Great Genetics, Great Care, Great Calves
A strong focus on calves goes hand-in-hand with a strong focus on genetics. That’s the story at Bomaz Farms in Hammond, Wis.
Brothers Bob and Greg Zwald own and operate Bomaz Farms with their wives, Kay and Irma. Bob and Greg’s father started the home farm in 1953 and grew the herd to 100 cows. In 1996, the brothers decided to move to the farm’s current site and build a new freestall barn. They wanted to move to a more mechanized dairy to reduce labor and knew they couldn’t do so without “filling the parlor,” so they increased the herd to 400 milking cows.
At first, Zwalds sent their 3-month-old calves to a custom raiser, but decided they wanted to bring the heifers home in 2002 to better manage the breeding and genetics programs. Doing so displaced the dry cows, so it was time for Bomaz to add another freestall barn to the operation. Today, the farm milks about 550 cows, runs about 1,300 acres and employs 10 non-family employees.
Emphasis on Genetics
As it’s grown, Bomaz Farms has placed top priority on cow comfort and feed quality. The next move is to maximize the genetic potential of the herd. More than 300 animals have been genome tested and the animals with the highest genetic potential are flushed. Many of the animals will receive an embryo versus an actual breeding and about 40 bulls are sold to bull studs each year.
Because the animals have such high genetic potential, it becomes essential for them to receive top-notch care starting at day 1. Cows freshen in a maternity pen located in the newer of the two freestall barns. The maternity pen is bedded with long, clean straw and equipped with a milker, so the Zwalds can harvest colostrum immediately. The calves will stay in the barn until they’re dry. Then Bob will take them to the calf operation, which is located on the home farm (about a mile away).
Bob’s wife, Kay, heads up the Bomaz calf program. She currently has 103 hutches to house the calves until they’re about 10 weeks old. They receive a milk replacer feeding twice a day (Calf’s First Choice) for eight weeks. Kay said she starts them on bottles and then trains them on pails “when they come out to meet me in the morning” (about 4 to 5 days of age). She said she sees no sense in trying to pull the calves from the hutches or bringing the pails to the calves. Instead, she waits until they come out of the hutches on their own and it’s easier to start them in a behavior pattern of drinking from the pails.
Kay feeds water to calves once a day and introduces starter on day 7. Calves will transition to a once-a-day milk feeding (and twice-a-day water) in week 9 and then receive only water and grain the following week. After they’re weaned, the calves are moved to group pens in an open-front barn. This is also when they’re first introduced to a limited amount of hay. The calves will receive whole corn and a pellet until 4 months of age. Then they’re switched to a TMR that is topdressed with a pellet and cracked corn.
Zwalds use an intensive dry cow vaccination program so that they don’t have to vaccinate any calves until 3 months of age. This helps calves make it through the early months without the “stall” in growth.
At eight to 10 months, Kay moves the animals to heifer barns. They’ll transition between different pens based on their age and will be bred at this facility. Bob walks the heifer pen every day to catch the animals that are in heat. Kay said the goal is to have all heifers milking at 2 years of age, but that is subject to their genetic potential. If an animal has particularly high genetics, Bob will keep her at the calf and heifer facility a bit longer and flush her an additional time.
Kay said that raising healthy calves always comes with its challenges. Just when she thinks she has a good system in place, another issue may present itself and she’ll have to change her protocols once again to meet the calves’ needs. However, Kay is more than willing to do so in order to give Bomaz calves the best start possible.
Kay said, “Raising calves is a humbling experience.”