John Denbigh has worked with dairy cows his whole life. A native to central New Jersey, John grew up on a family farm with 30 Holstein cows. He attended College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri and graduated with a degree in agriculture business in 1985. While in college, he met Beverly Kenning, a fellow student at College of the Ozarks, and they were married following graduation.
In January 1986, John began working for Foremost Dairy Research Center at the University of Missouri. His career first began as a herdsman at Foremost, but for the past 20 years he has served as the farm manager.
As farm manager, he is responsible for the entirety of the farm including the breeding, milking, and feeding of the cows along with the numerous teaching and research projects.
The Foremost Dairy herd consists of 180 Holsteins and 25 Guernseys. The herd is milked twice per day and has a current Rolling Herd Average of 25,294M, 3.8% 932F, 3.2% 784P for the Holsteins and 16,716M, 5.3% 782F, 3.7% 565P for the Guernseys. In addition, after their most recent Holstein classification, they have 5 Excellent and 28 Very Good. Of the 24 Guernseys which are classified, 14 are scored Very Good.
In 1991, a new free-stall barn was built at Foremost which allowed for more cows to be housed at the dairy, and increased the research capabilities on the farm. Extensive feed ration and herd health research is conducted at the dairy.
Foremost Dairy plays a role in research and education at the University by providing hands-on education opportunities for pre-veterinary and animal science students. John mentors and teaches the students that work at the dairy. He manages five full-time employees and eight to 12 student workers a year. The dairy also serves as a focal point for the community welcoming numerous school tours throughout the year.
John is passionate about the role of genetics in the dairy industry and has used that tool to improve the Foremost herd. About three years ago, Foremost Dairy began doing genomic tests on their herd. This has allowed John to identify animals that are high on certain genomic values and selectively mate those animals for greater improvement. He has focused on using bulls that are high on genomic values, in addition to emphasizing the mammary system, feet, and legs without sacrificing production. The use of gender selected semen on the virgin heifers and on select milking females has also allowed him to quickly make improvements on specific traits in the herd. As a result of these genetic gains, Foremost Dairy was awarded the Progressive Genetic Award from Holstein USA in both 2015 and 2016. This award is given to the top 500 Holstein herds in the United States based on their Genetic Total Performance.
In September 2014, a heifer name U-Mo Mogul Pastel was born at Foremost Dairy. She was part of the first group of heifers to be genetically tested. While most Holsteins are black and white, the test revealed that Mogul was a carrier of a recessive gene for red. Her genomic numbers came back at +2,561 on the Holstein USA’s Genetic Total Performance Index (GTPI), far beyond the breed average of +1,800. This made her one of the highest GTPI red carrier heifers of the breed. In January 2015, as only a 4-month-old calf, she sold for $25,500 to a farm in New York and entered their embryo donor program.
The showring has served as another avenue to feature the Foremost Dairy. In 2016, a Guernsey Foremost Jackpot Dharma was nominated All-American 3-Yr Old. In 2008 U-MO Marsh Kari was shown at the Missouri State Fair as a Jr. 2-Yr Old. She created quite a bit of interest and was sold to Troy and Darin Zoellner in South Dakota. Kari went on to be classified EX-94, the highest score of any Foremost animal, and was quite successful in the showring in the upper Midwest. Since 2014, Foremost Dairy has received over 17 All-Missouri and Reserve All-Missouri awards from the Missouri Holstein Association.
The growth and improvement of Foremost Dairy under John’s direction has been evident to people across the country. According to Bob Griggs, an evaluator for COBA/Select Sires and a selector for the Oklahoma State Sale, “I have been picking cattle from the University herd for about 10 years. After looking at consignments I would say ‘For a college herd, this is one of the best herds I’ve seen.’ After 10 years, I have changed my quote to ‘This is one of the best herds that I go to, not just an outstanding college herd.’ The herd has progressed so much under John’s leadership and genetic decisions. This is evident by the consignments they send to Oklahoma. They are always among the high selling animals.”
John and Beverly reside in Columbia, Missouri. Beverly works as a student support specialist in the physical therapy program in the University of Missouri’s School of Health Professions. They have three children: Kileen Lambert and husband Josh, Ryan Denbigh and wife Whitney, and John T. Denbigh and fiance Bailey Linebaugh. In addition they have four grandchildren: Greyson and Camden Lambert and Taylor and Rylan Denbigh.