Virtual Farm Tour: Schmitz Family Farms Ent. Inc.
Driving down a state highway in Bruce, Wisconsin, you’ll see an old dairy barn that has clearly weathered a lot of years. On the opposite side, you’ll see a much larger freestall barn surrounded by construction materials. A new addition on the freestall is near completion and much needed after the farm grew from 750 to 900 cows in the last year.
These are indeed two very different sites, but both are a part of the story of Schmitz Family Farms Ent. Inc.
Chris Schmitz has farmed with his father, Joe, for basically his entire life. Since he was born, the family farm has grown from about 50 cows to 900 today. That growth has occurred through fairly moderate expansions throughout the years – and brought with it plenty of learning experiences.
Chris is the fourth generation to farm here. It was his great-grandfather who built the original barn – the one that sits across the road – in the 1930s after his father purchased the land in 1912. The original cupola, which once sat atop the old barn, is now installed above the freestall office and milking parlor – a great symbol of the changes to farm in nearly a century’s worth of time.
The calf program is just one of those changes. Chris said the farm went from feeding 10 calves total to having up to 10 newborn calves a day.
“That’s a learning curve,” he said.
But they’ve apparently handled that curve well as the farm has a calf mortality rate of less than 1 percent.
According to Chris, an aggressive nutrition program is critical to health and performance. That’s why calves are ramped up to 6 quarts of milk twice a day. They also have free-choice starter and water to develop the rumen. He said he believes calves are genetically the most valuable animals on the farm. Thus, the calf nutrition program is not the place to cut corners.
“Cost of milk or replacer should not dictate how much is fed,” Chris said. “I believe the payback is huge.”
In addition, Chris said one of the best tools they’ve invested in is a coloQuick colostrum pasteurizing system, which was purchased two years ago. Colostrum is tested for quality using a Brix refractometer and frozen for future use. All calves are sampled for serum total proteins to evaluate success of passive transfer. Although an expensive investment, Chris said he sees a big improvement in calf performance and health with less scouring in the young calves.
Chris said cleanliness and consistency are the cornerstones of a successful calf program. If you begin to slack in these areas, you will lose calf performance.
“Sticking to protocols is essential,” he said.
Chris isn’t the only one who thinks that. The calf manager, Constantino Hernandes, is equally committed to the protocols. He has fed calves for the past eight years and is very specific on when and how the animals are fed.
Hernandes also emphasized the importance of cleaning. All hutches are completely washed and sanitized between calves. All milk and grain pails are kept inside the hutches to protect them from the weather and they are washed with soap and hot water every day. He puts an equal amount of energy into other calf chores. As such, he rarely treats calves for respiratory or other disease challenges.
Chris and Joe agreed that dependable employees like Hernandes are vital – and not easy to find. Joe explained they can’t consistently rely on local labor and that Hispanic labor has been key to the farm’s success in the last couple decades. Joe said he believes that will be one of the biggest factors in the farm’s future as well.
As Chris works into that future, he said he doesn’t envision growing the farm much larger. As the sole manager, he has plenty of work with its current herd size and 16 non-family employees. He said he would continue to look for the best strategies to improve efficiencies and animal performance. For example, he said the concept of a calf barn is great, but he’s not sold on them in terms of animal health. For now he wants to stick with hutches – and all of the protocols that go with them – to maximize calf health.
It’s this kind of commitment to making wise investments and working hard that stands to carry the Schmitz family through many more decades of dairying in northern Wisconsin.
Starting Strong - Calf Care