Kyle Calvert milks 70 cows on his farm near Mineral Point, Wis. Calvert recently became the youngest person to receive a Gold National Dairy Quality Award with an average somatic cell count of 38,000.PHOTO BY CASSIE OLSON
Kyle Calvert milks 70 cows on his farm near Mineral Point, Wis. Calvert recently became the youngest person to receive a Gold National Dairy Quality Award with an average somatic cell count of 38,000.
MINERAL POINT, Wis. - When Kyle Calvert decided to purchase a dairy herd and resume milking cows on his home farm near Mineral Point, Wis., he did so without expectations. Just three years into his dairying career, Calvert has found his rhythm, milking 70 cows twice per day. At the age of 27 and with an average somatic cell count of 38,000, he was the youngest producer to recently receive a Gold National Dairy Quality Award.
If there is a secret to his success, Calvert said he has not discovered it yet.
"Honestly, I don't know that I'm doing anything special," Calvert said. "I just take my time and careful care while milking the cows."
Calvert began his solo dairying adventure in 2014. His parents, Dave and Cathy Calvert, had milked cows on his home farm until 1996 when they made the decision to sell the herd. For 18 years, the freestall barn and parlor sat vacant, but Calvert never lost his love for the business as he worked on numerous dairies throughout high school.
"It is all I've ever known," Calvert said.
Following his high school graduation, Calvert attended University of Wisconsin-Platteville where he studied agriculture business for two and a half years while working for another producer, Rodney Weigel. There was no question; Calvert wanted to milk a herd of his own, and in 2014, he began doing just that.
"I had everything available to get started back home," Calvert said. "I decided to take the gamble and it was one that proved to be worthwhile."
Having been utilized for raising heifers, the facilities on Calvert's farm were still in-tact despite an 18-year absence of a milking herd. As he searched for a herd of cattle, he made the necessary updates to get the farm in order. After buying a new bulk tank, equipment for the parlor and vacuum pumps for the units, he purchased his herd from a farm in Shawano, Wis.
Calvert admitted that starting out was anything but easy.
"It was definitely hard at first. The cows were milking 60 pounds at best for the first year," Calvert said. "But I quickly learned to be patient."
That patience paid off as Calvert now averages 76 pounds per cow, with a 4.1 percent butterfat and 3.1 percent protein while milking twice a day. Combined with his attention to detail, Calvert's patience also led him to receive a Gold National Dairy Quality Award from the National Mastitis Council. It was his first year receiving a milk quality award from his processor, as well as his first year competing in the national milk quality contest. Calvert applied for the award at the suggestion of his Swiss Valley Farms representative, Ken Ley.
"My field rep suggested I apply, and I filled out the application in November," Calvert said. "[Ken] helped me fill out the application."
In an interview with Swiss Valley Farms, Ley said he made the suggestion due to Calvert's consistency.
"If his SCC ever gets up to 90,000, Kyle thinks, 'Oops. Somebody's got something,'" Ley said.
Calvert said he is able to keep his SCC low because of his attention in the parlor. As he and his dad complete all the milkings, they recognize problems quickly and easily.
"It's just me and Dad here; sometimes my brother will come in for a milking if neither of us will be around, but it's just family," Calvert said. "We know the cows and can tell right away when something isn't right."
Visual detection during milking and careful monitoring in the freestall barn has helped Calvert keep his SCC consistently low. Identifying cows with hard quarters or seeing their interactions change between milkings are ways Calvert said he has been able to do so. Cows identified with mastitis are treated with Spectramast once per day for three to five days, depending on severity.
Keeping the cows comfortable and clean are also key. Sand bedding is replaced every 10 days, pens are scraped once per day and waterers are cleaned twice per week. To keep the SCC from rising in the hot summer months, Calvert said he tries to keep the barn as comfortable as possible.
"When it warms up, bacteria just grow faster. I have fans over the stalls and feed bunk, as well as curtains on the walls," Calvert said. "Even in the summer months, I keep somatic cell counts under 100,000."
Calvert said he owes a big thank you to his parents for their support in his first three years of farming. Without them, he said he could not have reached this achievement.
"It is a nice pat on the back," Calvert said. "I'm young and small; most people don't know this farm even exists, so this was a huge honor."
Calvert has plans to build a dry cow barn in the coming year and to buy the farm from his parents in the long-run. For now, Calvert is relishing in his recent accomplishment as a symbol of the last three years.
"In these first three years, I saw all the bad; a lot of times I wanted to give up, but it was all worth it," Calvert said. "It really is an indescribable feeling."