February 26, 2022 at 1:44 a.m.

Organic at last

Transition impacts feed, animal health for Halama family
Jim, Nick and Cassie Halama stand in their barn Feb. 7 at their farm near Independence, Wisconsin. The Halamas milk 160 cows on their organic dairy. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
Jim, Nick and Cassie Halama stand in their barn Feb. 7 at their farm near Independence, Wisconsin. The Halamas milk 160 cows on their organic dairy. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

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

INDEPENDENCE, Wis. – After 20 years of using organic practices on his farm, Jim Halama took the leap to become certified in 2019.
Halama, who farms with his wife, Cassie, and son, Nick, said things are looking good so far.
“What’s kind of puzzling to us is we had so many good things happening to us this year,” Halama said. “Whether it was the year or what we did, we just don’t know.”
Halama milks 160 cows near Independence.
He started using organic practices when he started having health problems; the diagnosis caused him to pursue a more natural way of farming.
“When the sprays came out, I was a sophomore in high school,” Halama said. “Atrazine was supposed to take care of everything. Everybody thought that was a wonder. I sprayed the barn, and I sprayed all the fields. And I ended up with health problems at 33 years old.”
When he could not get a straight answer from doctors as to where the health conditions came from, Halama took part in organic discussions in his area.
“I heard about these people who were doing organic,” Halama said. “I started reading about it and going to meetings about it. They were talking about the problems we were having with cows. I kept following it for about 20 years before we went organic.”
Besides battling his own health problems, Halama was also having trouble raising good alfalfa on the farm. He said his soil samples were indicating the fields were excessively high in potash, and yet he was being advised to apply more potash to stimulate the calcium.
“I went to this organic meeting, and they were talking about calcium being the trucker of all nutrients,” Halama said. “We started using Organical, and we started seeing better results with the hay.”
Halama was putting up hay with 22% protein content, but the cows were not responding. When he started applying the calcium product, he noticed the protein value remained comparable, but the cows responded with more milk production and better health.
Once the Halamas started their transition to organic, they stopped using the calcium product due to a financial restraint, a change that was evident in the feed quality.
“When we started the transition, we didn’t have any money to work with,” Halama said. “It just seemed like things weren’t going too good. Now the last couple years, we put five semi loads of (the product) on our lands, and we are growing good alfalfa again.”
Halama said he is seeing less weed pressure and better performance in the hay fields and corn fields alike with the continuation of the organic calcium products.
The Halamas mix clover, alfalfa and high energy grasses to obtain forage for their cows.
“It seems like the clover really gives the hay a good smell,” Halama said. “You would think with the grasses in there, it would lower the protein level but it doesn’t seem to.”
Halama follows suggested organic practices of rotating the crops in a field every two years, a recommendation that Halama said is working well. The biggest problem he has seen is giant ragweed which Halama combats with a flamer – a giant blow torch on a cultivator frame.
“A flamer is like any other tool; it’s a timely thing,” Halama said. “We have to get in there when the ragweeds are about 3 inches or lower.”
Halama said the corn looks like it suffers from the flamer at first but always bounces back as long as the management tool is applied at the right time. The farm has yielded some of its best corn since transitioning to organic with a couple of fields running 200 bushels to the acre last year.
Halama said one of the biggest changes they had to make in order to become certified was to pasture the milk cows over the summer months. All of the youngstock already had access to pasture when the weather allowed. Pasturing the milk cows led to some eye problems in the cattle initially.
“When we pasture cattle, flies in the eyes are probably the biggest problem,” Halama said. “We are using kelp and free-choice garlic salt blocks in the pasture.”
Halama said he has been pleased at how well the farm has transitioned to organic with better crops and healthier cows.
He plans to continue to farm organically with his son and wife by his side.
“I guess moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see what happens,” Halama said.


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