Cores of Kentucky Named 2022 AJCA Master Breeders

Jeff and Alta Mae Core, Salvisa, Ky., have been named the 79th recipients of the Master Breeder award of the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA). The Cores operate Keightley-Core Jersey Farm, a 70-cow Registered Jersey herd, with their children, Brooke, Brady and Brittany, and their families and breed cattle using the KCJF prefix.

The Master Breeder award is bestowed annually to a living AJCA member, family, partnership, or corporation that, in the opinion of the Board of Directors, has bred outstanding animals for many years and thereby made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Jersey breed in the United States.

Jersey breeders could argue the semantics of what constitutes “outstanding animals,” quite literally, until the cows come home. But most would agree, Keightley-Core Jersey Farm embodies the concept. In a nutshell, KCJF is a herd of Registered Jerseys that pays the bills and looks good doing it.

With their cows, the Cores have won nearly every conceivable piece of hardware on the tanbark trail and earned countless awards for production. They have sent bulls to A.I. and marketed cattle that have thrived for other breeders across the globe. Jeff and Alta Mae have been recognized by their peers for achievement and service, passed their passion for Jersey cattle to their children, and laid the groundwork for future generations to continue the Keightley-Core legacy of farming.

Their story is also a real life, cow farming fairy tale. Jeff hails from a Jersey farm in Iowa, Alta Mae from a Jersey dairy in Kentucky. In the early years, what they had in common was a love of showing cattle. In the late-1970s, they traveled with their families to Louisville, Ky., for The All American Jersey Show and met, an encounter that shaped the future for them both. They married in 1980 and got a start dairying on the farm owned by her parents, the late A. J. and Adelene Keightley, in McAfee, Ky. They purchased the 250-acre farm in Salvisa in 1987 and farmed with her mother upon the passing of her father.

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“Is there a more storied beginning to such recognizable breeders than meeting and falling in love at The All American Jersey Show,” wrote daughter Brooke Powers of Lexington, Ky., secretary/treasurer of the Kentucky Jersey Cattle Club.

From that moment on, they have shone in many facets of the dairy world, continued Powers. But hands down, their biggest moments have come at the bedrock of their avocations, The All American Jersey Show.

This resume includes seven Premier Breeder banners, two Premier Exhibitor banners, three National Grand Champions, a homebred National Grand Champion, six NASCO Type and Production Winners, and two Genomic Jersey Performance Index (GJPI) Grand Champions. In the National Jersey Jug Futurity, the Cores have shown three homebred winners and a reserve winner and bred four of the top 10 cows in the 2019 class. As well, Brady showed a four-time Junior National Grand Champion, Brooke took home four banners for Reserve Junior National Grand Champion, and Brittany exhibited a Reserve National Grand Champion.

Hirds Colton Dream was named National Grand Champion for the second time in 2021. With her are Alta Mae and Brady Core.

Alta Mae and Jeff teamed as officials for the open show in 2004, her as judge and him as associate. Three years later, she judged the national futurity. Together they received the Max Gordon Memorial Award in 2014 and are long-serving members of the All American Show Committee. Brady judged the futurity in 2021.

Among those who have served with and competed alongside the family since he was a teenager is Corey A. Lutz, Piedmont Jerseys, Lincolnton, N.C. “I don’t remember a time when the Keightleys and Cores were not at our national show in Louisville and in the hunt to win their classes.”

The Keightleys have shown at The All American every year since 1968 and were early supporters of the National Jersey Jug Futurity, exhibiting their first entry in 1963 and winning the class in 1983.

“When you compete at a national show, you know that you will have to beat cows from this herd to win a class,” noted Wilfrid, Walter and Roger Owens, Frederic, Wis., fellow recipients of the Master Breeder award. Even more remarkable, most are homebred, a feat that is increasingly uncommon, the brothers continued.

“Generally, when KCJF comes up, people tend to think ‘show cows,’” wrote another Master Breeder recipient, Paul Chittenden, Dutch Hollow Farm Inc., Schodack Landing, N.Y. “My respect for this family does include their success in the show ring. But more that that is the fact that, like most of us, they pay their bills with the milk check.”

Their “fancy” herd of cows has ranked nationally for production on multiple occasions and today has a lactation average (m.e.) of 18,238 lbs. milk, 928 lbs. fat and 683 lbs. protein on 68 lactations. In the milking string is winner of this year’s Ogston Trophy for lifetime milk production and Edyvean Farm Trophy for lifetime protein production, 4W Pusher Lizzie, Excellent-94%. The matriarch has been the herd’s top producer four of the past six years and has 336,012 lbs. milk, 14,558 lbs. fat and 11,975 lbs. protein in 4,418 days.

As one might expect, the appraisal scores on the Keightley-Core cows are something to brag about too. In the past 35 years, the Cores have bred 238 cows appraised Excellent-90% or higher. The highest-appraised cow in this group, KCJF Regency Treasure, is just one of seven in breed history to be appraised Excellent-97%. “Treasure” is backed by a Core-bred sire (Renaissance Kims Regency) and dam. She was tapped 2008 Reserve National Grand Champion and made more than 163,000 lbs. milk lifetime. Of her 14 registered progeny, eight sons were used as herd sires at KCJF, including KCJF Whistlers Tracer, sire of 2012 National Jersey Jug Winner, KCJF Tracer Ritzy, Excellent-91%.

KCJF Regency Treasure, Excellent-97%

Today’s herd has an appraisal average of 89.7% and includes 41 Excellent and 28 Very Good cows. The high-scorers are a pair of Excellent-96% cows that were purchased in 2015: Hirds Colton Dream and Dreamroad TBone Clumsy. In the Jersey world, “Dream” needs no introduction. She was named Reserve National Grand Champion in 2016 and Supreme Champion of the North American International Livestock Exposition in 2018. She earned the title of National Grand Champion again in 2021 and was also Overall Premier Performance Cow and GJPI Grand Champion.

To be a master breeder, one needs to possess not just a master’s eye when choosing females, but skill in selecting service sires and raising calves to full potential. The Cores describe their breeding technique as “a blend of gut feelings, close critique of maternal and paternal lines, and use of proven sires.” There is no formula dictating numbers from a pedigree and no hard fast rules.

Often their best performers include a sprinkling of KCJF sires on both the top and bottom sides of the pedigree. Among the cows who can be found in the lineage of much of the herd today is the early influencer, K.J.F. Amandas Mercury Mandy, Excellent-93%. Her son, Mandys Patrick Rex, born in May 1987, was the first bull bred and sampled by the Cores. He has 137 daughters in his proof, including Rexs Patrick Kim, Excellent-94%, an All American honoree with nine complete lactations, and the dam of another show-stopper, Brady’s four-time champion, KJF Renaissance Lacy {6}, Excellent-96%.

KJF Renaissance Lacy {6}, Excellent-96%

“Lacy” was Intermediate Champion of the open show in Louisville in 1997. The next year, she was Reserve Grand Champion of the Central National Jersey Show and began her string of four consecutive Junior National Grand Champion titles. She completed seven lactations—four over 20,000 lbs. milk—and a top record of 24,990 lbs. milk, 1,058 lbs. fat and 839 lbs. protein at 8-11.

Another family of impact is the “Molly” cow family, which begins with KJF Responses Molly, Excellent-91%, whom Brooke showed to Junior All American honors as a junior two-year-old in 1997. Her daughter, KCJF Sambo Molly, Excellent-94%, was Intermediate Champion of The All American Jersey Show in 2006 and topped the National Jersey Jug Futurity two years later. She has two records over 22,000 lbs. milk. Her sons, KCJF Mollys Ren Motion and KCJF One in a Million, have sired numerous blue-ribbon winners for the Cores and other breeders. Her grandson, KCJF Hired Magician, is in the Showcase Selections lineup at Select Sires Inc. “Magician” is out of KCJF Mollys Regency Martini-ET, Excellent-95%, a paternal sister to “Treasure” and winner of the 2013 Bert Smith Leas Memorial Award for best bred and owned animal in the national futurity.

The dam of the previously mentioned “Ritzy” is a standout in her own right and has many descendants in the herd. KCJF Centurions Ritz, Excellent-93%, topped both the open and junior class at the All American as a senior two-year-old in 2009 and was named best bred and owned of the junior show. She completed a record of 29,600 lbs. milk, 1,351 lbs. fat and 1,035 lbs. protein at 6-5. Her son is the maternal grandsire of KCJF Colton Dancer {5}, Excellent-92%, winner of the inaugural GJPI class at the All American in 2019.

“Despite their success, Jeff and Alta Mae have remained humble and in service to others,” noted Brooke. They have never been ones to say “no” to a judging team needing a place to hone their skills, an area representative needing a homecooked meal or place to rest, or a new Jersey breeder needing sage, practical advice, she summed.

Jeff and Alta Mae are active with the Kentucky Jersey Cattle Club and the Kentucky National Show and Sale and long-time 4-H leaders. Alta Mae has served on the Kentucky Fair Council and retired from the Kentucky Department of Revenue with 30 years of service in 2008.

Judging assignments have brought Alta Mae to shows across the U.S. and to Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Alta Mae has judged Jerseys at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, International Dairy Week in Australia, and the national show run by the Jersey Cattle Society in England. Jeff has judged shows domestically and in Canada and Mexico. He was associate for International Brown Swiss Show in 2018. The two are the first husband-wife duo to receive the Klussendorf Trophy, he in 2021 and she in 1999.

Equally important as the cows is the couple’s work as mentors and parents to Brooke, Brady and Brittany, all active in national Jersey youth programs and involved in the operation of the dairy today. Brittany won the 2009 National Jersey Youth Achievement Contest and she and Brooke both served on the National Jersey Queen court. Brady was recipient of the 2009 Fred Stout Experience award.

Perhaps summing their efforts most succinctly are Joe and Sarah Rocha, Tillamook, Ore., whose son, Brent, won a Junior All American title with a senior two-year-old sired by a Core-bred bull in 2017. “Jeff and Alta Mae have worked their entire careers in the Jersey business to breed and milk a herd of cows that focuses on type without sacrificing production and been wildly successful at it.”

“From their small herd of beautiful, hard-working cows, they have produced more All Americans than most herds could ever dare to hope for.”

“Their 365-days-a-year dedication to their vision for their herd has earned them the admiration and respect of Jersey breeders worldwide. Their focus and perseverance on breeding balanced production and type cows for generations warrants them most qualified for this prestigious award because they truly exemplify what it means to be a Master Breeder.”

Hirds Colton Dream

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