Farm feature: Hilltop Dairy LLC has decades’ tradition of ‘good-looking, good-producing cows’
The owners of Hilltop Dairy LLC in Markesan, Wisconsin, have had a passion for registered Holstein cattle and “good-looking, good-producing cows” for decades. That tradition continues to be front-and-center on the 1,400-cow dairy today.
Hilltop Dairy was established in 2002 when brothers Cal and Rich Greenfield brought their farms together. Rich’s son, Loren, came in as a third partner at that time.
Both Cal and Rich had a love for registered Holsteins when they farmed individually.
“It’s something our families have always prized and treasured,” Loren said.
However, in the farm’s early days, it was not common for farms to both expand and raise registered cattle, so Loren said they went away from registering animals at that time.
Things changed in 2007. The Greenfields’ passion for the Holstein breed had not faded. In addition, the process to register cattle had become much less cumbersome, requiring less time and paperwork. As such, the Greenfields felt it was time to return to registered Holsteins at Hilltop Dairy. Today, the entire herd is registered.
But tradition wasn’t the only driving factor, according to Loren. The registered Holsteins also match the breeding model of the farm’s longtime herdsman, Kevin Greenfield. Kevin spends an immense amount of time researching and making breeding decisions that lead to the “ideal Hilltop cow,” which is a strong cow with a wide chest, great feet and legs, a great udder, and of average height.
“Sometimes I think Kevin has the hardest job on the farm weighing through all the genetics information and making those decisions,” Loren said. “But we just let him do his thing. He is so good at it.”
Loren said Kevin’s efforts have led to cows that thrive in their commercial facilities, and “that kind of cow also tends to have good milk production.”
The herd currently averages 29,500 pounds of milk with 3.7% fat and 3.1% protein. Somatic cell count averages 89,000.
The Hilltop team recognizes that genetics are only half of the story when it comes to great cows. Providing the right environment and care is equally important. The entire herd is housed under one roof at Hilltop Dairy. Loren views that as a huge advantage because, even when cows switch pens according to stage of production, it’s not a huge change that stresses the animal. He said the sand-bedded freestalls also make a big difference. In the first four years, the farm bedded with manure solids, and Loren said they were disappointed to see “too many cows leaving the herd for the wrong reasons.” That improved drastically when they switched to sand.
In addition, Loren said each animal gets a “phenomenal start in a state-of-the-art calf barn,” which was built five years ago. Calves are fed high-quality colostrum and immediately placed in a clean, dry pen. They spend their first eight weeks of life in that barn, which is on the same site as the freestall barn. The only “big move” the animals make is to nearby heifer facilities, where Cal continues to manage their care.
Loren gives tremendous credit to the farm’s employees, many of whom have worked at Hilltop for a long time. With very clear protocols in place, the team understands and prioritizes animal comfort. They also understand how their jobs directly impact animal wellbeing.
“If you’re going to have all these valuable cow families,” Loren said, “you have to give them the best care possible.”
Loren said they recognize their commitment to registered Holsteins does add cost, so they must fit into the farm’s business plan.
“To have registered cows, you need to have a return for it,” Loren said.
For the past several years, Hilltop has sold between 150 to 200 of its average cows to other dairy farms. The farm is taking another big step in 2020.
On October 2, the Greenfields will host the first-ever Autumn Harvest at Hilltop and sell 100 of its top cows and heifers. As they put it, they’ll be selling “from the cream of our crop.”
Loren said he always had this idea in the back of his head, and Cal and Rich agree with the strategy. Now that the farm has built up its pedigrees, Loren said they feel they can “comfortably sell 100 cows without emptying the tank.”
Loren said this focus on genetics will be the priority for the farm in the upcoming years. Their model is to continue building on the value of the Hilltop herd – and provide excellent cows to other dairy farms – by focusing on health, longevity and production.
Visit www.facebook.com/hilltopdairy to learn more about Hilltop Dairy LLC and the upcoming Autumn Harvest at Hilltop, which will take place at the farm on Friday, October 2, at 11 a.m.
Milk production and components
Show ring success