Virtual Farm Tour – Calf Source

Posted on November 2, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Farm Calf Source: Raising Calves Is What We Do

Imagine 55 rows of calf hutches with 60 hutches in each row. If you’re standing on a hilltop overlooking Calf Source in DePere, Wis., that’s exactly what you’ll see.

This dairy calf ranch is home to 8,000 calves under 180 days of age. They arrive from 27 different dairies in the area. At any given time, 3,500 of those animals are in hutches and on milk.

Calf Source is owned by JBS, the largest protein provider in the world. For just over a year, it has been managed by directors Wes and Kim Davis. The couple had previously managed a large calf ranch – about twice the size of Calf Source – in Arizona. Kim said the move to Calf Source included a lot of changes in management focus and strategy.

Of course, the biggest adjustment the Davises had to make was learning to raise healthy calves during Wisconsin’s cold winters. Kim described the change as “a complete 180.”  Opposite of calf-raising in Arizona, the critical months for youngstock at Calf Source are the winter months. To adjust to this change, Wes and Kim had to put more focus on the energy levels and bedding while developing new vaccine and medication protocols.

Employee Management and Team Focus
Kim said the business philosophy for both employees and management changed as well. She said JBS is “very determined to be the best in what they do” and Calf Source shares in that mission. However, Calf Source is still treated as a unique and individual operation. In other words, management decisions are made right on the farm – not in an office thousands of miles away. Kim said they are very fortunate to work with JBS because the company offers that kind of freedom.

“They are 100 percent supportive of what we do,” she said.

Communication at Calf Source is number one for its 46 employees. Wes and Kim are both fluent Spanish speakers, which comes in handy for the primarily Hispanic staff. Kim said this is valuable because they can communicate effectively with the employees and encourage them take pride in what they do.

The Davises have also brought a team focus to Calf Source. First, they restructured the management-employee chain to put each employee in a position where they can thrive the most. They also assembled a team of outside veterinarians, nutritionists and consultants in order to “maximize every potential out of the animals.”

Nutrition and Sanitation Protocols
At first, the Davises were unsatisfied with calf performance and decided to switch to feeding milk three times per day year-round. Water and calf starter are given 30 minutes after each feeding. This pattern continues until day 45. At that point, the calves are weaned in their hutches and then moved to growing pens by about day 50.

Sixty percent of the calf herd is heifers. These animals are placed into 12-head groups in the growing pens. The steers are grouped in pens of 24. Between day 50 and day 180, the calves will transition between four different rations.

With 8,000 animals on premise, sanitation is a key to maintaining healthy animals at Calf Source. When calves move to their growing pens, the hutches are completely washed down in a facility that resembles a mini automatic car wash. The bedding is also completely replaced with lime, two inches of sawdust and a lot of straw.

Kim said that Calf Source provides all of the clothing and materials employees need in order to maintain biosecurity onsite. This includes nylon overall bibs and disposable gloves for use during numerous on-farm chores, especially for feedings and medical treatments.

Future Goals for Calf Source
Kim said her husband is very “hands on” at Calf Source. You’ll never find him in the office as he’s always out working with the calves and employees. She also described him as “an avid goal-setter and record-keeper.”  The operation is constantly monitoring average daily gains to assess calf performance and look for potential opportunities to improve. That kind of mindset is an integral part of Calf Source – a farm where “perfection is the goal.”

Kim said, “If you’re going to strive for something, strive for the best.”

Looking down the road, Kim said she would like to see Calf Source set the standard for excellence in calf-raising. She said her 10-year goal would be to maximize calves’ potential and produce top-notch calves. Bottom line, she wants an “A+ rating” from Calf Source’s producer-customers by providing high-potential replacement heifers.

However, it doesn’t seem the Davises – with high expectations and a commitment to quality – are going to take a decade to reach their goal.

“I don’t want to wait 10 years,” Kim said. “I want to do it in one year.”

Category: Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care