Focusing on Healthy Comfortable Cows

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Take, for example, the cull rate at the Hoewisch Dairy. At 28 percent, it’s higher than we’d like to see on a good biological farm—except that rate reflects the fact that this family farm culls for profit. With an excess of cattle, annual sales of up to 20 head that they don’t have the space to keep builds their bottom line with an added revenue stream.

And it means that they keep their production levels high.

Healthy, comfortable cows are the focus for brothers Jeff and Kevin (who combined their dairy herds on the home farm in 1999) and Kevin’s son, Jacob, who together work the Fremont, Wisconsin operation with an enthusiasm and optimism for the future of dairying.

According to Kevin, “nutrition is so good” with the Midwestern BioAg program. “Calves don’t get sick, cows don’t get sick,” says Kevin. Cows also get bred back; the Hoewisch’s veterinarian recently commented that their herd had one of the best pregnancy rates this past August—despite this summer’s high heat.

Calves are bright-eyed and energetic, reflecting good health. They get PectiLyte for the first two weeks of life, along with MBA’s Milk Replacer until weaned at 8-9 weeks. Cows stay on MBA minerals throughout their lifetime: as heifers, dry cows (Dry Cow Mineral), and lactating cows (TopCap, CharCal and Kelp in the TMR plus free choice offerings). The Hoewisches also like that the MBA minerals are “more natural and more available.”

Cow comfort is visible upon a visit to the free stall barn. There’s a cow resting in every sand-bedded stall—though Jake admits that currently the “barn is too full.” (It’s that pesky problem of too many healthy cows again!) A calf and heifer shed, added in 2008, provides a quality environment for raising young stock and, at the same time, it’s labor efficient.

Before starting on the MBA nutrition program, Jake recalled, “our protein bills were so high. We were getting milk but it was expensive milk.” Production also wasn’t consistent. “Now we’re getting 70-75 lbs. pretty consistently throughout the year,” he says, with a rolling herd average of over 23,700.

Quality milk is another emphasis for the Hoewisches. The walls of the farm office next to the milkhouse are lined with rows of milk quality awards. Last year’s SCC, for example, was a fairly typical 43,000, and this year they’re averaging about 50,000 each month. Attention to detail and knowing their cattle pay dividends. “You need to know every quarter of every cow,” says Kevin.

The Hoewisches note their ration is “high forage with more haylage than corn silage.” Jake says, “We have excellent quality feed this year” with protein over 20 percent.

 

“We were getting milk but it was expensive milk.”

 

“Years ago, we were lucky if we had 15 percent on first crop, rising to 17-18 percent on later crops,” recalls Kevin. In fact, they found that now they have to “tame that down a little” in the ration by adding wheat straw to the TMR along with feeding baled hay. Hay, mostly alfalfa with some fescue, clover or timothy, is fertilized with 250 lbs. of MBA’s 2-6-20 and gets BioCal:® “It keeps our calcium levels where they need to be.” Manure is spread on older stands that will be rotated to corn, as well as corn-on-corn fields.

A limiting factor for the farm is land. They currently work about 400 acres, owned and rented, supporting the 140-cow milking herd and young stock, plus about 35 bull calves grassfed for beef to age 24-30 months.

Their clay loam soils are high in fertility, but with a tendency toward being too wet and easily compacted. Tillage includes sub-soiling, rotary hoeing, cultivating which aerates the soil (and saves on herbicide costs), and growing green manure crops (oats following corn silage) to build organic matter. “We don’t add any N besides what’s in the 10-9-10 starter,” says Jake. “Manure goes on all our corn ground.”

They work with MBA Certified Consultant Clem Griesbach. “I trust Clem,” says Kevin. They appreciate the timely service, quality products and good, money-saving advice he provides. “He brightens our Monday mornings,” Kevin adds of Clem’s weekly visit.

Kevin says that going biological is an educational process and a different way of thinking—but one the Hoewisch family finds successful, profitable and fun. Hard work, family and faith are all important to this farm family. “God has blessed us and taken care of us, even this year,” says Kevin. And they consider Midwestern BioAg one of those blessings.