September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Evolution not revolution
This idea of evolution, not revolution, applies to our farm as well. When my parents started farming in 1979, the milking barn held about thirty stalls. By 1987 they built on the new part to gain more stall space, with a calving pen. This is the barn I can remember milking in; 69 stalls, every cow had their spot, and when the barn was full we would switch 12 in and out on the stanchion (versus tie stall) side. Time went on and we decided more cows was the way to go. As a way to utilize our space in buildings we already had, a step-up parlor was built on the far end of the newest part of the stall barn. Twelve stalls, a holding area, and a milkhouse took the place of tie stalls. The oldest part of the barn became my domain - the hospital area, with its twelve headlocks, separate milking system, and calving pens. When we expanded to milk even more cows, we made the parlor work until we were able to build a brand-new parlor up above the old barn in 2008. The original parlor had worn itself out and the entire barn sat empty for a few years, housing nothing but chickens and ducks. Then it transformed to fill a new need on our dairy; group pens for weaned calves. The cement that had been poured years earlier came out, calf-sized headlocks were installed in places, gates were hung. Now our old barn is home to Stacy's weaned calves in five separate pens. It has its ventilation issues, but we have made it evolve to what it is today.
Looking at old farm photos, I noticed a fair amount of calf hutches on the hill outside our old barn. I can also remember tying calves in the barn alley, to hay wagons, and putting them anywhere you could throw a twine around. Then in 1994, along came the calf motel with 18 individual hutches to grow our offspring in. When we milked more cows there would be times when a motel stall may be doubled up, and we were definitely still utilizing the hutches. Often times there would be hutches on the hillside, next to a shed, wherever they would fit. Then we invested in a heifer grower for a few years; they would come and pick up our heifer calves as soon as possible after birth, so the calf motel became home to the future steers of our farm. When we began milking the fresh and hospital cows in the transition barn the motel found itself housing chickens, pheasants, and quail in some modified hutches. Then the remaining fifteen hutches became a place for overflow of calves when all of the hutches up above were maxed out. Nowadays, it has been converted to two group pens for weaned heifers, with a calf pen sized spot in between the two to house grain and hay. The ventilation problems that occurred when the plywood was up to be hutch dividers no long exists with the calf panel sides and open air. It is a beautiful use of a building we had that was not living up to its full potential. I still have three hutches for my chicken area, and the chickens and the calves think it is a pretty sweet arrangement.
When I was young, I don't know if we ever sold a bull calf. We have an old barn over the hill from the farm in a place still known to this day as the steer valley. I believe that as soon as they were about five-six months old they would go down there to live and we would have to go feed them daily. In 1999, we invested in building an enclosed steer pen near the barn, with a feeding rail and superhutches for cover and protection. For 15 years, that pen has held steers, eating up the main herd's leftovers, and eventually going to someone's freezer. Until now, steers were the best use of that pen, then we decided to change heifer growers and we needed to hold our replacements for a couple more months before they could leave. The steers took a one-way trip to Green Bay, and within days Stacy's spunky girls moved in to their new home. It seems so strange to walk past the steer lot and not see those massive burger laden beasts in it, instead replaced with their perhaps more productive counterparts. We had to evolve, to change how we did things to adapt to our current situation.
As farmers, we are continually evolving to meet the needs of our animals, employees, and consumers. The things we do aren't generally revolutionary; the farmers before us had to deal with similar situations. As we work to evolve our business to stay on track with the times, there may be challenges along the way. Just like with my sewing, we may have to rip out some stitches and try things a different way every now and again.
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