Progressive Dairyman Feature

Below is the transcript of a 2016 feature article about Circle Heifer Development General Manager, T.J. McClure in The Progressive Dairyman. You can find the original content here:

When T.J. McClure joined a start-up dairy heifer operation in the heart of beef cattle country during the devastating dairy down cycle of 2009, people thought he had lost his mind.

“We started with the bottom of the dairy market, when grain prices were at record highs and dairy markets at record lows,” McClure, general manager of Circle Heifer Development LLC in Garden City, Kansas, says. “But it turned out to be a good venture for us.”

At that time, the Great Plains was not yet a sought-after destination for sending dairy heifers. The four men who formed the corporation – McClure, his step-father, Wes Whitaker, and another father-son duo, Dean and Marc Gigot – were really pioneers in proving that the dry, moderate climate of Kansas could indeed be a place where dairy animals could thrive.

Today, seven dairies from Ohio and Michigan send their replacements to be reared at Circle Heifer Development. With a few other custom growers in the neighborhood now too, this southwestern corner of Kansas has turned into a heifer-raising hot spot.

Growing up in the Texas Panhandle, McClure was more familiar with feedyards than freestall barns, but his lifelong love for livestock gave him the drive to extend his passion from beef cattle to dairy heifers.

With an animal science degree and master’s degree in business administration from Oklahoma State University, McClure stepped into the management role of the heifer development facility with a solid foundation of knowledge and experience; however, he quickly realized that working with dairy would be a whole different “animal” for himself and his employees, who were also accustomed to a different species of cattle.

As McClure learned the ropes of the dairy heifer business, he longed for a group of peers to which he could relate the challenges of not only working with dairy cattle but also running a business. He discovered that and much more with the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA).

McClure came to his first DCHA conference in 2013 and immediately found what he was seeking. “Once I got involved and began networking and troubleshooting and being with people in the same mindset, it was very beneficial,” he recalls.

In just a matter of days, McClure went from not knowing who to call when he had a question to having a network of industry experts and fellow growers ready and willing to respond to his inquiries.

He tapped into these resources a few years back when he was dealing with pneumonia and pinkeye infections among his heifers.

“I was able to contact other growers around the U.S. to see what challenges they were facing,” he recounts. “Come to find out, the issue was coming out of the Upper Midwest and settling down here. I actually had four or five people I could call to see what they were doing and what their vets were saying.”

These positive experiences encouraged McClure to take on a leadership role with the organization. For the past two years, he has served as the DCHA Southwest regional director, a position that has further connected him with like-minded growers.

“I’ve been able to plug into a network of people whose passion is the exact same passion that I have,” he says. “Being able to sit around the table and learn from them – it’s a great return on my investment.”

With the 2016 DCHA annual conference just around the corner, McClure is certainly looking forward to the speakers and topics, but he is most excited to see the fellow calf and heifer raisers whom he now calls his friends.

McClure adds, “It was a blessing for me to find this association.” 

YOUNG FARMER: DCHA network provides personal, business ROI

Below is a transcript from Dairy Herd Management Magazine featuring Circle Heifer Development General Manager, T.J. McClure. Find the original article here:


My family has had a love of cattle for generations. Whether it was a small cowtown in Wyoming, or in the mountains of Utah, my agricultural roots run deep. As a boy I loved hearing about my dad’s ranching adventures: Billy McClure was one of a kind and I am thankful for his influence on my life.

Like any small town that revolves around agriculture, there are two things to do growing up in Gruver, Texas – work, and play sports. Since sports only lasted part of the year, I started working for a man who owned a feedyard when I was 13. This man, Wes Whitaker, later became my step-dad and has been a great mentor to me.

I started doing all the dirty grunt work no one else wanted to do, but I really enjoyed working with animals. After high school, I took that passion for animal science to Oklahoma State University. My focus was mainly on beef, and I was blessed with a part-time job at an Angus ranch.

The owner, who had a very successful career in large-scale animal agriculture, became a great teacher and mentor to me. We had a conversation during spring break of my senior year, and I expressed thankfulness for an animal science degree, but disappointment that I was not taught much about business. He pushed me to get an MBA. Like most seniors, I was burned out on school, ready to graduate and start making better money, but I decided I could stick out another couple years.

After my first year in graduate school, I landed an internship for a large bank in Southwest Kansas. That turned out to be the longest summer of my life. Punching a calculator and scouring spreadsheets wasn’t for me. Not long after I graduated I accepted an administration

position with a reproduction company. I loved learning more about reproduction, but my love did not run as deep for managing accounts.

The Friday after Thanksgiving in 2007 I was touring a feedyard purchased by a dairy to feed replacement heifers. I opened my big mouth, stating this would be a dream job. To my surprise, the following Monday I was contacted with a job offer. I accepted the position, but after dairy markets crashed, I could see this company was not going to make it.

In the spring of 2009 I was introduced to one of Wes’ good friends, Dean Gigot, who was looking to purchase a feedyard near Garden City, Kan. That June, Dean, his son Marc, my step dad Wes and I formed an LLC, and Circle Heifer Development was born. People thought we were crazy for starting a heifer development facility during the bottom of milk prices. We felt that if we were going to make it, then was as good a time as any. It took us four years to grow from zero customers to full capacity.

Today, we have a capacity to run 7,500 heifers between 5 months old to 220 days pregnant. We bring most of our cattle from the upper Midwest.

Finding a network

After all the trials and triumphs that go with starting a new business, I began searching for an association I could plug into that covered dairy animal management topics from birth to freshening. A friend of mine put me in contact with the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA). I applied for their leadership scholarship, which had classes in conjunction with the 2013 DCHA annual conference. I was accepted, and off to Lancaster, Pa. I went.

I was able to network and form relationships with people who do the exact same thing that I do. After becoming a member – to now serving on the board – I can honestly say DCHA has helped me tremendously, and has been a great return on investment, both for me personally and for our business.