Virtual Farm Tour: Mar-Bec Dairy
Jonathon Hallock doesn’t have the typical “farm kid story” of spending every day in the barn with his parents. In fact, farm chores weren’t even an option unless all of his homework and other school commitments were completed first.
But that didn’t limit any of his passion for farming and today he’s putting it to good use as he takes on more leadership at Mar-Bec Dairy in Mondovi, Wisconsin.
Jonathon’s father, Marty, is a first-generation dairy farmer. After working with his uncle for a few years, then renting a farm by his father-in-law (milking 40 cows), Marty purchased the Mondovi farm in 1993 and started milking 70 cows. Through the years, the herd gradually expanded to its current size of 880 milking and dry cows. Jonathon’s mother has always worked off the farm.
In May 2013, Jonathon graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a degree in dairy science and farm management. The following fall, the dairy completed construction on a calf barn. The new facility includes 144 individual pens. The calves were previously raised in hutches. However, finding enough space on the farm for all the hutches and maintaining a comfortable environment for people to succeed became a challenge in western Wisconsin’s rolling hills.
After touring many other calf facilities, Hallocks, with the help of key team members, decided to build a four-row barn with a few custom features. This too was because of geography; the farm doesn’t have enough flat space for a two-row facility. Jonathon said they installed positive pressure tubes for ventilation right away. A 2-foot-by-2-foot curb between the side curtains and the pens allows for natural air movement, but prevents drafts from dropping off the curtains onto the calves. A curb between the two center rows prevents direct contact between calves.
Mar-Bec Dairy doesn’t have enough waste milk to feed the calves, so they instead feed Vita Plus Calf Precision, a 24/18 milk replacer, twice a day. Calves are introduced to starter at about day 3 and receive water constantly. Panels between calves are removed two weeks prior to weaning so that small groups can socialize. Jonathon said this has significantly improved calf health and performance at weaning.
Five team members, including Jonathon, help with calf chores, but that’s not the sole responsibility of any person. He said strong communication and flexibility to take on a number of roles are vital to the team.
“Communication is the true key to the success of my calf program,” he said. “Things work well here because we communicate well.”
As he works to eventually take over the farm, Jonathon, 25, readily admits he has a lot of learning to do.
“Other guys here have tons of experience, so they just know what to do. I have to think through some things a lot more than they do,” he explained.
Jonathon said he is very fortunate because his dad listens to his opinions and gives him decision-making power.
“He’s always made it a goal for me to be successful,” he said.
Marty agreed, saying, “It’s nice to work with your kid. Now it doesn’t always have to be me making all the decisions.”
Marty said education was a priority when the kids were young and it remains a priority today. He said he feels it’s important for employees to attend meetings to learn new concepts and strategies in dairy farming as well as business management.
“Learning to farm doesn’t happen overnight,” Marty said. “Just because your kids have your blood line doesn’t mean they know how to manage.”
That’s a lesson Jonathon takes to heart and he appreciates his dad’s emphasis on continual education. He said his biggest piece of advice for other young adults looking to enter the farming world is to get an education and gain experience by working for other people before returning to the home farm. That, and be ready to put in a lot of elbow grease.
“Be willing to work hard,” he said, “because the farm is going to demand it.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care