Virtual Farm Tour: Sunrise Dairy LLC

Posted on January 28, 2020 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Sunrise Dairy LLC focuses on calf environment to boost performance.

The calf program at Sunrise Dairy LLC in Suring, Wisconsin, has changed a lot in the 10 years Kayla Hischke has managed the youngstock program.  The 120 calves on milk are housed in a four-year-old calf barn.  Prior to that, they were in the dairy’s old stone barn.  This year, due to space constraints, the farm began sending heifers to a Nebraskan custom raiser at 8 to 9 months of age.  Throughout the changes, the team has found new ways to innovate and raise quality calves.

Sunrise Dairy LLC is owned and operated by brothers David and Dan Hischke, along with David’s son, Luke Hischke, who is married to Kayla.  They milk a total of 1,300 cows between two sites.  All the cattle are crossbred between Holstein, Jersey and Montbéliarde.  About 1,000 cows are milked at the main dairy.  Hospital cows, along with dry cows and those with high somatic cell counts, are housed at the second site.  Calves are born at that second site, and, twice a day, newborns are brought to the calf barn at the main dairy.

Calves are fed pasteurized milk from the cows at the second site.  The farm retrofitted the calf trailer to include milk tanks, so the milk can be picked up at the same time as the calves.  The milk is pasteurized at the calf barn and Calf Magnify is added to allow for more consistency in solids concentration and nutrients.  Newborns receive 2 quarts of milk twice a day for the first 10 days.  They are ramped up to 3.7 quarts by day 21.  At day 42, the farm uses a step-down program to gradually wean the calves.

All preweaned calves are fed BSF calf starter with 18% protein.  After one week of receiving no milk, the weaned calves are placed in group pens of four to five animals.  While in the transition pen, the calves receive a 50-50 mix of BSF and the complete pellet they will receive in the heifer barn.  Hischke said these small group pens have greatly improved the transition process and weaned heifer performance.

Focusing on the calf environment
Hischke said the new barn has made all the difference in calf performance at Sunrise Dairy.  Positive pressure ventilation tubes run constantly unless temperatures dip below zero degrees F.  Hischke says she tries to keep the sidewall curtains and the curtain in the peak of the roof open as much as possible to improve ventilation.  A wide gap between the sidewall and the first row of pens keeps drafts from falling on the calves.

Once dry, newborns are fitted with calf jackets and wear them for about four weeks.  In-floor heat also helps keep calves warm in the first one to two weeks.  Calves are bedded with straw from September to June, and sawdust is used in the summer months.

Hischke said good cleaning protocols are the most important component of a calf raising program.  A wash bay in the calf barn allows the team to easily wash panels between calves year-round.  The team uses a foam sanitizer to clean pens in place during warm months.  As for the pasteurizer and milk storage system, Hischke said she follows the same rules for cleaning as the farm follows for saleable milk in the parlor.

Tracking health and performance
Hischke wants to have the best heifers entering the milking herd, so she tracks a lot of data to use in culling decisions.  Newborns are weighed on day one, and calves are weighed again at day 70.  Hischke also keeps track of calf growth by measuring hip height.  The lungs of all weaned calves are ultrasounded for signs of pneumonia and all treatments are tracked as well.  Calves treated more than two times, have two or more lung lesions, or have less than 1.5 pounds of average daily gain are candidates for the cull list.

Hischke spends a lot of time in the calf barn observing their behavior and monitoring health.  She has trained her team of two other full-time employees to keep good notes of any health events so everyone is on the same page.  With all this information at hand, she is able to adjust the program accordingly to improve overall calf performance.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Facility design
Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care