September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

A day in the life at Hidden Hills Dairy

Henry, Ihrke families continue busy fall schedule, prepare for new calf barn on Oct. 17
On the Henry farmsite, Roger and son, Darrell, install a temporary waterer for heifers. (photo by Krista M. Sheehan)
On the Henry farmsite, Roger and son, Darrell, install a temporary waterer for heifers. (photo by Krista M. Sheehan)

By Krista [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

ST. CHARLES, Minn. - The Henry and Ihrke families have been constantly on the go with their busy fall schedules.
Monday, Oct. 17, was no different as the families regrouped from a weekend of harvesting corn and prepared for the week ahead when they would break ground for their new calf barn.
"It has been extremely busy," Jackie Ihrke said.
Hidden Hills Dairy, LLC, which is located near St. Charles, Minn., in Olmsted County, has a total of 365 cows with 330 currently milking. There are four families involved in the operation: Roger and Fran (who works off the farm at Eastwood Bank) Henry are part of the dairy along with their son, Cory Henry. Cory and his wife, Erin, who works off the farm, have a son, Corbin (1). Fran and Roger's daughter, Jackie Ihrke and her husband, Pat, along with their children, Hailey (17), Jenna (13) and Braeden (9), are also involved. The fourth partner is Kevin Ihrke, Pat's brother.
"It works for us - being able to work with families on both sides," Cory said about the most unique aspect of their farm.
Roger, who was milking about 80 cows before the merger, came up with the idea of partnering with the Ihrke family nearly 13 years ago. In 2001, they created Hidden Hills Dairy, LLC.
"It had gotten to be too much work for us. Partnering together gave us each time off we needed. People need to get away from the 24/7 grind," Roger said.
Now each partner gets one weekend off a month. But the dairy's schedule doesn't stop.
Days at Hidden Hills Dairy start at about 4 a.m. with the first of three milking shifts starting at 4:30 a.m. in the double-9 herringbone parlor. The families handle all the morning chores with help from one employee in the parlor. Four other employees are responsible for the other two milking shifts at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Everyone has his or her own responsibilities. Kevin takes care of the TMR ration, which he mixes and feeds to the milking cows, in addition to field work. Three rations are mixed for the cows at Hidden Hills Dairy - one for the high producers and heifers, another for the low producers and the last for the fresh cows. The high/heifer group ration consists of corn, haylage, corn silage, distillers grain, cottonseed, baled hay and a protein mix. Cottonseed and some of the protein mix is taken out for the low group while extra long stemmed hay is added for the fresh cow group.
Cory manages a lot of field work and scrapes the freestall barn every morning. Roger is in charge of feeding the dry cows and heifers, which are housed at his farmsite across the road.
Jackie is in charge of the calves and bookkeeping. At 7 a.m., Jackie was in the house helping Jenna and Braeden get ready for school and catch the bus, which came at 7:20 a.m. Hailey, a senior at St. Charles High School, does not have to be to school until 9 a.m. because she milks the morning shift as part of a work experience. Pat, who is the herdsman and in charge of the parlor, takes over milking for Hailey when she leaves for school in the morning.
When the school bus left, Jackie was out in the barn feeding calves. Within the last week, Hidden Hills Dairy had 15 calves born.
"October is a very full month for calving," Jackie said. "I usually feed bull calves first on Monday because J & R Livestock comes to pick them up."
Jackie is feeding a total of 28 calves. Bull calves are fed whole milk and housed on the main dairy site in an older barn until they are sold at about one week old. Heifer calves are taken to Roger and Fran's farmsite across the road where their old milking facility has turned into a calf pen with an automatic calf feeder.
"It has worked for us since we installed it (in 2007), but we need better ventilation and all the calves in one spot. I'm excited for the new calf barn," Jackie said.
The families spent the previous day cutting down trees and taking down a hog barn to prepare for the ground breaking of the new calf barn the next day. The structure will be 46- by 192-feet with enough space to house up to 75 calves.
"It will relieve stress on the other heifer shed. It's full," Jackie said.
During milking, Pat checked a cow that was supposed to be calving; however, the calf was upside down and backwards. He had to call the vet for help.
"The vets don't like it when Pat calls because then they know something's really wrong," Jackie said.
"My arms are twice as long as the vet's," Pat said.
Despite their efforts, the bull calf was born dead. The cow, however, is healthy.
The afternoon brought a lot of different tasks for everyone. Jackie ran errands in town and had to take a driver's test to drive one of the school vans as a chaperone for the National FFA Convention. Pat dried off cows, moved some around and bred a few cows.
"Monday is always the busiest day of the week for me," he said.
When breeding, the primary focus for cows at Hidden Hills Dairy are feet and legs. Well attached udders and type are also important. A bull must be 0.9 or higher in each of these categories in order to be used at Hidden Hills Dairy.
Kevin moved equipment around for the afternoon while Cory cleaned corn dust from the tractors and did maintenance. They finished combining their corn the day before.
"It went pretty well the last few days but they were pretty late," Cory said about finishing combining at 10:45 on Saturday night and 8:45 on Sunday night.
The families have about 900 acres of corn, alfalfa, sweet corn, peas and soybeans. Cory said they still need to haul corn, haul manure, plow ground and bale corn stalks. A new round baler, which Cory purchased the afternoon of Oct. 17, will make that job easier. They might take a fifth crop off the fields they plan to plow up.
"It depends on the weather," Cory said.
Roger spent time in the afternoon welding the mixer. He also installed a temporary waterer in a heifer dry lot with help from his son, Darrell, who works off the farm.
When Hailey returned home from school, she fed the bull calves she bought for her supervised agricultural experience (SAE) for FFA. She is currently the St. Charles chapter president and is on the Region 8 officer team.
The rest of the night consisted of cleaning up the rest of the space for the calf barn ground breaking and finishing up chores.
"It was a pretty typical day - busy," Cory said.
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