Dairy consultant learns ropes on the job
Science only one component of successful nutrition advising business
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Growing up on a dairy in Wendell, Idaho, gave Mike Vander Pol the background to go into dairy nutrition consulting, but he needed a lot more.
College supplied him with the science of feeding cows and took him to a new level, but on the job is where he really learned the business, he said.
"You really need a mentor to kind of show you the ropes," he said.
That mentor was Ken Jones of Ghost Hollow Consulting. He learned the tricks of the trade working for Jones for three years before opening a consulting business with associate Bill Reyes, he said.
Vander Pol now has 10 clients in the Magic Valley, and Reyes has nine in the Texas/New Mexico dairy shed.
The bulk of the business is advising clients on how to use nutrition to maximize profits and efficiencies, Vander Pol said. But a lot of things are tied to nutrition, including reproduction, animal health, stocking rates, and even what feed crops should be grown and the best way to story commodities, he said.
"The management of a dairy can make or break my business. Nutrition is just a small part of it," he said.
He regularly analyzes his clients' dairy records to make decisions on how to feed cows. He evaluates the cost effectiveness of rations and whether the client is getting the response he's after.
There's usually not an immediate response, so long-term evaluation is essential, he said.
For example, over the past two years, he and one dairy have been pulling expensive components out of the ration, supplements they thought were important.
"We find out we haven't lost anything and it saved on cost," he said.
He visits his clients' dairies a minimum of four to five hours a week to evaluate overall conditions, from the cows' feeding behavior to the feed itself, he said.
"His approach to feeding cows is tremendous. He has an amazing understanding of how they work," said partner Reyes.
But it's his core values and passion that make him a valuable consultant and a great business partner, he said.
"He treats his clients like family, not just a job. He has a vested in their cows and their families as well," he said.
"They hire us to provide a service. If you make that promise ... you have to be on that dairy, providing information, finding answers and answering phone calls," Vander Pol said.
Vander Pol comes through in all those areas, said Dave Azevedo, herd health manager on Rockridge Dairy, Castleford.
Vander Pol's grandfather owns Rockridge, but Vander Pol has no ownership in the dairy.
"He's brought improvements and efficiencies to the operation. He's very knowledgeable and straight forward; he's a good asset to have," Azevedo said.
"Feed is over half your cost. If you mess up there, it's going to hurt you more than anywhere else on the dairy," he added.
Vander Pol agrees, saying a nutrition consultant better be on his game.
"You can't guess; you better know your facts," he said.
Mike Vander Pol
Business: Co-owner, Royal Ag Services, dairy nutrition consulting
Home: Twin Falls, Idaho
Son: Hunter, 1
Education: University of Idaho, bachelor's and master's in Animal Science