October 25, 2021 at 7:41 p.m.

Not looking back

Flock transitioned to organic improved soil health
Phil Flock (left) is teaching his son, Noah, the ins and outs of organic dairying so that Noah can continue when Phil is ready to retire.  PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
Phil Flock (left) is teaching his son, Noah, the ins and outs of organic dairying so that Noah can continue when Phil is ready to retire. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

CASHTON, Wis. – Phil Flock’s farm has been in the family for about 135 years. Flock bought the farm from his parents in 1993 and was certified organic in 2002.
Flock was born and raised on the farm. As the only boy in his family that wanted to farm, he had to wait for the right time. When he was old enough to take over, there were still five kids at home, so he got a job in construction for a couple years, always knowing he would return.
In the meantime, Phil and Sue were married and living on Sue’s family farm. Sue’s family had sold their cows and left to travel the world in the “Disney on Ice” show. Phil and Sue lived on the farm and took care of the Guernsey heifers that were left.
When the Guernseys started freshening, Flock’s in-laws told them to sell the animals. Buyers were hard to find, and instead of under-selling the heifers, Phil and Sue opted to milk them.
“I wanted to farm, and we had the barn sitting there,” Flock said.
Flock still owned seven cows at his home farm and had around 20 Guernsey heifers to freshen. They built the herd up and moved back to the home farm when they bought it from his parents in 1993. They farmed conventionally in the beginning.
“We were on official test and pushing cows to the max, just trying to survive,” Flock said.
Flock started to think about organic farming when his neighbor was researching it and attending regular meetings on the topic. He also recalled an experience from his childhood.
“One memory that sticks in my head was when I was between 12 and 15 years old. My Dad had around 30 acres of corn that he had the neighbor come spray for him. The neighbor sprayed one day, and it rained that whole night,” Flock said. “The next day, I went into that field and there were nightcrawlers all over on the ground, dead. That made me wonder if the spray is killing them, what’s it doing to the ground?”
Flock started to transition the ground to organic at first. By the late 1990s, he was not spraying the fields anymore.
“I could have been organic quicker, but I was afraid to go organic with the cows. I didn’t know if I could do it without the mastitis treatments and the hormones to get the cows to come into heat,” Flock said.
Flock’s herd became certified in 2002.
“The day we went organic, we milked cows for $9 per hundredweight in the morning and $19.34 per hundredweight that night,” Flock said. “We’ve never had anything lower than that since.”
Flock said the cows transitioned easier than he had originally feared. A lot of cow management was learned by trial and error, and many things he learned through meetings with other organic producers. He has learned that what works for some guys does not always work for others.
On the rare occurrence that a cow gets mastitis, Flock treats them for three days with Aspire and garlic. The milk goes in the tank all three days, and the mastitis is gone after the treatment.
If a cow goes off feed, Flock uses a drench that consists of probiotics, aloe, garlic and a ruminator capsule. When a cow does not clean after calving, Flock uses aloe.
One management practice not available to organic producers is the option to short-cycle a cow. Flock uses a product called Nature’s Cycle which will cause cows to show a stronger heat, naturally.
The Flocks do all of their own vet work with the exception of pregnancy checks. The vet comes out every two to three months for herd health.
The herd averages 65 pound per cow per day. Flock only started feeding protein to the cows two years ago. The benefit Flock sees is the cows holding a higher lactation for a longer period of time. The cows are fed TMR and top-dressed with protein mix.
Flock crops over 90 fields; the biggest one is 10 acres. When a field is put into corn, it will never stay in corn more than two years. He believes the ground has better soil health when it is rotated out of corn after two years.
This was proven true when his dad was still farming and had a rented, conventional field of corn that had been in corn for as long as his 70-year-old dad could remember. Flock remembers plowing that field and turning up shreds that had been plowed down the previous year that were not decayed.
“There was no soil life left in the field,” Flock said. “I would plow all day long and never see a nightcrawler or an angle worm or nothing.”
Despite his dad’s doubts, Flock planted hay on that corn ground. It grew hay right away, but the next time it was put into corn about five years later, the corn was astronomically higher than it had ever been before.
To battle weed control, Flock moldboard plows to start with a clean field. Then he discs, culti-mulches and plants.
“Timing is everything. We don’t plant corn until May 20,” Flock said. “The ground has to warm up otherwise the weeds have it before we do.”
About seven days after they plant, they rotary hoe. Then, the Flocks cultivate as soon as they have four leaves. He cultivates again when it’s about knee high with wide blades ,and as fast as he can go.
Flock’s family has been a supportive workforce throughout his entire career. His wife raises the calves and helps with most other chores while also working as a teacher off the farm. Their son, Noah, is one of two boys, and has opted to stay home and farm. Eventually, Noah plans to take over from Phil and Sue, and plans to stay organic.


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