Last month, Richard “Dick” Clauss of Hilmar, Calif., was named the 78th recipient of the Master Breeder award of the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA).
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Richard “Dick” Clauss of Hilmar, Calif., was named the 78th recipient of the Master Breeder award of the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA). (American Jersey Cattle Association )

While Clauss is most known for this role as his chairman of the board at Hilmar Cheese and president of Jerseyland Sires, he is also one of the dairy industry’s most notable individuals. He is no stranger to the stage, as Clauss was named Dairyman of the Year by World Dairy Expo, Guest of Honor by National Dairy Shrine and Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year by the International Dairy Foods Association. Furthermore, he is one of few who has served as President of both the American Jersey Cattle Club (AJCC) and National All-Jersey (NAJ) and one of three to receive the Jersey breed’s Distinguished Service Award and its Award for Meritorious Service. With the Master Breeder award, Clauss is now the only individual in history to receive each of the Jersey breed’s three highest honors.

Jersey Breeder First and Foremost

Strategic account manager for ABS Global Inc. Larry Schirm says, “Dick Clauss is, first and foremost, a dairyman and Jersey breeder.”

Located in the Central Valley of California, along with his family, Clauss milks more than 3,300 Registered Jerseys. Dick and his wife, Sharon, partner on the home farm and another dairy with their daughters, Kimberly Clauss Jorritsma and Karen Clauss Tate. Dairy manager Danny Avila has overseen the management and feeding program on both farms since 1955. Both Dick and Sharon also helped their oldest daughter, Kirsten, and her husband, C.A. Russell, start Yosemite Jersey Dairy in Hilmar.

Both Clauss Dairy Farm and Sunwest Jerseys rank among the top 10 in the nation for production based on herd size. They also rank among the top 40 herds in the country for genetic merit.

While Clauss has traveled the globe for his role in the dairy industry, he remains at heart a man who started his career milking a small herd of cows on a 40-acre farm in Hilmar in the early 1950s. When his father, Hugo, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Dick put aside his college plans to work full-time at the dairy with his mother, Valentine. He purchased his first 20 Jersey cows in 1954 from a neighbor, then more cows from another neighbor a couple of years later. Soon after Clauss would build a barn, purchase more cows, and begin shipping Grade-A milk for the new All-Jersey program in 1957. In 1974, the family purchased a dairy across the road and another 300 head of Jerseys. By 1979, Clauss Dairy included two farms with 785 cows.

Jerseyland Sires

In the 1970s a small group of Hilmar dairymen including Clauss headed east to New England to purchase production-focused bred heifers to improve the profitability of their herds. This led to a westward movement of Jerseys, a trend that would continue for another four decades.

The challenge of finding Jersey sires with adequate progeny performance data brought Clauss and Hilmar Jersey breeders Phil Fanelli and Duane Wickstrom back to New England on an impactful trip in 1979. The sire selection committee made subsequent bull runs to New England and officially established Jerseyland Sires in 1980. Among the early acquisitions was Highland Magic Duncan, purchased from Master Breeder Highland Farms of Cornish, Maine, and later leased to Select Sires Inc. as a progeny-proven sire. Over the past 40 years, Jerseyland has sampled more than 500 young bulls. Today, the organization releases about 30 bulls each year and markets semen through Alta Genetics and Select Sires as well.

Some of these bulls have been developed by Clauss Dairy Farms and carry the farm’s CDF prefix. Rising to the top, include CDF Viceroy-ET, the second most heavily used sire of sons in 2018, and his maternal brother, CDF Karbala Kwynn, ranked No. 9 the same year. In 2020, CDF Irwin Steve ranked No. 2 and CDF JLS Pilgrim Thrasher {6}-ET, ranked No. 4.

Former AJCA Executive Secretary Calving Covington, who headed the Jersey organizations while Clauss served as AJCA President, wrote, “No other individual has done more to expand the number of Jersey cows with recorded identification and performance information than Dick Clauss.”

The story of how Hilmar Cheese was established by Clauss and 11 other Hilmar Jersey dairy producers in 1984 as a means of getting a fair price for their component-rich milk is well known. The milk marketing vision is legendary in Jersey circles, as it impacted the Jersey breed growth and genetic gain.

Jim Quist, president of the California Jersey Cattle Association, says, “We have previously recognized Dick for leadership activities in milk marketing and the Jersey organization, but he built all of that on the foundation of a committed Jersey breeder and dairyman who started with his family’s dairy farm on a scale that many of us can relate to over 60 years ago.”

A rare individual with a gentle demeanor and true ability to collaborate and lead is Dick Clauss; a Registered Jersey breeder, a dairy industry visionary and now the 2021 Jersey Master Breeder award recipient.

Nominations are open for Fonterra’s board election but a repeat of the drama that rocked the vote three years ago can be ruled out.

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