Lessons Learned: Hall’s Calf Ranch One Year After Expansion

Posted on August 27, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf products coordinator
J Hall of Hall’s Calf Ranch began his business by raising 12 calves behind his house.  That picture is a bit different today.

Hall’s Calf Ranch in Kewaunee, Wisconsin is now home to 5,000 calves in hutches and another 2,200 weaned calves in barns.  Most arrive at the ranch at one-day-old and return home or to a heifer grower at 4 to 6 months. J, his wife, Marlene, and their team focus on growing big, healthy calves that will make great milk cows.

Hall’s significant expansion in the past few years came from a combination of growth from current customers as well as the addition of a few new customers.  As explained below, Hall’s Calf Ranch’s expansion was ushered in with both challenges and rewards.

What have been the biggest driving forces in your expansions?
Client growth, new customers and an owner who loves to raise calves.  Most clients have worked with the ranch for more than 10 years and range from 50-head to 7,000-head herds.  Halls love to help producers and bring solutions to help them achieve their goals.

What were some of the challenges you faced with expansion?
Working with the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency provided a great learning opportunity.  The calf ranch has a river that runs through the middle of the property. Learning how to collect and contain water and all runoff has been somewhat of a challenge. Today, all water is contained on the property to ensure all regulations are followed and the river is protected.

More employees come with the growing farm. At one time, J and a small crew were able to take care of all the farm responsibilities. Today, 40 full-time employees and a few part-time employees keep the farm running.

“Learning to manage people and manage those who manage people can be very challenging,” said J.

Halls works hard to create a work environment where people can think outside of the box, yet get the job done.

How do your producers feel about your expansion?
Most of the expansion has been a result of the clients growth. Halls strive for strong communication with their client dairies.  J talks to the clients on a regular basis to keep them up-to-speed and they are the first to know if they encounter any challenge.  He said clients are not concerned with the growth and expansion as they know the calf always comes first.  With most growth coming from existing customers, those dairies are familiar with expansion and the efficiencies it brings.

What would you have done differently?
Looking back now, J said he would have considered using a second site instead of trying to build around a river. Some have asked why he didn’t build barns instead of placing hutches.  He feels the segregation of hutches is a necessity when raising calves from 30-plus herds. He said he feels barns are built for people, not calves.

What does the future look like?
Right now, Halls are in the process of adding another 800 hutches and 1,000 more barn spaces. At that point, this facility will be close to maxed out in terms of space. J is always looking for the next adventure. For example, Halls have looked at composting manure and selling it for fertilizer.

Are there any resources you found invaluable?
Choose the people in your inner circle wisely. They may include a consultant, nutritionist, banker, extension agent, etc. J said he believes you need to surround yourself with good people and they will make you better.

Knowing what you know now, what advice can you give other producers looking to grow their businesses?
Think as far forward as possible. Think about the big picture and plan for all the variables. Find a good consultant who can help you make those plans, such as facility layout, manure storage, water runoff, etc.

J said he is hopeful he will be able to grow and serve his customers.  The market has a need for good custom growers who can raise calves at an affordable rate. Hall’s Calf Ranch started small and has grown to its current size, allowing for more efficiency in its practices. The team will continue to strive to raise the best calf possible to ensure a good, productive cow.

Photo caption:  J Hall shares his calf raising experiences with attendees at the recent Vita Plus Expedition Chick Day 2015.

Category: Business and economics
Facility design
Starting Strong - Calf Care