The Vander Waal family is putting the finishing touches on this new 32- by-364-foot calf barn. This new barn will enable the Vander Waals to begin raising their newborn heifer calves themselves.
The Vander Waal family is putting the finishing touches on this new 32- by-364-foot calf barn. This new barn will enable the Vander Waals to begin raising their newborn heifer calves themselves. PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON

    HULL, Iowa – It is the nature of most businesses to grow and evolve. This is especially true of the 1,200-cow dairy farm operated by James Vander Waal and his family near Hull.
    “My father, Aart, moved around quite a bit before he settled here on this farm,” Vander Waal said.
    Vander Waal is one of 14 children born to Aart and Elizabeth Vander Waal.

    “Dad milked cows on this farm until 1985 when he decided to get out of the dairy business,” Vander Waal said. “Some of my brothers and I wanted to dairy farm, so in 1998 Dad decided to help us build a new dairy facility.”
    At the core of this new facility was a 40-cow rotary parlor.
    “Rotary parlors were still somewhat rare back then,” Vander Waal said. “Westfalia-Surge flew my brother Abe to Australia so that he could see a rotary parlor in operation.”
    The Vander Waal family began construction on their new dairy facility in early 1998. Sadly, Aart would succumb to cancer before the year was out.
    “Dad helped us plan things and got the ball rolling,” Vander Waal said. “He was receiving treatment for his cancer, but his condition continued to deteriorate. We milked our first cows in the middle of October, and he passed away Nov. 18. Dad gave us a start, but we boys had to figure things out. Abe was still living here at the time, and I was just out of high school.”
    The Vander Waal family began with a herd of 400 cows. They have added facilities in phases and gradually expanded their herd to its current size. The 700 acres they farm are planted to silage corn.
    “My brother John and I bought out Abe in 2003,” Vander Waal said. “A couple of years ago, John decided to go out on his own, so he and his family built a new robotic milking facility on an acreage south of Sioux Center. My brother Hank and I are currently 50/ 50 owners of this dairy farm.”
    After 22 years of continuous operation, the venerable rotary parlor is still going strong.
    “We just replaced the parlor’s carriage wheels for the first time this past summer,” Vander Waal said. “We have upgraded the pulsator and takeoff system three times over the years. The new system that we put in two years ago uses Wi-Fi instead of wires. This eliminates a lot of physical connections, plus it enables us to check on milking parlor performance with a smartphone.”
    It takes three employees to operate the milking parlor plus one employee to push cows. The twice-a-day milkings take six hours.
    “We had been milking three times until a little over a year ago, but milk prices were low, and I got tired of the rat race,” Vander Waal said. “Our milk production is now on the upswing, so we are thinking about going back to three times milkings.”
    Reusable cloth towels are used to dry the cows’ udders. Vander Waal is considering adding a Future Cow teat prep system as a way to make his parlor more efficient.
    “The Future Cow would eliminate the cloth towels and all the time that it takes to wash and dry them,” Vander Waal said. “It would also make it easier for our employees to be more consistent with udder prep procedures. I think that this parlor will continue to serve us for the foreseeable future. You can keep an old facility going for a long time before you can justify the cost of building a new one.”
    The Vander Waals bed their cows with recycled manure solids. They are considering switching to sand bedding as a way to give their cows better traction and bring down their herd’s SCC.
    The Vander Waal family is working on expanding and improving their operation in areas outside the milking barn.
    “We currently send our newborn heifer calves to a calf grower,” Vander Waal said. “We get them back after they are weaned, at about 6 weeks of age. My wife and I have a lot of help coming up, so we decided to start raising the baby calves ourselves.”
    Vander Waal and his wife, Deanna, have seven children: Elaina, 13, Aart, 12, Ross, 11, Kayleen, 9, Lydia, 7, Arlan, 5, and Thomas, 3.
    The Vander Waals have started construction on a 21-by-30-foot room that will house a pasteurizer. The pasteurizer room, which will feature a pair of drive-thru doors, is adjacent to the milk room.
    “We have a certain amount of waste milk that we are now throwing away, so pasteurizing it and feeding it to our calves will enable us to make better use of it,” Vander Waal said. “We will draw milk from the bulk tank to supply most of the milk for our calves. My understanding is that baby calves perform best when they are fed whole milk.”
    The Vander Waals are also putting the finishing touches on a new 32-by-364 calf barn. This new calf facility will have room for 130 individual calf pens.
    “We looked at a lot of calf barns before we settled on this design,” Vander Waal said. “In the end, we decided to build something similar to the baby calf facility that’s being used on Maassen Dairy, located near Maurice, Iowa.”
    Serviceable age heifers on the Vander Waal farm are bred twice with sexed Holstein semen. If a heifer does not settle after two services, she is switched to Angus semen. The Vander Waals’ top cows are bred with sexed semen, while the rest of the milk herd is bred with Angus semen. All bull calves and crossbred calves are sold at birth.
    “If this new calf barn works out, we hope to build another one just like it for our crossbred calves and start feeding them out,” Vander Waal said. “We just want to give our kids the same type of opportunities that Dad gave us.”