Jennifer Heguy says working with dairies while still doing research is the best of both worlds.
“Folks can choose to work with me if they are interested in my research,” she said. “I’m not a regulator, I don’t hold the keys to any financial perks. If I do good work and have projects that folks think are worthwhile, producers are happy to participate.”
As a dairy farm adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension, she conducts applied research to find solutions to real-world problems that producers face. She primarily works with dairies in the northern San Joaquin Valley, with an assigned territory of Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
In recent years, her work has focused on looking at sorghum silage as a replacement for corn silage in years of water shortages.
“Basically, this is how can farmers can best utilize sorghum silage and what are some best management practices to get the most out of the crop, in terms of feed quality,” she said. “I’ve also worked on some by-product projects recently, including a study looking at increased almond hull feeding rates and by-product utilization in California.”
It wasn’t until she was attending University of California-Davis that she developed her fascination with nutrition and a realization of how important it is in all facets of life, whether in terms of feeding cows or feeding herself and her family.
“For my master’s degree, I studied ruminant nutrition, or feeding cattle,” Heguy said. “Living in California, the largest dairy-producing state in the nation, I focused on dairy cattle nutrition to best position myself for a career using my education.”
She has been a farm adviser for 12 years.
Dairies hire nutritionists to formulate rations for their animals, ensuring their needs are met. She doesn’t formulate rations. Her role is to conduct applied research to better inform feeding practices.
The sorghum and by-product projects are good examples of this. She doesn’t tell dairy farmers how to feed their cows, but instead conducts research that may help to inform some of their decisions.
Heguy said she has noticed changes in the dairy industry over the past years.
“Dairies are, on average, larger than they were five years ago,” she said. “But they are also more efficient. Dairy producers in California are constantly striving to improve that efficiency — producing more milk with fewer inputs that are required to make milk — water, land, nutrients.”
Dairies face a lot of tough challenges, and that’s without extenuating circumstances. From a 2017 needs assessment survey that was conducted in California, producers identified milk price, labor availability and quality, environmental issues and regulations, labor costs and water quality and availability as their top concerns.
Heguy sees a brighter picture as she helps dairy operators navigate the issues facing them.
“The best part (of my job) is that I get to work on projects that are of interest me, so I’m never bored,” she said.