Virtual Farm Tour: Hilltop Dairy LLC

Posted on September 18, 2020 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
When the team at Hilltop Dairy LLC in Markesan, Wisconsin, decided to build a new calf barn five years ago, they didn’t rush the process and, instead, invested a lot of time into touring and researching barns to design a facility that best fit the farm.

Hilltop Dairy calf barn design matches management and goals

Raising calves in three different spots is not an efficient system, so the team at Hilltop Dairy LLC in Markesan, Wisconsin, was more than ready to move into its new calf barn five years ago.  However, they didn’t rush the process and invested a lot of time into touring and researching barns to design a facility that best fit the farm.

Hilltop Dairy is a partnership between brothers Rich and Cal Greenfield, as well as Rich’s son, Loren.  The farm is home to about 1,400 registered Holstein cows.  Cal takes the lead on caring for the 140 calves in the new barn as well as all the heifers.

Designing the barn
Cal said he had several “must haves” when designing the barn.  He knew he did not want group housing, but he did want to socialize newly weaned calves in groups of four, so they needed removable plastic panels between the calves.  He also wanted the pens to be situated over gravel to help keep pens dry.

With previous facilities, he found it was much easier to bed pens from the back, so the barn was built with a 3-foot alley between the sidewall and the pens.  This alley is elevated 2 feet, which allows him to stand above the pen and bed without getting any bedding in water and grain pails.  Pens are first bedded with a bale of straw, then Cal uses only shavings during the summer and a combination of shavings and straw during the winter.

Top and bottom sidewall curtains are controlled automatically by a thermostat.  During the summer, the curtains are opened entirely unless it’s raining.  In winter months, the curtains are closed completely, but the roof ridge stays open.  The barn also has positive pressure tube ventilation to ensure adequate air exchanges.  Cal said he has not had to deal with many cases of pneumonia in this barn.

A switch to pasteurized milk
With the new facilities, the farm was able to switch from feeding milk replacer to pasteurized whole milk.  Cal said he’s very happy with calf health and performance on pasteurized milk.

“It’s natural,” he said.  “They really grow.”

All preweaned calves are fed three times per day.  Newborn calves start with a bottle for the first few feedings.  When they start drinking aggressively, they are switched to pails.  They receive 1.6 liters per feeding.  Calf Magnify is added to the milk for the first two to three weeks.  Cal said he was frustrated with lethargic young calves when they first switched to whole milk.  He said Calf Magnify has fixed that issue by enhancing gut immune function.

Milk volume increases to 1.8 liters per feeding at about three weeks of age, and 2 liters per feeding at five weeks of age.  A Milk Taxi is used to feed all the calves and its metered hose ensures they receive a consistent amount every time.  Calves receive water starting at day one and are introduced to starter when they are about a week old.

Cal weans the calves at eight weeks and, at the same time, pulls panels between pens so that calves are in groups of four.  They will stay in the calf barn for one to two weeks before moving to superhutches at Cal’s home farm.  Heifers are gradually introduced to larger groups as they grow.  Cal starts them on hay at about 3.5 months of age and TMR at about five months.  The heifers return to the main dairy two months precalving.

Maternity makes a huge difference
Cal said feeding quality colostrum is the most important step in raising healthy calves.

“That’s three-quarters of your success,” he said.  “You have to get colostrum in them.”

All colostrum is tested for quality, and each calf receives 1 gallon via an esophageal tube.  He said they test serum total proteins every two or three weeks, and the results are “always off the charts.”

Cal said maternity employees do an excellent job of consistently caring for the newborns.  He is also impressed with the calf barn employees who do an excellent job keeping calves clean and dry, which he said is the second-most important part of raising healthy calves.

“I can’t take a lot of the credit,” he said.  “I have good help.”

Benefits in simplicity
Cal said his management style is based on simplicity because protocols are more likely to be followed when they aren’t difficult.

“I just try to keep it simple,” he said.  “I don’t want to complicate things.”

Cal feeds the calves himself every morning and does all the bedding.  He said he loves to walk the calves every day because he’s able to notice small shifts in behavior that could indicate a challenge.  He works with calf employees to help them notice these changes as well.  That helps them adapt protocols to best meet calf needs.

“The calves will tell you,” he said.  “If they don’t like it, change it.”

Category: Facility design
Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care