Ziegler Honored with Jersey’s Award for Meritorious Service

Jeff Ziegler, Ostrander, Ohio, has been named the recipient of the Award for Meritorious Service presented by the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA) and National All-Jersey Inc. (NAJ).

This award is given annually to a living individual(s) who, in the joint opinion of the Boards of Directors of the national Jersey organizations, has made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Jersey breed and the livelihood of Jersey owners in the United States through research, education, development, marketing, or other significant activities of the allied dairy industry.

Ziegler’s contributions to breed advancement have come as a 38-year member of the genetics team at Select Sires Inc., the largest global distributor of Registered Jersey semen today. For most of his career, Ziegler has been responsible for developing the Jersey program at Select Sires, in Plain City, Ohio.

The growth of this program parallels the growth of the Jersey breed. When Ziegler began acquiring bulls, the Animal Model was in infancy as the method for calculating genetic merit and the Jersey breed was establishing its first regional young sire proving groups. At that point, Select Sires was sampling just 10 young Jersey bulls each year. Today, genotyping results play a huge role in sire selection, Jersey semen sales have skyrocketed and Select Sires now samples about 60 Jersey young Jersey bulls each year.

A good portion of this growth hinges on the kinds of matings contracted and bulls chosen by Ziegler and his team at Select Sires. The focus has been developing bulls that sire cows that produce volumes of milk while honoring the Jersey commitment to high components, sound conformation and beautiful udders.

Among the Jersey breeders who have worked closely with Ziegler over the past three decades and respect his stance on dairy cattle genetics is former AJCA President Bob Bignami, Brentwood Farms, Orland, Calif. “As a sire analyst, I was always impressed that his primary focus in choosing a sire was: will this bull make my customers profitable?”

“In this regard, his track record on sire selection is second to none,” Bignami continued. “He was at the forefront of breed progress and helped each of us develop a better herd.”

Ziegler played a role in Select Sires’ acquisition and marketing of half of the breed’s 20 most-heavily used bulls. Three of these have been honored with a special issue of the Jersey Journal, a distinction earned by just seven bulls in breed history. Ziegler helped to bring Soldierboy Boomer Sooner of CJF to Select Sires and brokered the deal with Jerseyland Sires that allowed the company to market Highland Magic Duncan. He acquired Richies Jace TBone A364, Forest Glen Avery Action-ET, All Lynns Louie Valentino-ET, Rock Ella Paramount-ET, Windy Willow Montana Jace {6}, and two Premier Sires of the All American Jersey Show, WF/L&M Duncan Barber-ET and Lester Sambo.

While at the helm of the Jersey program at Select Sires, his team brought on board several other impactful sires as well, including River Valley Cece Chrome-ET, the Jersey semen sales leader at Select Sires, and Dutch Hollow Oliver-P, the naturally polled bull who has sired the most progeny. Chilli Action Colton-ET, the reigning Premier Sire of the national Jersey show, is also being sampled through Select Sires.

But arguably the most influential Jersey sire Ziegler secured for Select Sires was Mason Boomer Sooner Berretta, the most heavily used Jersey sire of all times, with more than 30,500 progeny.

Ziegler at the gravesite of Mason Boomer Sooner Berretta at Select Sires’ headquarters in Plain City, OH.

The “Sooner” son came into Zeigler’s career early. He met the breeders of “Berretta,” the Masons of Buhl, Idaho, when he was coordinator of public relations for Select Sires. He maintained relations with the family and was given opportunity to purchase “Berretta” shortly after he joined the sire analyst team at Select Sires. Despite testing positive for bluetongue and being a product of the Genetic Recovery program, Ziegler saw potential in the bull with a different, commercial pedigree, out of a cow that would eventually complete a breed first—four consecutive 1,000 lbs. protein records.

Ziegler brought “Berretta” to Plain City, and he was activated as the breed’s top Production Type Index bull in July 1993, a title he held until August 1998. Because he was heads and tails above the rest of the pack, breeders began using “Berretta” at astounding rates. He was the right bull for the right time. The Jersey breed had just published its first average for protein yield—505 lbs. in 1988—and made a goal of getting multiple component pricing adopted in all Federal Milk Marketing Orders by 2000.

Noted the late William G. Mason, former NAJ president (1997-2003), “The breed was way high on fat, way low on protein. He corrected the balance.”

“Berretta” also changed the industry’s understanding of Jersey type traits, particularly fore udder. In the special Jersey Journal issue, Ziegler commented, “He taught a lot of people a lot of things on how a cow that lacks a little body, is a little rounder looking in her fore udder, can still be so productive and last so long.”

“He also taught us that they don’t all need to be huge, deep, wide, framey cows right out of the chute to be very, very profitable. It’s amazing how much milk you can get out of an udder that’s still that high above the hock when it has so much width.”

For more than three decades, Zeigler added bulls like “Berretta” and “Chrome” to the Select Sires lineup, genetics that helped to make the national dairy herd increasingly brown in color. Ziegler’s lifelong friend and eventual boss, David C. Thorbahn, president and chief executive officer (CEO) for Select Sires, summed his resume another way, “Ziegler’s body of work includes a substantial portion of the breed’s most elite sires. This professional contribution is a component that made Jersey the most efficient and fastest-growing dairy breed in America.”

Ziegler came by his cow knowledge growing up on a Registered Guernsey farm in Bellevue, Ohio. The environment was also ripe in genetics knowledge as his grandfather, Howard Ziegler, was a founding member of the Northern Ohio Breeders Association (NOBA).

Ziegler graduated with a degree in animal science from The Ohio State University (OSU), where he proved he had an eye for cattle as a member of the dairy judging team. He topped the contest held at the 1983 All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa., and was third high individual at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. Here he also rubbed elbows with other future industry influencers, including two members of his own team, Thorbahn and Scott Higgins (president and CEO American Dairy Association Mideast). The OSU team earned top laurels in Harrisburg and placed fifth in Madison.

Ziegler got his feet wet at Select Sires as an intern in the public relations department and was then named coordinator of public relations in 1985. Two years later, he became a dairy sire analyst and was charged with managing Select Mating Service and the colored breeds evaluation and bull procurement program. With the onset of genomic evaluations, Ziegler completed graduate courses at OSU and helped to develop the Aggressive Reproductive Technologies (ART) program at Select Sires. In 2009, he assumed the title of genomics program manager and the supervisory role for the ART program. He was promoted to his current position, vice president of dairy cattle breeding, in 2017 and is now responsible for all sire procurement, regardless of breed. One of Ziegler’s proudest management accomplishments was bringing Herby Lutz, former Jersey Marketing Service manager, on board the Jersey sire analyst team to assist with breed development.

When Ziegler took on his new role as Jersey sire analyst for the retiring John Hecker in 1985, he worked hard to gain the confidence of Jersey breeders worldwide and proved he was the right man for the job noted James S. Huffard III, Crockett, Va., a Jersey leader who has worked closely with Zeigler in multiple capacities over the years. “He studied pedigrees and cow families and has become one of the Jersey breed’s most knowledgeable resources.”

Ziegler immersed himself in Jersey circles outside his role with Select Sires as well. He has served on the AJCA Type Advisory Committee and the All American Show Committee. He has advocated for the Jersey breed across six continents through presentations on genetics, sire selection and mating.

Currently, Ziegler chairs the dairy sire committee of the National Association of Animal Breeders and has also served on the organization’s inherited biochemical defect committee, which investigates and oversees negative genetic recessive traits and biochemical defects.

Ziegler has also impacted the Jersey breed in the show ring as judge, spectator on the rail and advisor. He has been the official at shows across the U.S. and internationally in South America and Australia. He judged the Ayrshire show at the Ohio State Fair in 2010 and helped his alma mater top the contest at World Dairy Expo in 1986 as assistant coach. Among his Jersey honors are The All American Jersey Show in 1996, the National Jersey Jug Futurity in 2001, and the International Dairy Week in 2011.

As one might expect, the cows Ziegler put on top were not just fancy, but commercially viable too, summed Bignami. “Jeff did as much good as anyone I know in helping the breed prosper by his selections in the show ring and the sires we all used.”

In his closing remarks on Zieglar’s nomination application, Huffard wrote, “Above all, Jeff is a man of integrity, intelligence, and a gentleman friend to all breeders. He is respected around the globe, a real testament to his character. The Jersey breed owes him a mountain of gratitude for his numerous contributions to breed improvement and the livelihood of Jersey owners here and abroad.”

For this, “I trust we can honor Jeff with our Award of Meritorious Service.”

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