David and Kate Webster and their daughters, Kylie, 8, and Hannah, 4, are part of the Webster family. David works at the Bellingham, Minnesota elevator where he mixes and delivers grain, including the grain mix used on his parents’ calf raising operation.
PHOTO SUBMITTED
David and Kate Webster and their daughters, Kylie, 8, and Hannah, 4, are part of the Webster family. David works at the Bellingham, Minnesota elevator where he mixes and delivers grain, including the grain mix used on his parents’ calf raising operation. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    ORTONVILLE, Minn. – For many dairy farmers, calf care is just another job on an endless list of daily tasks. But for Alan and Jackie Webster and their family, calf care is at the core of their farming operation.    
    Last August, the University of Minnesota recognized the Webster family by naming them the 2020 Big Stone County Farm Family of the Year.
    “Being named Big Stone County Farm Family of the Year was totally unexpected,” Jackie said. “It was such an honor. Because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to participate in everything as we normally would. But still, it has been a great experience. We have received a lot of nice comments from a good number of people.”
    The Webster family custom raises calves, with 400 calves on their farm at any given time. Alan and Jackie employ their daughter and son-in-law, Nikki and Aaron Twedt, who have three kids: Brooklyn, 10, Braydon, 7, and Bryleigh, 5. Alan and Jackie’s son, David, works at the Bellingham Elevator where he mixes and delivers feed. This includes mixing and delivering the feed used on his parents’ farm. David and his wife, Kate, have two daughters, Kylie, 8, and Hannah, 4.
    Along with the dairy calves, Alan and Jackie have a herd of 175 beef cows while Nikki and Aaron own 30 beef cows.
    “It’s very difficult to find someone who wants to be a calf raiser,” Jackie said. “We think that it’s awesome to work with our family. Our grandkids certainly keep things interesting. They are becoming involved in 4-H, so we get to help them train their animals to lead and attend their 4-H events.”
    The Websters custom raise heifer calves until they are 12 to 16 weeks old, at which point the animals are sent to a heifer raiser. The Websters also buy and feed out the bull calves from the two dairies they serve.
    “The biggest challenge of raising baby calves in this area is the weather,” Alan said. “The heat is just as tough on the calves as the cold. There are probably just two months of the year, April and October, when the weather is ideal.”
    Along with the challenges come the advantages to being custom calf raisers.
    “One of the biggest rewards of this job is being trusted to raise multiple generations of a cow family,” Alan said. “It’s great to raise a heifer calf whose mother began her life here.”
    The Websters train their calves to drink from buckets as soon as possible. They also have calf care advice that every dairy farmer can take to heart.
    “Good colostrum and following a sound dry cow protocol are key to having healthy baby calves,” Alan said. “If the dairyman doesn’t provide the newborn calf with plenty of high-quality colostrum, it makes it very hard for the calf raiser.”
    The Websters manage quite a few acres of pasture for their beef cattle. They also put up a large amount of hay for use in their calf raising operation.
    “We bale a lot of alfalfa and orchard grass hay,” Alan said. “The calves like that particular blend of hay and do well on it.”
    Alan gained an interest in dairy from his dad, who was an A.I. technician for Minnesota Valley Breeders Association, and his grandparents, who milked 20 cows 2 miles from his parents’ house.
    “I spent a lot of time at Grandpa and Grandma’s farm, helping them milk cows and feeding calves,” Alan said. “It was a very enjoyable part of my childhood.”
    Jackie grew up on a small dairy farm in Madison, Minnesota.
    “My daily chores included carrying grain to the cows in our stanchion barn and feeding the baby calves,” she said. “Growing up on a dairy farm gave me a good work ethic.”
    After Jackie and Alan were married in 1980, Alan took a job at the Saputo cheese factory in Big Stone City and Jackie embarked on a 40-year-long career as a licensed practical nurse.  
    In 1988, Alan and Jackie purchased the farm where they currently live.
     “We have always raised a few bull calves on our farm,” Alan said.
    In 1997, they began raising heifer calves for a local dairy farm. By 2000, they grew their calf raising operation to the point where Alan could quit his cheese factory job and concentrate on raising calves.
    Jackie said at their peak, they employed six people.
    “We were housing calves in 1,000 domes,” she said. “We were raising calves for a dozen different dairy farmers. My dad would come here and see how we were doing things and shake his head. He couldn’t believe how much things had changed.”
    The Websters have since reduced their operation to the point where they are now. As is it is with most dairy operations, it is all about family at the Webster farm.
    “It has been wonderful to be able to work with our kids and to watch our grandkids grow and learn,” Jackie said. “Just thinking about it makes us smile all day long.”