Virtual Farm Tour: Schilling Farms LLC
Developing and sticking to calf care protocols is the name of the game for Schilling Farms LLC in Darlington, Wisconsin.
For 10 years, the farm sent all nursery calves to a custom grower before bringing them all back home within a two-week span in 2011. The team established as many protocols as possible to “get it right from the start” and modified those protocols as they rebuilt the calf program.
Brothers Andy and Brian Schilling took over the farm from their parents. The family milked 100 cows prior to a barn fire in February of 1999. By September, they were back to milking cows and began gradual expansion. Today, they milk 650 Holsteins in a double-12 parlor. Since 2003, all of the herd’s growth has been internal. Schillings began sending their calves to a custom raiser in 2001, but, unhappy with calf health and performance, they decided to bring the calves back home in 2011. Andy’s wife, Sara, took over management of the calf program at that time.
Sara said she spent the first year working hard to set up and tweak protocols. The farm’s conscientious employees and low turnover rate make it easier to keep everyone on the same page and follow protocols. That consistency has helped Sara and her team raise healthy calves and maintain a mortality rate below 2 percent.
Schillings have a close-up pen with 54 sand-bedded stalls and practice just-in-time calving. Two box stalls used for freshening are cleaned twice a week. All colostrum is tested with a Brix refractometer and calves are tube-fed 1 gallon of colostrum within four hours of birth. Extra colostrum is treated with potassium sorbate, a preservative, and refrigerated for up to 7 days. If high-quality colostrum is not available, the team will feed Secure 175 instead. Brian and his wife, Bridget, measure serum total proteins on all calves to evaluate the success of the colostrum program.
Sara said navel infections are her biggest struggle and she recently created a new navel protocol. Navels are dipped with a 7-percent-tincture iodine solution in the maternity pen and sprayed again when calves are placed in hutches.
The farm has 125 hutches near the freestall barns; about 100 of those hutches are full at any given time. Sara explained that, if things go right, the hutches will rest for at least one week after sanitation. New lime is placed under every clean hutch, followed by shavings or a combination of shavings and straw, depending on the season.
Calves are started on 3 quarts of pasteurized milk twice daily and bumped up to 4 quarts at two weeks. They are fed a 22-percent calf starter and receive water twice a day year-round. Sara weighs all calves at birth and also periodically weighs calves at weaning to evaluate whether they are achieving their growth goals.
Sara weans calves in groups of seven when the last calf in the group is 50 days old. At that point, they only receive one milk feeding for a week and, at day 57, receive just water for a week. On day 64, they move to group pens in a heifer barn just down the road.
Schillings have done genomic testing on every calf for the past five years. Brian said he focuses on health traits, including daughter pregnancy rate, as he makes breeding and selling decisions. The bottom third of the calves are sold at three to four months of age to become recipient animals.
That, combined with excellent management and care, has led the farm to achieve an outstanding 40-percent pregnancy rate. Brian said their success is also attributed to the farm’s Genex breeders and the veterinarian’s great reproduction protocols.
Schillings are indeed “cow people” and enjoy working closely with the animals every day. Sara feeds the calves daily, so she is able to observe subtle changes in behavior and care for the animals accordingly. That kind of attention proves the value of keeping their calves at home and Schillings said they will stick to that strategy.
Andy said, “The calves will never leave again.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care