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Jill Hoeppner finds her place in the dairy industry

Melissa Miller Published on 10 October 2013

There is nowhere Jill Hoeppner would rather spend her days than in the Cedarwal Farm dairy barn in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

“I know this is what I’m supposed to do,“ Hoeppner says.

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“I’m not supposed to be in an office behind a computer. I’m not supposed to be a teacher or a doctor. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

jill hoeppnerHoeppner and her family, including husband, Kelwyn, run the Holstein dairy currently milking 370 cows. This dairywoman has found her place in the industry and is reaching out to make a positive difference on a local and global scale.

Deciding on dairy
Hoeppner was raised on Cedarwal feeding calves with her grandfather and tagging after her father as he made rounds as a large-animal veterinarian.

“My dad has always taught me a lot about the dairy industry, genetics, cows and showing. He taught me a good work ethic and seeing results from your hard work,” Hoeppner says.

Her grandfather has also been a strong role model of work ethic and integrity. “Grandpa will be 83 soon, and he is still in the barn. The man just won’t stop,” she says.

As she grew, summers spent in 4-H and helping in the barn led her to the decision to pursue agriculture when she went to school.

Hoeppner traces the decision to a meeting held her senior year with her school guidance counselor. When the counselor questioned her about what she enjoyed doing, she realized that what she loved most was the work she did in the barn with her dad and the cows.

“That was an ah-ha moment for me,” Hoeppner says. “Of course I should be doing this.”

At Dordt College in Iowa, Hoeppner majored in animal science and agriculture business and graduated in 2007. After graduation, she participated in a six-month international dairy exchange to Australia.

While there, Hoeppner participated in International Dairy Week by showing cows. She also worked on two separate operations and went on the road doing sales in Victoria and New South Wales. Her favourite part of the trip was gaining a new perspective on the industry.

Hoeppner says, “Things are so different down there with their climate. It’s interesting to see how people adapt and how we can do things differently at home.”

Life on the farm
After returning from her exchange down under, Hoeppner returned home to Cedarwal. She and her husband are the full-time herd managers, with other family members contributing part-time while working in other areas of the industry.

Her uncle Dave is on the farm full-time as well and serves as a valuable resource for Hoeppner. As the “go-to guy,” she says Dave has taught her a lot about the business aspect of farming.

He also encourages her and her husband to think outside the box for new ideas and solutions for the farm.

Like many producers, Hoeppner’s day begins early. She is in the barn by 6 a.m. gearing up for the day. She begins by feeding the calves, just as she did growing up.

Feeding takes about two hours. She said she loves watching the calves grow and develop and reach their potential as productive cows.

Then it’s a morning of herd management including dehorning calves, calf registration and whatever else needs doing.

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The noon milking is followed by more group management, time taking care of new calves, feeding and visiting the hospital pens and more. All of this wraps up around 6 p.m., and the family can head in for the night to get ready for the following day.

Hoeppner is involved in nearly every aspect of the farm from record-keeping to keeping a calf healthy. Part of that work includes hosting farm tours for those interested in seeing how a registered Holstein dairy farm runs.

Hoeppner takes guests to areas of interest on Cedarwal, fielding questions and introducing them to the animals and the processes of the farm. Lila Z, a well-known show cow, is often a major attractor for the tours.

“I enjoy the farm tours. I love interacting with the people and learning about their operations. It’s great to tell them about our operation.

That’s why they are there, but it’s a learning experience for everyone. I like to hear their different ideas and have them ask questions,” Hoeppner says.

These tours allow Hoeppner to interact not only with local consumers and producers but also with those from overseas, including some from as far away as Russia.

Thanks to Hoeppner’s international connections, Cedarwal has hosted international interns including students from France, the Azores and Australia, giving other young agriculturalists the same opportunity Hoeppner herself enjoyed to gain greater global insight into the industry.

Outreach
The desire to reach out and affect the industry led Hoeppner to become a director of the British Columbia branch of Holstein Canada.

Hoeppner is a regular participant in the Western Canadian Classic, which is where she met Kelwyn.

Given her experience in the show ring, Hoeppner is a member of the BC Holstein show committee and is also helping to develop a genetic development workshop.

Darryl Woof, branch president of BC Holstein, says Hoeppner’s hard work, organization and enthusiasm have benefited the organization for many years.

“Because of Jill’s worldwide connections with many contacts, she is always in the know and uses the information she gathers to strongly benefit our organization as well as the animals,” Woof says.

“She will continue to be a greatly appreciated volunteer who spends a lot of time and energy working to make everything collaborate.”

Hoeppner has also been involved in mentoring through 4-H and hopes to increase her participation in the future.

“Education is a tool,” Hoeppner says. “It’s our responsibility to help teach the younger generation. I love seeing them start 4-H for the first time. I remember it. I love helping them develop skills so that one day they may want to take over the farm from their dad.”

As Hoeppner reaches out, she passes on practical and technical knowledge, as well as wise advice given to her by her father early in her career as a dairywoman: “Laugh when you make mistakes, and share your success with the friends you have made in the business,” she says.

Found a place
There are many roles in the dairy industry. One is not better than another, and each helps move the industry forward. Jill Hoeppner has found her place in the barn and offers this advice to other women considering an active role in the dairy industry.

“You can do it. If that’s what you want to do, share your goals and ask for support, and if you have a good support system, you can really do anything.”  PD

PHOTO
As a senior in high school, Jill Hoeppner made the decision to seek a career at home on her family’s farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Several years later that is precisely where she can be found, working with her husband, Kelwyn, and other members of her family on their 370-cow dairy. Photo by Ward Perrin/The Province.

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