Virtual Farm Tour: Shiloh Dairy LLC
Transition to the next generation can bring about a lot of change and disruption to a farm’s day-to-day operations. However, the Speirs family of Shiloh Dairy LLC in Brillion, Wisconsin, has made it a smooth process by focusing on consistent animal care and continual improvement.
Shiloh Dairy was established by Gordon and Cathy Speirs. Their son, Travis, came back to the farm after graduating from college in 2010. Today, the farm milks 2,300 cows.
“Mom and Dad were both very good about allowing me to step in,” Travis explained. “Dad always said he would hand over the keys, let me find out where the ditches are, and learn when I need to slow down, but he would never let me flip it.”
Travis started as an assistant herdsman and gradually took on responsibilities whenever he saw areas where more work was needed. Today, he is the farm manager and an owner. Like his parents, Travis is committed to working closely with employees to ensure all animals receive optimal care.
Calf team management
Cathy Speirs managed the farm’s calf program until her recent retirement.
“Mom was always there every day working with the calf team,” Travis said. “I’ve kept the open-door policy. I want employees to tell me about their concerns and ask any questions they have.”
The Shiloh Dairy calf team includes four full-time employees. Two of the employees have been on the team for several years. The other two are new because their predecessors were promoted to other roles on the farm. When the calf team needs a new member, Travis identifies two or three current employees he thinks would be a good fit. He then lets the current calf team members pick their new teammate.
“They make the decision and own it,” he said.
Travis only puts one new member on the calf team at a time. That employee starts with the simplest tasks, such as cleaning. They observe other calf chores and, as their skills improve, gradually take on those tasks. He said the team understands calves are the future of the farm and their actions have great impact on the farm’s success.
Comfortable facilities for calves and people
In 2019, Shiloh Dairy needed more space for newborn calves and had the space to add onto the maternity barn. Newborn bull calves are placed in pens on one side of the room and picked up three times a week. Newborn heifers are placed in pens on the other side and spend 12 to 36 hours there, depending on the weather. The walls are insulated and infrared tube heaters keep the room warm. Pens are cleaned out and sanitized between calves.
In this room, calves’ navels are dipped and they receive two 3-quart feedings of the dams’ colostrum six to eight hours apart. Colostrum is always fed via nipple bottle as Travis feels it teaches calves to suckle right away and leads to better calf health. On the rare occasion that a calf must be tube-fed, employees keep an especially close eye on that animal. Because these tasks require extra attention to detail and patience, Travis said he is selective about who is on the maternity team.
“You hire the right people for the job,” he said. “You don’t put just anyone back there.”
Next, calves are transported to the “bottle barn,” a repurposed shed with a curtain on the back wall. It has 68 individual hutches, and heifer calves stay in this barn for 12 to 16 days. In extreme cold, a portable heater is used overnight to “take the edge off the cold.” Once again, pens are cleaned and sanitized between calves.
Calves are fed pasteurized milk with Vita Plus Calf Magnify and SmartCare®. They receive the milk in 3-quart bottles twice a day for the first 10 days and then are pail-trained. Calves are introduced to starter on the second or third day and given water when they start on pails.
Travis said he likes having calves in barns for the first two to three weeks when they seem most susceptible to disease challenge. The barns provide a more comfortable environment for employees, so it’s easier for them to take their time and observe every animal instead of rushing through chores.
After the bottle barn, calves move to outdoor hutches and receive 4 quarts of pasteurized milk twice daily in addition to starter and water. At 10 weeks of age, calves are cut back to one feeding per day for a week. At 12 weeks, they move out of the hutches. A group weight is taken when the calves move out of the hutches, and calves average 240 pounds at this point.
Basics build success
Travis attributed the farm’s calf-raising success to intense observation and cleanliness, and said those are “all day, every day” priorities for the calf team. They use several different tools to communicate with each other to ensure each calf gets what she needs. Keeping everything clean goes a long way in protecting youngstock health.
“It’s old school and it’s by the books,” Travis said, “but it’s what’s best for the animal.”
Farm business transition
Starting Strong - Calf Care