Pacific Edge - Jerseys on the Western Edge - Cowsmo

Pacific Edge – Jerseys on the Western Edge

A feature article in our 2022 Fall issue written by Kathleen O’Keefe.

Sometimes you can hear them before you see them. If you’re walking the aisles at World Dairy Expo or the All-American Jersey Show, there’s never any doubt that the Rocha family is in attendance and that they love being at the show together! You’ll stop to admire the impressive group of Jerseys in the Pacific Edge string, but you’ll immediately see that it’s a whole family endeavor seasoned with lots of laughing, gentle ribbing, and a contagious festive atmosphere.

Pacific Edge Gunman Deviant EX-91, the Intermediate Champion at the 2022 California Spring Jersey Show.

The vibe at Pacific Edge might be cheerful and spirited, but the show ring results are serious. The Rochas, along with their partner Kara Hale, have been long-time exhibitors, but recently their cattle have hit the turbo button on results. In 2021, they were the Premier Breeder at the All-American Jersey Show; garnered 12 All-American nominations in the Jersey contest; exhibited the 2nd & 3rd-place cows in the Jersey Jug; and showed the winning senior 2-year-old and Reserve Intermediate Champion at the International Jersey Show, Pacific-Edge Premier Diva-ET EX-91.

With that kind of track record last year, you know they’re doing something right all year round at their Tillamook, Oregon-based dairy. It’s no boutique operation, in spite of the success of their show program. At R&R Dairy, the Rochas milk 1200 cows (900 registered Jerseys and 300 commercial Holsteins) in a free-stall operation and all the cows go through the double-22 parlor. The show cows are kept in one section of one barn where they get more individual feed and fiber-rich hay, as well as access to a pasture, but it’s not a fancy separate set-up. The Rochas make it work within their operation and within their means, which really sums up their whole journey.

Joe & Sarah Rocha are both California natives; both growing up on dairy farms in the Golden State. Joe’s parents, David & Jody, started milking cows in 1966 in Lemoore, CA on a small 200 cow operation milking Jerseys and Holsteins, where Joe grew up. Sarah Silveira came from a 200-head Holstein family operation in Merced, CA. The two met at Cal Poly where they were both on the dairy judging team. After a college romance, they were married in 1992 (they’ve just celebrated their 30th anniversary) and in June 1993, relocated to Tillamook, OR along with Joe’s parents.

The family wanted to be able to expand and the potential for getting bigger and owning more land was more feasible in Oregon. They originally moved 180 head of cattle into a functioning dairy, but one that they admit needed a lot of work. Originally, they purchased only 100 acres, but piece by piece, they’ve added to their holdings and now farm about 900 acres while also growing the herd size. Situated close to Tillamook Bay and only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, they live in a water-rich area, so some of that land is only suitable for pasture. On the rest, they make lots of grass silage. They can grow corn some years, but they do have to purchase some feed for the herd.

It takes a village! The Pacific Edge crew came out in full force for the Cowsmo cover shoot!

Once settled in Tillamook, Joe & Sarah started their family and went 4-for-4 in having boys: Grant (28), Scott (27), Brent (25), and Blake (23). All of the boys are involved in agriculture, with three of the four active on the dairy. Joe & Sarah own and operate R&R Dairy along with Joe’s mother, Jody, and his nephew, Ryan Rider (son of Joe’s sister, Lisa). Joe’s father passed away in 2010.

It really is a family affair when it comes to managing the dairy. Joe does all the breeding, feeds, trucks – “I’m trained to do it all!,” he says. Sarah is the full-time calf manager overseeing the 200-plus calves on milk at any given time. Brent is the main cow guy – he knows the whole herd and pays special attention to the cows in the hospital pen, as well as managing the show cows. He has the main opinion on what cows get IVF’d and what cows go to the show. Blake works at the farm as the youngstock manager, but does anything and everything needed as far as chores at the dairy. “He’s the one that holds down the fort when we go to the shows,” explains Joe. “Poor Blakey – as the youngest, he doesn’t have any say, so he never gets to go anywhere!”

Scott now lives in St. Charles, IL with his husband, Dale Pitstick, where they farm corn and beans and operate an equipment franchise, Roc-Pit Equipment. He comes home as often as he can as he still plans all the matings on the farm (as he’s done since he was 16) and orders all the semen. Oldest son, Grant, owns Rocha Dairy Supply in Tillamook, a chemical supply business, and is married to Callie, who is a DVM. Joe’s mom, Jody, runs the office and keeps all the books, while his sister, Lisa, also works in the office as a secretary and can be counted on to run errands or assist with anything on the farm. Joe’s nephew, Ryan Rider, manages the cropping, trucking and logistics around the dairy.

They are member/owners of and ship their milk to the very successful Tillamook Dairy. Joe has been on the Board of Directors for 18 years, and was the Chairman for half of those years. During that time, the cooperative has built a new mulit-million dollar visitor center that is a tourist highlight in the area. Gross sales at the company have increased from $400 million to over a billion dollars annually as they have expanded their marketing area. They treat their member dairies well, and the Rochas look to continue that relationship well into the future.

While they also have several employees, you can see the family dedication to running the dairy. It’s grown naturally as they could afford it over the years. As Joe says, “We always poured everything back into the farm. None of this has been done on an extravagant basis.” While they’ve upgraded almost everything on the dairy over the years, they still have their eyes on some improvements – they’d like to revamp their calf barn and build a better facility for the show heifers.

Which brings us back to the family’s enthusiasm for showing cattle. Joe’s parents didn’t show, but he was hooked on it in 4-H and credits June Rogers and Jack Snell as early mentors. Sarah has always loved it and of the two, probably pushed showing the hardest in the early days when they went to local Oregon events and the Western National Jersey Show.

They were exhibiting at the Western National in 1999 when Danny Upchurch asked if they wanted to take a few head to Louisville that year. They ended up placing 2nd and 3rd in classes and were the runner up for Premier Breeder – not bad for a group from the west that most people didn’t know! They met and tied in with Alta Mae Core, and a wonderful friendship was forged. “It’s people like that who took an interest in us and taught us so much about showing on that level. To this day, our relationship with the Cores makes the long trip to Louisville possible for us,” say Joe.

Kara Hale, left, partnered with the Rochas in the mid 2000s and the Pacific Edge prefix was founded.

In those years, the family was still using the ‘Laguna’ prefix established by Joe’s parents. In the mid 2000s, they joined forces with Kara Hale in a show ring venture carrying the name Pacific Edge, which perfectly describes their close proximity to the ocean. They met Kara at Western National where she was primarily showing Holsteins from her family’s Midway Dairy located in Cloverdale, Oregon. They bought some cows together and in those days, housed the good show cows at her farm. Early success included Laguna Gameplan Polly EX-95, Grand Champion at the Western National Show in 2011 & 2012 and 3rd 4-Year-Old at the All-American Show in 2011.

Everything on the farm now carries the Pacific Edge prefix, though not everything is co-owned with Kara. As a founding member of the partnership, she co-owns about four cow families: the Dariens, the Kendras, the Alicias, and the Mitzys. Kara’s Midway Dairy is a Trans Ova satellite center for IVF work, so that is extremely useful for the partnership as she is only about a 35 minute trailer ride away for the donor and flush cows from Rocha’s facility.

“It’s just such a good, natural partnership. No one gets too wound up about every last penny. We split the heifers up and keep ownership on the good ones together, so it works out really well when you have a partner as laid-back as you are,” smiles Joe. Brent went to work for Kara for a year before coming back to Tillamook. “She takes great care of her cattle. West coast care of cows is very different from other parts of the country, and I learned a lot from her about optimizing their potential,” says Brent.

While they had made the trip to the All-American Show regularly over the past couple of decades, it was Brent who pushed the family to take the trip to World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin. “It’s so much of a stage at Madison. They really put on a show there and we’re able to put our cattle out in front of a larger audience – in front of people that aren’t exclusively Jersey people,” notes Brent. They always tie-in with fellow Oregon breeder Mike Berry, and usually take 5-6 head. “Expo comes at a tough time for us as it is right during harvest, but we manage to take a string. We always take a few more to Louisville,” explains Joe.

At the shows, they rely on the help of Mike Podschadly, a British Columbia native that stepped into help them about 10 years ago as a fitter. It’s another long-term relationship that the Rochas value. “Now he’s like the 5th Rocha brother!,” laughs Scott. He went from working for us to owning some animals with us,” mentions Joe. Mike had also worked with the Westcoast string over the years, but is now dairying on his own, and keeps in very regular touch with the crew at Pacific Edge.

Colton Jazmin, Premier Diva and Gunman Deviant on the Oregon shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Once they got more dedicated to winning on the national level, the Rochas and Kara Hale looked to purchase some animals from big-time show families with deep pedigrees that had proven they transmitted that special kind of type. They hit the jackpot when they purchased a Colton summer yearling at the 2017 Post Time at Ratliff’s Sale. Out of Ratliff’s EX-95 show cow, Arethusa Primetime Deja Vu, whose dam is the legendary Huronia Centurion Veronica EX-97. She calved in 2018, eventually scored EX-93 and has been a regular flush cow for them ever since. Her daughters include Pacific-Edge Premier Diva-ET EX-91, the Reserve Intermediate Champion at the 2021 International Jersey Show; Pacific Edge Gunman Deviant EX-91, the Intermediate Champion at the 2022 California Spring Jersey Show; and Pacific Edge Gentry Drake VG-88, nominated All-American Summer Junior 2-Year-Old in 2021 and Reserve Junior Champion at the North American Open Jersey Show in 2020. The Rochas are pretty excited about her Joel, VIP, Joyride and other daughters yet to freshen, and they are marketing semen out of her Gentry son, Pacific Edge Daredevil.

Sarah admits that Darien is a ‘heart’ cow for her. “She’s just so consistent with her offspring. We’ve used ten different bulls on her and they’ve all worked – just such a consistent bunch of heifers and young cows,” she praises. Brent and Scott say that her daughter Diva is special to both of them. “Diva was the first cow that made me emotional. To see her win at Madison was such a special moment for me and my family. It’s funny, we had the opportunity to sell her a couple of times for really good money, but the deals never quite came to fruition. In the end, that really was the best for us. We feel like she is our ‘brand-building’ cow – the one really putting us on the map,” Scott emphasizes. Brent loved Diva from day one. “She moved with me as a calf to Kara’s when I went to work there. She’s always been special. I’m really excited to show her this fall as a senior 3-year-old,” he says.

Joe’s favorites include their homebred Pacific Edge Matrix Zora {5} EX-95. She was Grand Champion at the Western National Jersey Show in 2019 and made the trip to Louisville several times. “She gave us some of our first big wins with a homebred and she just had such an easy temperament to work with,” remembers Joe.

Two more calves purchased from the Ratliff sale include Ratliff Velocity A Star-ET EX-90 and Arethusa Colton Kendra EX-92. A Star is out of the three-time National Grand Champion, Ratliff Price Alicia. Her Rockstar daughter is now Excellent and shows as junior 3-year-old in 2022. She recently won that class and was the Reserve Intermediate Champion at the Western National Jersey Show. Kendra is out of Avonlea Gator Kimber-ET EX-95 and traces back into the prolific Kitty/Kookie/Kanada family from Avonlea. Her daugher, Pacific Edge Premier Kahlua was the All-American Summer Yearling and National Junior Champion at Louisville in 2019, so the Rochas have proven they can immediately breed the national show winners from purchased animals.

This year’s Western National Jersey Show Grand Champion, Pacific Edge Colton Jazmin-ET EX-93, won the 4-year-old class before taking the big title. She was the Reserve Champion at the 2021 Jersey Jug Futurity, and is out of another herd favorite of Sarah’s – Laguna Hired Gun Joanne EX-95 – the first cow that they ever IVFd. Joanne herself has made the trip to Louisville where she was 3rd Lifetime Component Cow in 2019.

This is the kind of cow they look to breed at home. “We always breed for functional type, strength and longevity whether we’re breeding in the commercial herd or mating the show cows,” says Joe. “We like more horsepower in our cows – deeper and wider – so they do look a little different in a uniform way when we take a string to the show. When we buy females, we are looking for the same traits – width, strength, high rear udders.”

Their marketing efforts have increased along with their added success in the show ring. “The boys handle the social media and that’s been a good space for us to advertise availability of embryos that we are not going to implant. The ‘D’ family has been popular recently and we’ve sold Victorious embryos out of Diva’s full sister, and have orders for more,” notes Sarah. “We’ve now made our first international embryo sales to Canada and Switzerland, so that part of our business is starting to take off.”

Those increased genetic sales keep the options open for the next generation. Scott’s goal is to come back to the farm one day, so they are thinking about transition plans and income streams. “The creamery has switched us to a base program, so I’m not sure much herd expansion is in our future,” notes Joe. “The boys will be gaining equity in the dairy as my mom and Sarah and I look to ease out over the years.” With their enthusiasm and emphasis on family, both human and bovine, the future looks secure for R&R Dairy and Pacific Edge Jerseys.

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