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

An abundance of bulls

Heinrichses raise 850 each year
These 86 hutches were put up this past year on the Heinrichses’ site. Bull calves are brought to the hutches at three days of age and are kept there until they are three weeks old. From there, they are moved to the automated calf feeder barn.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
These 86 hutches were put up this past year on the Heinrichses’ site. Bull calves are brought to the hutches at three days of age and are kept there until they are three weeks old. From there, they are moved to the automated calf feeder barn.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN

By by Missy Mussman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HUTCHINSON, Minn. - For Justin Heinrichs, working in the dairy industry doesn't involve milking cows anymore but rather raising dairy bull calves.
"I grew up with my dad raising bull calves," Justin said. "I always enjoyed working with them."
Justin, 22, is currently raising 350 bull calves with his wife, Heather, in Meeker County near Hutchinson, Minn. On average, the Heinrichses raise around 850 bull calves each year.
Although Justin is currently focusing on raising bull calves, he also used to milk cows for a dairy farmer near Litchfield, Minn.
"One of the dairy farmers my dad bought bull calves from needed some help, so I started working there in the evenings and on weekends during seventh grade, helping milk cows and feeding their calves," Justin said. "At the same time, I was still helping my dad with raising bull calves."
After graduating high school in 2011, Justin began working full-time on the 240-cow dairy farm and also took over raising the 120 bull calves from his parents, Dale and Nancy.
"I wanted to take over the baby calves," Justin said. "But I also wanted to raise more calves."
Justin finally got the opportunity to expand two years later after he and Heather were married. In addition to continuing to raise bull calves on his parents' farm, they purchased their own place with a hog barn and a hay shed two miles from his parents.
Justin and Heather gutted the old hog barn and put in a bunk to feed the weaned calves and remodeled the hay shed by pouring cement and putting in an automated calf feeder.
"I started looking at the automated calf feeders and showed them to Justin," Heather said. "We found some ID Tech feeders, which weren't that expensive."
Soon after, Justin and Heather decided to install the automated calf feeder.
"We were able to cut down on the amount of physical labor," Justin said.
A year later in 2014, the Heinrichses added 86 hutches at their farm to make more room for bull calves.
"It's nice to be able to have space to get more calves," Justin said.
After two expansions, Justin was struggling to balance both raising the calves and working for the 240-cow dairy farm.
"It got to be too much," Justin said.
So, this past spring, Justin left the dairy farm to focus on his own venture.
The bull calves are purchased from 10 different dairy farms in the area, some of which his father used to buy from, and are purchased at three days of age.
"We want to make sure they get their colostrum in them," Justin said.
The calves are taken to either his parents' farm, which holds 150 calves, or his farm, which can hold about 200.
"It works for us right now," Justin said.
On his parents' farm, the calves are put into individual hutches and stay in them until they are weaned.
However, on Justin's farm, the calves are put in their individual hutches for three weeks before being moved to the automatic calf feeder.
"It takes a while for the calves to get used to the feeder," Heather said. "By having them wait three weeks, they take off better and do really well."
Once the calves reach the feeder, they are able to eat 15 times each day for three weeks. Then, they lose one feeding per day until they are weaned.
That gradual decrease in feedings has been beneficial to the calves.
"The calves on the automated feeder take weaning better than the calves in the individual hutches for that reason," Heather said.
After weaning, the calves are kept in the same pen for two more weeks before moving to the weaned barn into groups of equal size and age.
"We don't want to put too much stress on them," Justin said.
For the first week or two in the weaned barn, they are fed a complete pellet starter they were given while on the automated feeder. Then, they switch them over to a shelled corn and pellet mixture for the next eight weeks.
Once the bull calves reach 350 to 400 pounds at about 16 weeks of age, Justin and Heather look for buyers for them.
"They sell pretty quick," Justin said.
Although things are going smoothly, Justin has dealt with challenges along the way.
Since they aren't milking cows, the Heinrichses rely on milk replacer to feed their bull calves.
"I buy 80 bags of milk replacer every three weeks," Justin said. "It isn't cheap to do that."
They've also recently seen bull calf prices jump to $500.
"That is a lot higher than it was a while ago," Justin said. "I was paying close to $200 on average with our lowest prices being between $100 and $120."
The cost to buy and raise his bull calves has been the only obstacle.
"We've been struggling with ventilation in the old hog barn and hay shed at our new place," Justin said. "It's hard to do with a low-roofed barns."
But they are still optimistic about their future.
"We are planning to upgrade stuff on the farm in the next five years," Justin said.
Some of those upgrades will include adding onto the weaned barn and improving the ventilation system in the old hog barn.
They also hope to be able to have all the bull calves on their farm.
"Until we can afford to build a new shed, we will keep our bull calves at Dad's," Justin said. "That will save driving back and forth between the farms to have everything here."
But in the mean time, Justin and Heather are enjoying what they do.
"It's nice to hear people say we have great calves," Heather said.
Justin agreed.
"It's rewarding to hear that," he said. "It makes us feel like we are doing a good job."
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