Virtual Farm Tour: Orthridge Jerseys
Gradual, steady steps forward and openness to new ideas are two of the defining characteristics of Orthridge Jerseys. The farm, located near Lancaster, Wisconsin, was purchased by Randy and Laura Orth in 1993. Since then, the farm has expanded to 325 Jersey cows, almost all of which are registered. Orths’ son, Derek, was seven-years-old when the farm was purchased. Today, he and his wife, Charisse, farm with his parents and own some of the cattle and machinery.
With an abundance of energy and a passion for learning, Orths are continually thinking through new strategies to boost animal health, genetic potential and production.
Semi-seasonal calving and newborn calf management
Early on, Orths observed that animals calving during the hottest summer months and coldest winter months seem to have more health challenges. According to Derek, the farm moved to a “semi-seasonal” calving schedule in the late 1990s to address the issue. The goal is for no calves to be born in July and August or January and February. Derek said the strategy works well as it limits stress on both the animals and the employees. Charisse said this schedule has an added bonus of allowing the team to do a good job of cleaning and organizing during the off months before they get busy with calvings again.
Pre-fresh cows are housed in the old dairy barn and a converted shed, separate from the freestall. At birth, calves are fed a colostrum replacer and receive a First Defense® bolus and ear tag. Heifers and bull calves with genetic interest are placed into individual hutches when they are dry. The other bull calves are sold locally.
Nutrition and weaning
Calves are fed two quarts of Calf’s 1st Choice milk replacer in bottles in the morning and at night. Charisse is in charge of the calf program and mixes each bottle individually to ensure consistency. Bottle nipples are labeled so each calf uses the same nipple every time to limit the spread of pathogens.
Calves are introduced to starter at day two or three. In the winter, Calf Energize is added to the milk replacer to boost energy intakes. The calves receive water year-round.
Consistent timing is important too. Charisse feeds the calves at 5 a.m. so that she’s able to get calories into them at the coldest part of the day. She feeds them again at 5 p.m. In the winter, she transports the bottles in buckets filled with hot water to keep them from cooling before they are fed.
If the calves are adequately consuming grain at six weeks, they are weaned off milk replacer over the course of a week. From eight to 12 weeks, calves are housed in superhutches; first in groups of five and then with combined pens in groups of 10. After that, heifers will graze in groups of 20 to 35 until returning to a heifer shed at breeding age.
Through the years, Orths have become passionate about the Jersey breed. They have a couple of bull calves with genetic interest and hope to increase those efforts moving forward. They also have a couple of polled Jerseys already with several more on the way in the next calving season.
“We have great heifers,” Derek said. “Milk in the tank is our major focus, but our genetics work is a nice side interest.”
Looking forward, Derek said he believes genetics will be the cornerstone of future growth at Orthridge.
“I think we’ll expand through better genetics and more milk, not more cows,” he said.
The Orth family has found an operating rhythm that works well for them. Randy serves as the farm general manager and specifically oversees the feeding and crop programs. Laura assists with calves and takes care of the bookkeeping. Charisse, who is also a fulltime student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, is the calf manager.
Derek spends his time with cows as the herd manager. He said he tries to keep as much of the animal health work in-house as possible, including ultrasound, hoof trimming and embryo transfer work.
Although they enjoy their respective positions, Derek and Charisse said the catch is that it’s easy to “get caught in your silo.” The family has to work hard to communicate with each other to make sure everyone has the same big picture view of the farm.
They also need to keep an eye on what will make the farm most efficient. For example, Orths recently hired a heifer manager, which was a new position for the farm. Derek said the family realized this winter that everyone was getting too tired trying to manage all of the animals. To maximize their care, they needed an extra set of hands. Over the next few months, they’ll work to balance responsibilities and refocus on their goals.
Farming into the future
As a young family, the Orths have many opportunities for the family farm. For example, Derek would like Orthridge Jerseys to one day reach elite herd status. With goals like this in mind, the young couple will continue farming alongside Derek’s parents, learning the ropes and taking on new responsibilities.
“It’s cool to follow in your parents’ legacy,” Derek said. “I couldn’t imagine waking up and not going to the barn every day. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care