the Royal Winter Fair. He was really proud and the experience gave him a new interest in dairy genetics, really encouraging him at the time,” Alexander recalls.
Lauren Barker, a former employee at Maker Jerseys, speaks highly of Alexander’s generosity. “She assisted me in buying my first few heifers and allowed me to let them join the Maker show string. Without her guidance and knowledge, I wouldn’t have been able to show my own animals at the Royal Winter Fair and place top ten! As a young farmer who wants to have her own dairy farm one day, there are a lot of doubts about whether it is an achievable goal. Working with Alexander has taught me that it is attainable as long as you are willing to put in the work to get there. I have found a forever friend and mentor in Alexander and am very happy I had the opportunity to work with her these past few years.”
Bratton agrees. “Kerry has given myself and other ‘city kids’ a chance, which many in this industry are hesitant to do. My advice to anyone wanting to start out in the industry would be to join or reach out to a 4-H club and its leaders. The opportunities and connections I have made through 4-H have improved my ability to work around dairy cattle.”
One young 4-H member, Katrina Earle, came to Alexander looking to borrow a calf for her 4-H project. With no previous farm experience or connections to a farm operation, 11-year-old Earle has now become a regular visitor and extra set of hands at the farm. Alexander recalls how in December 2018, she had approximately 12 calves due. “Katrina was there when all of them were born. She chose one of those calves, which she named Cuddles, to be her 2019 4-H project.” Earle aspires to purchase a cow of her own, and is now inspiring her younger sisters as they watch her dedication and passion for the cattle.
“Kerry has taught me a lot about dairy cow showing and taking care of cattle. Before I started 4-H, I was really shy and self-conscious but after joining 4-H, with Kerry as my leader, it has made me less shy, more confident in myself and what I am capable of. I am more willing to take chances and believe in myself.”
From youth falling in love with her calves at The University of Guelph College Royal, to a determined young man who rode his bicycle up the farm lane because he wanted to borrow a calf for 4-H, there is no shortage of young people who have experienced Alexander’s open-house style environment for learning paired with the opportunity to work hands-on with some of the best Jerseys in North America.
History of the herd
Kerry Alexander of Maker Jerseys values the mentoring she received from Lorne Ella, and the Rock Ella genetics, as a strong influence in developing her breeding program.
Years ago, in the young days of Centurion Veronica, Lorne Ella purchased her first available daughter, Elliot SD Vanna EX-94-USA. Vanna went on to produce a bull named Rock Ella BW Vivitar. Maker later was granted use of the young bull, who went on to sire more than 30 daughters, ten of which became excellent cows.
Vivitar became a game changer in Maker’s breeding program, and his genetics remain very prominent in the herd today. Currently the herd is comprised of 28 EX, 32 VG, and 2 GP cows. In 2014, the Maker herd became home to two VG-89 two year old cows, a significant achievement.
Maker Vivitar Sassafrass EX-93 was one of those cows. Sassafrass went on to win her class at the Royal as a heifer, became a successful bull dam, and produced what Alexander now considers her best cow, Maker Goldmine Shine EX-94 (4th Mature Cow, RAWF 2019). The other VG-89 two-year-old was Maker Vivitar Aggie, who later became Maker’s first home-bred EX-95 cow.
Alexander’s breeding program is focused on producing dairy cattle with functional correctness and longevity. These are young cows that perhaps start slower in the herd on a production level, but demonstrate longevity as their careers span over numerous lactations, with some cows producing more than 12 calves in their lifetime. Alexander considers classification a benchmark of her success. “My goal is to have half the barn filled with excellent animals. We are almost there, just a few animals away!”