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

Finding a new home

Otten family settles in Wisconsin from Holland
Menno Otten stands next to a key addition to  Calla Ville Dairy, an automatic calf feeding system. Calves are fitted with collars and computer chips that are programmed to determine how much milk they are fed each day. The system plays an important role early on in herd health on the farm near Neillsville, Wis. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY BOB KLIEBENSTEIN
Menno Otten stands next to a key addition to Calla Ville Dairy, an automatic calf feeding system. Calves are fitted with collars and computer chips that are programmed to determine how much milk they are fed each day. The system plays an important role early on in herd health on the farm near Neillsville, Wis. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY BOB KLIEBENSTEIN

By by Bob Kliebenstein- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

NEILLSVILLE, Wis. - For Menno and Kolinda Otten, the decision to relocate from northeast Holland to west central Wisconsin to milk cows was based on two key numbers, 17 million versus 5.7 million.
The first is Holland's population, a nation nearly five times smaller in square acres than Wisconsin. In comparison, Wisconsin is home to approximately 5.7 million people and a much more favorable dairy climate, they both add.
"We moved due to crowded conditions," Menno said. "It was hard to find places to spread manure and very expensive to buy land. The rules from the government change quite a bit so it was hard to make future plans."
The Dutch quota system for producers made future planning murky, Menno said, adding the quota system will be gone in 2015.
"The money we spent on a quota will have no value anymore," Menno said. "In 2007 we could make money to sell the quota."
Both say Wisconsin offers a positive climate for dairy producers and agriculture overall.
"Here, you are proud to be a farmer. It is not like that in Holland," said Kolinda.
After extensive homework and a careful search for available dairy farms, the Otten family, daughter, Alysja, 16, and son, Ruard, 14, relocated to Clark County in 2007. The couple considered dairying in the southern United States, but Menno said, too many other variables limited their search to the Midwest. This past July marked the sixth year Calla Ville Dairy has been in operation.
In Holland, their farm was called Calla Palustris Dairy. A photo of Calla Palustris still hangs in their house. Menno said Calla Palustris is a Latin name for a native flower in Holland. After moving, the Ottens decided to drop Palustris and add Ville from Neillsville. Kolinda's niece designed the farm's logo printed on business cards, she said.
The Ottens milked 100 cows on a 150-acre farm in Holland with Menno's parents. Menno said he received valuable guidance from his father, Jaap, who passed away in 2011, during their farm search.
Calla Ville Dairy was purchased from another Dutch producer from Texas. Kolinda said they liked the fact the farm was dairy ready with a double-12 herringbone parlor and freestall buildings in place. Menno said the process moved quickly once wheels were set in motion after the couple secured 40 percent of needed equity to purchase.
The farm originally consisted of 220 acres, but has grown to 340 acres since 2007. They are seeking additional cropland to feed a total of 1,500 head of cattle, which includes a milking herd of 850 Holsteins, housed in two freestall barns. In 2014, a new building for dry cows will be added. They are currently housed in the old stanchion barn.
Manure is stored in two lagoons and a third is under construction. When complete, there will be storage for 10 million gallons. Menno said there is ample land around Calla Ville to spread manure.
They have enough acreage for 25 percent of their feed. They contract for the remainder. Increasing feed costs drive their search for more cropland.
"Nobody could have dreamed what feed costs would be," Menno said. "It's a nightmare."
The couple raises heifers and sells bull calves. After one nasty Wisconsin winter of feeding heifer calves in fiberglass huts, the Ottens sought another option for that facet of the operation.
An existing structure was modified and outfitted with a computerized automatic calf feeder, one of the first in the area. Calves are kept in huts for one week before being moved into the general calf population. Once in the building, calves are given neck collars with computer chips. Chips are programmed to feed a certain amount of milk each day. The milk is waste from the herd. Calves are fed eight liters per day of pasteurized milk for 56 days.
The farm has 11 employees. The Ottens cite valuable assistance provided by herdsman Floyd Schoen, who worked for the previous owner of the farm. Menno said employee management was a challenge when they first started, but has gotten easier over time.
"Floyd was a lot of help," Kolinda said.
An independent dairy nutritionist works with the Ottens to maximize production and components. The somatic cell count is 200,000. The herd average is 85 pounds per cow with 3.7 percent butterfat and 3.1 percent protein.
Menno said their family was welcomed to Neillsville when they arrived. Their children attend Neillsville High School and are active members of Christie Mounders 4-H Club, showing livestock at the Clark County Fair. Menno said Holland does not have fairs due to a fear of disease by co-mingling animals together at one site.
Kolinda concedes she was initially apprehensive because the Neillsville school was bigger than the school their children attended in Holland. That apprehension was quickly quelled. They have a network of Dutch and local producers in Wisconsin they talk with, Menno said. Prior to their farm search, the Ottens had never been to the United States. They discovered the distance between neighbors was not as far as first thought.
The Ottens branched out from dairy cattle over the years. They have several goats and eight alpacas that graze together between the free-stall barns. Two baby alpacas were born Sept. 1. They are joined by two donkeys. Menno said the livestock menagerie provides relaxation for the family, but adds Ruard is taking an interest in dairy goats.
Kolinda said Wisconsin winters took some getting used to. Holland's climate is comparable to Washington state. It gets cold, but not Wisconsin cold. Menno said Wisconsin dairy herds are fed more grain; Holland producers feed more forage.
"There is more emphasis on (milk) components in Holland," he said. "But we know its gaining importance here."
Calla Ville Dairy is nearly complete in a transformation from sawdust to sand bedding for cow comfort. A nearby frac sand operation provides a by-product that resembles beach sand. Its proximity limits shipping costs. The sand helped lower the cell count and boost production. A large truck scale was installed at Calla Ville in 2009 to keep an accurate account of feed and sand hauled on site, Menno added.
Kolinda said technology makes it easy to communicate with friends and family in Holland. They return once a year and have family that visits from Holland. Menno said they want to focus on seeing more of the United States. That started with a vacation to Las Vegas, Nev. Their impression of the city that never sleeps?
"It was crazy," Kolinda said.
The Ottens are committed to promoting Wisconsin's dairy industry. In 2009 they accepted a request to host the Clark County Dairy Breakfast.
"It was a neat thing to do," Menno said. "It's important that consumers know about agriculture. It is surprising to see how many people don't know anything about farming."
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