National All-Jersey Inc. (NAJ) Director Rogelio “Roger” Herrera, Hilmar, Calif., is serving his first four-year term in District 2. He was elected to serve in 2017.
Herrera is an operator-owner of Ahlem Farms Jerseys and Ahlem Farms Vista in partnership with his brother, Sabino Ahlem Herrera, and Carolyn and the late Bill Ahlem.
Born in Mexico, he emigrated with his family to the United States when he was four-years-old and grew up in Los Angeles, Calif. He initially pursued a career in law enforcement until 2009. It was at that time his brother and the Ahlems extended him an invitation to join the partnership as they explored the idea of expanding their single dairy family farm into three. Herrera, his wife, Teresa, and three daughters, Shea, Camille and Ella, decided to take the leap and move to Hilmar.
Avid supporters of USJersey programs, Herrera and his partners have all dairies enrolled in REAP, use JerseyTags and were charter members of the Equity program.
The herds combined milk over 6,000 Registered Jersey cows. Ahlem Farms Vista has a 2019 AJCA lactation average of 19,616 lbs. milk, 941 lbs. fat and 734 lbs. protein on 3,653 cows. Ahlem Farms Jerseys has a 2019 AJCA lactation average of 20,590 lbs. milk, 927 lbs. fat and 773 lbs. protein on 2,450 cows.
In addition to performing well in the bulk tank, both Ahlem Farms Vista and Ahlem Farms Jerseys are home to numerous genetically elite animals. Both rank among the top 75 herds in the nation for genetic merit with herd average Jersey Performance Indexes (JPI) of +29 and +22, respectively.
What motivated you to become a member of the board of directors for National All-Jersey (NAJ)?
I came into the dairy industry very late in life. I was 31-years-old when I started working on the dairy, partnering with my brother (Sabino) and Bill and Carolyn Ahlem. In order to fully understand the business, I wanted to immerse myself in the dairy industry completely.
Richard Clauss, Hilmar, of Clauss Dairy Farms was the first to approach me about running for the board. It was an honor for me to be considered by him, given my new status to the industry. I respect him and his past experiences as president of both the NAJ and AJCA.
How would you describe your role as part of the board? Are there certain initiatives that you have been particularly passionate about during your time in service?
By nature, I am very inquisitive. I have somewhat of an outsider’s view which I think adds diversity to the board. Sometimes simple questions lead to deep discussions.
A passion of mine that I find both very critical and frustrating in our industry is immigration reform. NAJ has a lobbyist in Washington D.C. and as a board we are updated on key factors in today’s politics. My hope is to bring light to the fact that dairying is not a seasonal occupation and that reform of any kind, when it comes to immigration, needs to include both seasonal and non-seasonal (permanent) labor.
Because a large percentage of dairy employees are affected by immigration reform, as an industry, that is one of the main topics we need to focus on with employment and labor being limited.
Please explain how you initially got involved with the Jersey breed.
My brother is a partner in Ahlem Farms Partnership. He and the Ahlems offered us the opportunity to move up from Los Angeles—where I was working in law enforcement—to Hilmar and join their partnership. The goal was for me to help them expand.
Upon my arrival, I did not know much about dairying. I shadowed my brother for a year before we purchased Ahlem Farms Jerseys. It was then I truly started learning how to manage and run the operations. Eleven years later, my brother, the Ahlems and I run three dairies together. I am responsible for Ahlem Farms Vista and Ahlem Farms Jerseys, while Sabino manages Ahlem Farms Partnership, the original dairy.
What is your current role on the dairies? How did your career in law enforcement relate to working on a dairy farm?
My current role on the dairies is to provide the training, tools and assistance to employees enabling them to be successful. As an operator-owner, I am hands-on with all aspects of the operation. Some days it’s meetings and other days it is working with the cattle.
As a law enforcement officer working in county jails, I always enjoyed the logistics aspects of the job. I apply those skills learned today with every day pen moves.
Ahlem Farms Partnership was a charter member of Equity and has continued to contribute all these years. What makes it an easy decision to continue being a part of the initiative?
Our committed participation in Equity and the REAP program is in effort to continue bringing more value to our Jersey cows and making Jersey milk more profitable. For decades, the Ahlems have invested heavily in superior genetics and I follow in those steps because I believe in the attributes the Jersey cow possesses.
2020 is the 25th anniversary of the implementation of the REAP program. How do you think the REAP program has helped build and benefit your herd?
The REAP program, like Equity, is there to help us improve and promote the Jersey breed. By participating in REAP, it allows us to appraise animals and obtain up-to-date genetic information which then helps improve the herd as a whole.
Improving one’s herd is one thing, but improving the breed as a whole is another. I encourage all Jersey breeders to participate in REAP as this will yield results that you can utilize as a tool to constantly improve your herd. The more data collected, the more reliable and helpful the results. By using the information, we are ‘reaping’ the benefits of REAP.
What other AJCA-NAJ programs do you use on your dairies and why?
Two other programs that we use are JerseyMate and JerseyTags. The quality of the results from JerseyMate are evident in our herd. It’s a very important tool in our everyday matings. The eartags are legible and durable.
We use AJCA-NAJ programs every opportunity we can. The USJersey organization is important to the herd overall and we are a prime example of benefiting from the data they provide and their promotion of the Jersey cow.
How would you like to see the USJersey organizations get youth more involved in the dairy industry?
Youth involvement in farming and educating generations to come about where their food comes from is something I hope to see.
Programs like the Pot O’Gold Sale, which we support fully, and the National Jersey Queen program spark interest in even my own kids. Through education, social media and youth geared events, we can bring to light the wholesomeness of our family farm products.
As an industry, our goal should be to have the country understand what dairy farms do. We, as dairy farmers, care for our animals which produce our livelihood. Even if the youth don’t pursue careers in the agriculture industry, it is important for the next generation of individuals who will produce our products to know we are a wholesome, food-making industry.
Last year at the All American Sale in Louisville, your family consigned a bull your daughter bred to be syndicated. What was that like for your daughter?
Camille, my middle child, purchased the grandam of Ahlem Kiawa Ensign 24617-ET in the 2016 Pot O’Gold Sale. When she learned “Ensign” was to be syndicated, she was very excited and could not believe the demand at which his shares were sold.
Camille now feels an even stronger connection to the dairy industry because genetics from her animals will hopefully make an impact in other dairy herds.
What do you see as opportunities for Jersey cows and Jersey milk?
There’s always the opportunity to further educate the masses of the benefits of Jersey milk, and milk in general. Going through this coronavirus pandemic, I cannot help but believe people are going back to the staple necessities in life, of which milk and its byproducts both play a critical role in. The wholesomeness that dairy products offer are unmatched when it comes to nutrition, comfort and overall satiety.
How has the dairy industry changed since your involvement began on the farm?
One thing I’ve noticed constantly changing, here in California specifically, is the dairy industry has become more regulated by local, state and federal agencies. We’re also seeing more automation because of the labor challenges we’re facing.
As technology has advanced, we now have the capabilities to turn methane into bio-fuel. This will eventually replace conventional fuel used by millions of people every day. It will not only help the agriculture industry, but impact people around the globe. It is one of many ways we as a dairy industry can demonstrate we are a SOLUTION to the problem, not a culprit.