Virtual Farm Tour: Mystic Valley Dairy LLC
Mystic Valley Dairy LLC: ‘We just want to do things really well’
Mitch Breunig is focused on raising great calves and heifers, and he embraces new research and technologies to help his team achieve that goal. Breunig owns and operates Mystic Valley Dairy LLC in Sauk City, Wisconsin, which was established by his parents in 1961. Today, the farm has about 450 milking and dry cows, most of which are registered Holsteins. The farm’s commitment to excellence allows it to sell about 150 replacement heifers each year.
Cows freshen on a bedded pack in a just-in-time calving system. Calves are moved from the bedded pack within an hour and receive 1 gallon of heat-treated colostrum. Heifer calves receive a second gallon of colostrum at their next feeding. All colostrum is tested with the goal of feeding colostrum that measures at least 24% with a Brix refractometer. The farm also checks calves’ serum total proteins periodically to ensure the colostrum program is on track.
Preweaned calves at Mystic Valley Dairy are pair-raised. Pairs are placed in either a retrofitted dairy barn with tube ventilation or in outdoor hutches. Breunig said he switched to pair-housing about 2.5 years ago based on research by Dr. Jennifer Van Os at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said he felt it was the right move because “consumers like the ‘buddy system,’ and pair-housing has some benefits and really no negatives.”
Within a week, calves are ramped up to 1 gallon of pasteurized milk, fortified with Vita Plus Calf Magnify, fed twice a day. They are also immediately introduced to BSF calf starter with 18% protein and Breunig said calves begin eating it within the first couple of days.
Breunig said he did notice some calves cross-sucking when he first implemented pair-housing, so he switched to Peach Teat® feeders. He said this seemed to satiate calves’ natural tendency to suck. To reduce cross-sucking at weaning, the farm uses a 10-day weaning period, starting at day 46. Calves are fed smaller volumes of milk in the Peach Teat feeders twice a day for seven days and are then switched to buckets for the remainder of the weaning period.
Breunig said the farm’s goal is to have calves double their birthweights by weaning. They are weighed at weaning and again at four to five months of age with a goal of 1.8 pounds average daily gain.
For almost two years, Breunig has worked with his veterinarian to conduct lung ultrasounds on every calf. Breunig said this is “another tool in the toolbox” to raise healthy calves. If ultrasounds reveal a higher-than-normal number of lung lesions, it could indicate a need for improved management, such as more thorough bedding. Breunig said keeping calves dry with good bedding has had the biggest impact on his calves’ health and performance.
Other tools like bacterial checks of the pasteurizer and feeding equipment help Breunig ensure protocols match calf needs. Because most of the calf chores are done by three employees, he uses weekly employee meetings with a translator to keep everyone on the same page. Their goal is to always promote calf health while finding new ways to continually improve the herd.
He said simply, “We just want to do things really well.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care