September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"I'm sure I drove my uncles nuts with all the questions I asked when I was little," said Raymond, whose parents didn't farm, but grew up with other dairy opportunities.
Despite what his uncle's thought, Raymond is glad he kept asking questions of his uncles who ran dairies. The answers now help him in his career as a dairy farmer. Raymond milks 100 cows on his farm in St. Croix County near New Richmond, Wis. He and his wife, Jessica, have four children: Austin (13), Dylan (8), Kaylee (4) and Abigail (1).
"I wanted to be a dairy farmer for as long as I can remember," Raymond said.
Until second grade, Raymond lived on a dairy farm where his parents rented the house. His dad, Dwayne, would help with chores after working his day-time factory job. Raymond would help after school.
Along with living on a farm and having dairy farming uncles, Raymond had other ties to the dairy industry. His grandpa was a herdsman, working for other dairy farmers, but never owning his own farm.
"Every break I got I went to one of my uncles' farms. I worked many summers there," he said.
His uncles allowed him also to show a few of their animals in 4-H, and in eighth grade, Raymond bought his first three heifers.
When Raymond was a sophomore in high school, he started working for Fred Ball, a neighbor who milked cows in a 35-cow stanchion barn. For the next three years, he gained valuable knowledge of how to work a dairy farm.
"Fred must have seen my interest and let me make decisions," Raymond said.
By his junior year in high school, Raymond was picking out bull matings for the cows, treating sick animals and helping make herd health decisions.
"He [Ball] really let my interest in cows take off. He basically started my engine for dairying, which sparked me to be even more involved," Raymond said. "I was really into it. He helped make dairy farming more than a job."
After graduating, Raymond attended the University of Wisconsin Farm and Industry Short Course with plans to later work full-time for a dairy farming neighbor and eventually become a partner. When that plan didn't work, Raymond went back to Ball, who was nearing retirement at age 65.
"He was more than happy to have me back. We worked it out right away that I would buy his cows and take over the milking," said Raymond, who started working with Ball in 1994.
Ball couldn't afford the $18,000 salary Raymond was looking for, so they worked out a plan of paying Raymond a salary of $10,000 and giving him all the heifer calves that they were born for the next two years.
By June, 1996, Raymond had 35 animals with some of them getting ready to calve. Raymond bought out the rest of Ball's herd at $1,050 each and took over. He started renting the barn and bought feed from Ball.
That fall, milk rose to about $18 per hundredweight and corn went up to over $5 per bushel. Raymond bought all his corn from Ball for $4.50 per bushel.
The next spring, Raymond needed to move. Ball's barn only had 38 stanchions, which made milking a lengthy process with switching. He found his current farmsite, which had an 87-cow tiestall barn and had been sitting empty for several years. After talking with owner, Milton "Bump" Peterson, Raymond started renting the barn for $10 per stall and paying for the electricity. He also rented the house and started renting land for $60 per acre.
"I borrowed money from Dad. He helped me buy tractors, basic tillage stuff, a blower and a chopper box," Raymond said.
Ball still sold Raymond alfalfa and helped with the hay harvest until Raymond could be more established with his feed supply.
By 1999, Raymond was ready to buy the farm, which he purchased Jan. 1 with the help of his parents.
"Dad would help me in the evenings after work for the first year and a half," Raymond said. "He wanted to get out of the factory and do something different."
Along the way, Raymond would rent or buy any land he could.
"I like driving tractor and driving equipment just as much as managing cows. I can't imagine not having land and I wouldn't be able to hire out my field work, either. I like both," Raymond said.
Right before buying the farm, Raymond bought a TMR mixer. During his first year, he installed mattresses for better cow comfort and in his second year put in tunnel ventilation.
"I should have done that sooner," Raymond said about the fans.
In Dec. 1999, after milking one year on his own farm, Raymond saw how volatile the milk price swings could be with base milk price at $8.96. Knowing he needed more to survive, Raymond contracted milk, locking in a portion of his production for $10.35.
"We needed $12, but I had to do something," Raymond said.
In addition to hedging, Raymond also started milking three times a day over the winter.
"It got to be too much," Raymond said when spring field work came.
They only went back to three-time-a-day milking one other time - the winter of 2001.
Milk prices eventually rose to a decent price when Raymond was challenged with another hurdle. His herd consistently had a somatic cell count around 300,000. He wanted to improve that. After experimenting with many different milking equipment changes, Raymond found the fix - using silicone inflations without automatic takeoffs and low vacuum at 14.2. Since 2006, the herd's SCC has never averaged over 100,000 and this year averaged 60,000.
Two of Raymond's biggest goals are maintaining a low somatic cell count for high quality milk and breeding better registered Holsteins that will score Excellent when classifying.
Raymond has already achieved the SCC goal and is on his way toward his other goal. In his most recent classification, one of Raymond's cows, Sondad Daytona 446, scored Excellent-90 as a 5-year-old.
Ever since Raymond started choosing cow mating for Ball's herd in high school, he has always first looked at type.
"I want tall, deep strong cows with good feet and legs, and a good udder," he said. "I use many bulls considered well above average for type."
But Raymond also factors in milk, too. Even though he doesn't put as much emphasis on the trait, he rarely uses any bulls that are negative for milk. Some of the bulls he has liked for his herd have been Blitz, Man-O-Man, Durham, Durham sons, Goldwyn and Shottle.
For a successful lactation, Raymond likes to have a 14-month calving interval and rarely breeds a cow before 90 days in milk.
"[If bred before 90 days] half of them won't settle anyway and if they do settle early, I have a hard time getting them dry because they're milking a lot," Raymond said. "I like them to have a 365-day record."
For the short term, Raymond plans to remodel the rest of the stalls in the barn that haven't been updated. They will get mattresses and be widened.
Looking out many years, Raymond hopes one of his children will be interested in farming. Whether they do or not, Raymond will enjoy his time farming.
"I like being my own boss," Raymond said about dairy farming. "If you do it right, you'll get out of it what you put into it."[[In-content Ad]]
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