Virtual Farm Tour: Model Dairy Farms

Posted on February 28, 2014 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Calves Thrive With a Commitment to the Basics at Model Dairy Farms

You can say dairy farming is in Kyle Levetzow’s blood.  He and his wife, Amy, are the second generation to own and operate Model Dairy Farms at its current site just outside of Dodgeville, Wisconsin.  Kyle oversees all daily operations and Amy works off the farm.

But the roots of Model Dairy Farms stretch back further.  In the early 1900s, Levetzow’s great-grandfather founded Model Dairy and ran a bottling plant in Davenport, Iowa.  He also delivered the milk to customers’ doorsteps every morning.  As the age of bottling passed, Levetzow’s family left the Davenport area for southwest Wisconsin.

Levetzow grew up farming with his father and purchased Model Dairy in 2006.  Since then, through several small expansions, he has doubled his herd to the current size of about 300 milking cows.  From the beginning, Levetzows have raised all of their own calves and heifers.

Quality care starts at day 1
Three weeks prior to freshening, cows are moved into the close-up pen.  They’ll stay in that area and calve in a group bed-pack.  A video camera allows the farm’s team to keep track of calvings regardless of whether someone is in the freestall barn at that moment.  This helps the team respond to the animals’ needs quickly.  Levetzow said he breeds for calving ease because his team doesn’t like to pull calves.

In Levetzow’s experience, feeding quality colostrum is the top priority for raising healthy replacement calves.  At Model Dairy, all calves are tube-fed two bottles of fresh colostrum at birth.  They also receive an E. coli vaccine and Calf-Guard® year-round.  The newborn calf is placed in a warming pen until it is dry.  From there, it will move to an onsite hutch.  During the winter, baby calves will wear jackets for about the first six weeks of life.

Good nutrition leads to health and performance
Calves at Model Dairy are fed pasteurized waste milk.  Levetzow said one key to feeding pasteurized milk is harvesting clean milk from the cows through good parlor procedures.

“If you put bad milk in there, the pasteurizer isn’t going to make it better,” he said.

Calves are fed two quarts of milk twice a day.  For the first few days, they are fed with a bottle and then transition to a pail.  During the winter, Calf Energize, a supplemental fat, is added to provide the calories needed by these growing animals.

Calves are also introduced to Calf Momenta, a 20-percent starter, when they transition to milk from pails.  They are also fed water after the morning milking.  In freezing temperatures, that water is collected after 20 minutes.

“They eat more starter with a water feeding,” Levetzow said.  “It’s worth the extra effort.”

Good health a priority for growing heifers
At six to seven weeks of age, calves are switched to a once-a-day feeding of milk and receive just water at the other feeding.  After a week, they’ll switch to water only for another seven days, followed by a move out of the hutches.

Levetzow said he moves calves in groups of about six.  When they move, they receive the Nasalgen® vaccine and are also fed a Corid® pellet for three weeks.  He said this strategy has had a significant impact on limiting respiratory and coccidiosis breaks.

When they first move to group pens, heifers are introduced to an 18-percent starter.  Hay is introduced about one month after the move and heifers transition to a 16-percent grain mix at that time.  During the summer, heifers graze on pasture.  At eight to 10 months, they’re introduced to silage.  They stay on this diet until they are confirmed pregnant and move to the pregnant heifer group.

Consistency matters
If colostrum is the top priority for Model Dairy’s calf program, consistency is a close second.  Levetzow has a team of eight employees, but most of them work with the milking cows.  One employee feeds calves in the morning and the other takes care of the night feeding.  A third employee takes care of all heifer feedings.

To provide consistency, these employees write down any sick calves they might observe and talk about their observations throughout the day.

That consistency has paid off.  Model Dairy rarely loses calves.  If the team does notice a sick calf, it acts quickly to treat it.  This might mean an extra call to the veterinarian, but Levetzow said it’s worth the investment.

“We don’t hesitate to call the vet for our calves,” he said.  “We want our calves healthy.”

Category: Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care