The Bullhorn, Fall 2008
By Gary Bates
When opportunity comes knocking on your door…..open the door! That may be the best way to describe Fred Visser and his philosophy of the dairy business over the past nearly 30 years.
Fred was born and raised on his family’s dairy in Modesto, California. Fred’s wife, Helen, was raised on her family’s dairy on the ‘other side of town’.
When Fred was just 19 years-old he went to work for his future father-in-law and the rest is history as they say. Fred and Helen were married in 1975 and started out on their own rented dairy in Elk Grove, California in 1981. Their rented dairy was sold for development even before they began so they knew it would just be a starting point. The Visser’s managed to milk cows there and slowly grow and establish a herd for five years before they were forced to leave.
From there it was back south to Merced, California for a couple of years before, you guessed it, opportunity knocked.
In 1988 Fred moved his young family and cows to Corvallis, Oregon when an opportunity came up to dairy there. For the next 19 years Fred continued to breed a good herd of cows in Oregon. But as Fred says, “I must be some sort of gypsy, because every 10 years or so I get the itch to move on to a little better opportunity.” And as Helen adds, ”All the places we’ve been, our kids have always been able to attend wonderful Christian schools. Every door opened has been a blessing from God, looking back on the road traveled God has truly placed us at each new place for a rea son and all credit goes to Him.” So, it was in Oregon, after 10 years that the opportunity came up relocate to the Sunnyside, Washington area. Fred came to this area in 1998 with the best intentions to partner with another dairyman and eventually take over the farm someday. When that program didn’t quite work out once again opportunity knocked. Fred was able to buy his current operation six years ago from a retiring dairyman in nearby Grandview, Washington. The cows came with the 150 acre farm and Fred brought some young stock along also. In the move to this loca tion Fred sold all of his grade Holsteins, but kept all his registered heifers and brought around 150 various age registered heifers to his new location. Helen has always had the fondness for the Brown Swiss breed (and Fred and TC remind her of this whenever they can). So, as a result of this fondness Fred was able to bring 25 Brown Swiss to the new location as well. For the past 6 years Fred has been build ing his herd from there, and has built himself quite a nice herd of cows. The herd now numbers nearly 1,000 cows with around 800 going through the parlor twice a day. The Holstein herd consisting of quite a few registered cows is averaging nearly 26,000 Milk. The thirty or so Brown Swiss are boasting a rolling herd average of 22,500 Milk. Without some huge improvements 1,000 is about full capacity for Fred’s existing facilities.
Because he is unable to grow at this location, Fred has been fortunate to be able to sell around 100 head of milk cows a year for the past several years. He has used some cows to other nearby dairymen this fall. I guess it’s sort of a nice position to be in being able to basically sell 10% of your herd every year. But it’s kind of hard watching them go.”
Heifer calves born on the dairy are raised on the dairy for 6 months. Helen manages the calf raising and vaccinations. They then go to a custom heifer lot about an hour and a half north of the dairy. Here they are evaluated by area SMS evaluator Jeremy Ettestad and A.I.’d by All West technicians to the recommended matings, they then are returned to Fred’s dairy as springers. The heifers are mated by Jeremy to bulls such as LC, Jinx, Moscow, Colby, Jackson and Apache. Conception rates on the sexed semen have been very acceptable on the heifers and good enough to use some in the milking string. Fred, “We’ll even split a straw once in a while between two animals. My theory is if they are ready to get pregnant they’ll get pregnant, whether it’s a half a unit or a whole unit. My son TC (Tristen) does most of the A.I. work and does a good job of getting cows bred better than I do! We have four breeding pens and use both chalk and visual heat detection and stay real close to the matings. That part of the program is going good.”
Son TC works at the dairy and does most of the herdsman work there.
Fred and Helen also have three daughters that are out and on their own. Their oldest daughter, Shannon, is married to nutritionist Mitch Theurer and live in Buhl, Idaho, they have two children Kaycie (4 years) and Garret (2 years). Next daughter, Karriann, lives in Albany, Oregon with her husband Josh Davidson, who is a grass seed farmer in Shedd, Oregon, they have their four sons Owen (6 years), Grant (5 years), Andrew (2 years) and Aaron (10 months). Their third daughter, Tamera, married local dairyman Jason Smeenk and has two children; Carson (3 years) and Adalee (1 year) and they are expecting their third child. That makes eight, going on nine, grand-kids for Fred and Helen!
Fred and son TC have kept up the papers and continue to enjoy the registered part of the business. This 9H2575 Bret daughter, Vis-Sir Bret Aloha 660 VG- 87, graced the Select Sires bull book for several proofs. She comes from a registered cow family that TC bought into years ago. He bought the great grand dam at a sale in Tillamook, Oregon. She then had an Emory daughter that in turn had a real good Marshall daughter. The Marshall daughter was contracted for a bull calf but had a freak accident, which is a whole other story. Anyway, her Bret daughter Aloha, caught the attention of Select Sires who mated her to Maven 7H7602 for a bull calf. Vis-Sir Mavin Astalavesta, born in May, is still at the dairy awaiting all his health tests before heading to Ohio to enter the PGA program at Select Sires.
This 7H6739 Sean daughter is a beautiful cow that also made the bull book for the Vissers, who have participated in the PGA program for many years.
One common denominator of the Visser dairy is that wherever he was dairying, Fred did business with All West. When asked why that was, Fred’s reply was, ”All West has always just had good people. Everywhere we went we knew we could con tact All West for the best service and support and care. In California we started buying semen from Duane Wilson, then Don Davis evaluated our herd and serviced us. We went back to Merced and Denis Curtin was our representative. When we went to Oregon, John Sheldon sold us semen and Rudy Kaderly was our evaluator. Same story when we relocated to Sunnyside, Bill VandeGraaf and Alan Yost became our new friends, and now we have Jeremy Ettestad coming out and we really enjoy seeing him when he visits our place. The rest of the All West people are just great to work with. Everywhere I’ve went, All West has been there with just real good service and real good supportive people.”
Fred not only supports All West through his patronage, he has been involved as a director or delegate representing his area for All West. He was three years as a Delegate and one year as a Director while he was in Oregon and for the past two years has represented his District #5 as a Delegate to All West.
When I asked Fred what the future had in store he was his usual optimistic self, “I think at some point we’d like to get a little bigger. TC seems to have a real interest in the cows and the dairy. Being somewhat of a gypsy, I guess I’m always looking for opportunities. I’d like to go to 1,500 cows someday and we’d need more land for that. So, we’re keeping our ears open for more land, elbow room, and we just may evolve someday. I’ve got grand-kids over here and over there and I’m located about in the middle so expanding somewhere around this area would be good. We like it here if the right opportunity comes along, if it’s out there and when it presents itself we’d be interested.
No doubt about it, if opportunity knocks, Fred Visser will answer the door. And wherever he goes, if there is any way possible, All West would like to continue the great working relationship that has lasted for a long, long time.