Virtual Farm Tour: Homeland Dairy LLP
The team at Homeland Dairy LLP in Brandon, Wisconsin, operates by the KISS principle: Keep It Simple and Straightforward. That philosophy has led to outstanding calf health and performance.
Homeland Dairy is a partnership between Bill Bruins and his sons, Jon and Joel. The dairy was established in 1995 with 200 Holstein cows and, through gradual expansions, grew to its current size of 680 milking cows. Joel Bruins oversees the dairy business operations and works closely with Joel Ruis, the farm’s herdsman.
Calves are raised onsite for the first four months. Heifer calves move to another site until they reach between 8 and 9 months old; at that point, they are sent to a custom heifer raiser in the area. They come back when they are six months pregnant. The farm also started a beef enterprise in 2011, so most bull calves are kept to be finished as beef cattle.
Calves are born in the farm’s dry cow barn. Close-up cows are on bedded packs and move into individual pens to calve. Colostrum is harvested immediately, and all newborns are tube-fed 1 gallon of colostrum. Their navels are dipped, and they also receive the Inforce® 3 vaccine (a second dose is administered at six weeks). Once dry, calves move to individual pens in the calf barn.
Frustrated with calf health challenges, Bruins and Ruis decided to change their calf nutrition program about a year and a half ago. All preweaned calves now receive Talon, a 25/25 milk replacer. They drink from nipples for the first couple of days and are fed 2 quarts twice a day for the first week. They are bumped up to 2.2 to 2.5 quarts until they reach 6 or 7 weeks of age. At that time, milk replacer volume is decreased to 1.2 quarts per feeding for one week.
Calves also receive BSF calf starter with 18% crude protein starting at day three and fresh water starting at day five. They consume 4 to 5 pounds of starter by the time they are weaned.
Four different people assist with calf feedings, so Bruins and Ruis said they needed a way to consistently feed calves. A wall-mounted water system allows for consistent mixing temperatures, and a Milk Taxi is used to deliver the same amount of milk every time. Calves are always fed in order, starting with the youngest and ending with the oldest. This limits calf exposure to pathogens. The feeding wand is also sanitized after each feeding.
In December 2010, the farm built a 132-stall calf barn. Prior to that, calves were raised in an old cow barn. The calf barn’s high side walls allow for natural ventilation during warm temperatures. For the most part, the curtains are always open in the summer and closed in the winter. Ruis said he’ll manage them more during the spring and fall’s fluctuating weather.
At weaning, the panels between the individual calf pens are removed to form groups of three. Ruis said he tries to keep the groups of three consistent in size and gender. Heifer calves are placed into groups of nine when they enter the transition barn, where they’ll live for approximately two months. The farm moves about two groups of heifers per week; at this time, the pens are completely cleaned for the new groups to enter.
The farm has achieved a death loss of less than 1% in the last year. Ruis said “consistency with everything” is a major contributor to calf health. When processes are kept simple and manageable, they’re more likely to get done correctly each time. The farm’s simple calf feeding program makes it easy to train anyone to feed calves. Only Bruins and Ruis deliver electrolytes or other occasional treatments, which provides further calf care consistency.
“We’re all about the KISS method,” Bruins said. “We talk about that a lot here.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care