May 31, 2022 at 2:59 p.m.
CALEDONIA, Minn. − Aaron Houdek knows the names of former distinguished breeder award recipients. To think his family’s name would be among those was an aspiration.
“You look at the names of the people. It’s a lot of people who we want to model our breeding practices around and a lot of our close friends too,” Aaron said. “To be nominated was cool and to win was impressive. It shows that what we’re doing as far as our breeding philosophies are paying off.”
Aaron is the son of Wayne and Kris Houdek.
The Houdeks were unable to attend, so their son, Eric, accepted their 2021 Minnesota Purebred Dairy Cattle Association Distinguished Breeder Award at the Minnesota PDCA’s luncheon during the Minnesota All-Breeds Convention March 11 in Willmar.
“We were pretty humbled; it’s quite an honor,” Wayne said.
Wayne and Kris are the first generation on their farm. Together, they milk 450 cows and run 1,100 acres with their sons, Aaron and Andy, and eight part- and full-time employees in Houston County near Caledonia. Eric works for a reproductive services company and is a genetic consultant for the farm. Their oldest son, Jacob, does construction in Wisconsin.
The farm was started April 1, 1992, with 42 grade cows. In 2000, the Houdeks introduced registered cattle to the herd.
“Eric was a big push for why we went registered. He always loved registered cattle,” Wayne said. “It also made (farming) more worth it (for us) to see the cows, the pedigrees and classification numbers.”
“We were already doing the work so it kind of made sense,” he said.
Today the farm is also involved with genomics and embryo transfer and is in a partnership called Four-Cal Genetics with three other local dairymen: John Diersen, Matt Hendel and Josh Vatland.
“With having three other dairymen, you can split your risk and capture a higher dollar to animal with less investment into it,” Aaron said. “It works really well and has helped progress our genetics and genomics.”
The Houdeks’ breeding philosophy aims for moderate sized, efficient cows with high fat and protein content, health traits and sound type. Bulls the Houdeks are currently using include Hayk, Frost Bite, George Miller, Elver-P and Varsity. Some of their favorite heifers and cows are sired by Conway, Top Dog, Renegade, Lionel, Billy, House and Big Dollars.
“We switched our breeding philosophy and look more at the genomic side of things,” Aaron said. “I appreciate both type and genomic bulls. I like looking at a good show cow, but I really like going in the barn too and seeing these small, efficient 2-year-olds.”
More recently, they have enjoyed some of their 2-year-old genomic cows. One in particular is showing potential in the herd; Wake-Up Billy Siri, who will have a son, 14HO16259 SPY, released at Select Sires later this year.
“She’s a high producer with high numbers so it’s really nice to see that line up, and she looks good doing it too,” Andy said. “It’s a great foundation for the future, especially with those top end heifers.”
“I always tell the boys the heifers have to be fresh about 6 months before you know what you got,” he said. “They also grow a lot after that too. A lot can change from a 2-year-old to a 3-year-old cow.”
If cows are low in production, high in somatic cell count, low in fat and protein, old or hard breeding cows, they are bred to beef. About 20% of the herd is bred this way.
They also breed 25% of their herd with embryos and sell about 20 cows a year to other dairymen.
“If a cow is in heat on the wrong day and she’s still a good cow, she is going to get an embryo,” Aaron said. “When you put those embryos in fresh, they are going to stick a lot better than they would frozen.”
The Houdeks genetic strategies are mainly focused on their production cows. However, they do breed about 5% of the herd for type where they look for balanced type, positive milk and sire stacks. They enjoyed exhibiting these cattle at local shows when the boys were juniors and now lease them to family.
Some of their favorite show cows have been Aftershock Raine, Morty Boston and Dundee Dory.
“Eric wanted this registered heifer that came into the Rochester show when we were first getting registered cattle. I liked this other one,” Wayne said. “It turned out she was the better heifer of the two.”
Aftershock Raine EX-94 is the daughter of the cow purchased in Rochester. Raine went on to win her class at the Minnesota State Fair open show in 2018.
Over the years, they have updated to improve cow comfort and converted their main freestall barn into a tunnel-ventilated barn in the fall of 2021.
“One of Dad’s favorite sayings is that if you take care of the cows, they are going to take care of us,” Aaron said. “The whole environment of the cow is huge.”
“We were the first herd in Houston County to go over 25,000 pounds years ago,” he said. “I remember when we went over 600 pounds butterfat, we thought that was a big step years ago.”
Outside of the farm, Wayne is president of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association board in Houston County, and Kris is president of the Houston County American Dairy Association. The family is also a part of the Houston County Holstein Club, where Wayne is the director.
Andy is a member on the board of directors at Northeastern Iowa Community College for their dairy foundation program and is on the operations committee for the farm in Calmar, Iowa.
Aaron is the dairy judging coach for the county’s 4-H program, and Eric helps coach the University of Minnesota judging team and judges county and state fair shows.
In the future, Aaron and Andy plan to take over the farm.
“If it wouldn’t be for the boys, we wouldn’t be where we are at,” Kris said.
“We worked at other dairies in college and when we came home, we learned that we really appreciate what we came home to,” he said.
For the Houdeks, their breeding philosophy is part of what they value on their farm, the consistent strategies and good genetics. It is also one they encourage other dairy farmers to consider as they strive to meet their own breeding goals.
“It’s tough to pick out bulls, but ask for help. Ask for resources,” Aaron said. “Get a different set of eyes. We’re looking at these cows every day, and someone else might see something that we don’t see.”
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