The People Make the Difference at Hall’s Calf Ranch
1997 marked the beginning of J. Hall’s career as a custom calf raiser. He started with 15 rented hutches and a superhutch, raising calves for one nearby dairy. Within six months, he grew to 100 calves from three customers and built his first barn.
That growth hasn’t stopped. Today, Hall’s Calf Ranch in Kewaunee, Wis. raises calves for 25 clients. At capacity, the ranch can hold 5,000 calves in hutches and has open-front barns for 1,400 older heifers. That includes a recently completed new addition with 1,400 hutches and room for 520 heifers in three new barns.
Hall readily points to good employees as his key to success. He employs 23 workers at the calf ranch and only four of those individuals are new this year. The number one rule he sets for all employees is patience. He said he can teach anyone to feed and treat calves, but the ideal employee shows patience and compassion for the animal. Hall said his employees feel just as bad as he does when they lose a calf. That’s why the work hard to provide constant, optimum care.
To train new employees, Hall and other experienced staff work side-by-side with teh new individuals to teach them top-notch calf care. Hall said that’s vital because it provides a visual and shows exactly what he expects from his team. He lets them lead each project and he offers suggestions for improvement as they go along. He said this helps to explain the “why behind the directions.” In total, Hall estimated it takes six months to train a new employee.
Right behind patience, “a quick step” is a top trait of Hall’s Calf Ranch employees. With 4,000 calves in hutches that all need care, employees must work efficiently and effectively.
“If they can’t walk faster than I can,” Hall said, “they won’t be working here.”
Hall said he works hard to make sure he has very little turnover in his calf care staff. That’s because he wants to consistently provide excellent calf care to his customers. It’s also because training new employees is an expensive process. For that reason, Hall offers his employees bonuses and incentives for the work they do. These incentives range from cell phones to quarters of beef.
Hall also works to build a family atmosphere amongst employees. He said everyone knows each other’s kids, celebrates birthdays and helps each other. As owner and manager, Hall is no exception. He said he enjoys working side-by-side with his employees and says he’ll know his business is “too big” when he can no longer work with his team.
In his 14 years of experience, Hall has learned that to be successful he should do what he enjoys most. For him, that’s calf care and that’s where he spends his time. He relies on other people – who enjoy the business side – to take care of the financial work.
“It’s easy to hire someone to do the bookwork,” Hall said. “That way I can stick to raising calves, which is what I like doing most.”
Experience has also taught Hall to listen to what his employees say they need. When Hall’s Calf Ranch employees come up with an idea for doing their jobs better, they don’t go to the catalog in search of the ideal tool. Instead, they design and build the right tool that perfectly meets their needs.
Hall said that’s why it’s important to “have people who are really creative.” They come up with great ideas and design new tools to make the ranch run more smoothly. As a team, employees are constantly tweaking the tools and giving each other ideas for improvement.
Bottom line, all of these items help Hall to raise healthy calves consistently for his customers and his employees recognize that. The work toward the goal of not only raising better calves, but ultimately raising better cows to enter the customers’ milking herds.
“I work for them,” Hall said, “and I want a better cow for them.”