The Holschbaches milk in a tiestall barn. Nearly 230 head, 130 of which are milking, will be cataloged for the Holschbaches’ Heatherstone Enterprises Complete Dispersal sale next month.
The Holschbaches milk in a tiestall barn. Nearly 230 head, 130 of which are milking, will be cataloged for the Holschbaches’ Heatherstone Enterprises Complete Dispersal sale next month. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    BARABOO, Wis. – Culminating a 35-year career, Mike and Valerie Holschbach were awarded the Wisconsin Holstein Association Distinguished Breeder Award less than two months before the complete dispersal of their herd.
    The Holschbaches own Heatherstone Enterprises near Baraboo, Wis., and will disperse their herd April 13.
    Mike and Valerie joined Valerie’s parents, Duane and Carol Jean Hegna, in 1984, working as herdspeople on the farm. In 1994, they purchased the farm and set off on putting their own stamp on the well-known Holstein herd.
    Today, the herd consists of 130 milking females, and the Holschbaches will have about 230 total head cataloged for the dispersal sale which will be held on the farm. Breeding for type and placing a strong focus on cow families has been the cornerstone of the Holschbaches’ breeding program.
    “Our mantra has been that we want to breed the cows we like to milk and that others like to buy,” Mike said. “We want cows with high type, good pedigrees, and we focus on high components.”
    Adhering to those benchmarks has worked well with the herd achieving a rolling herd average of 27,716 pounds of milk, 4.5 percent fat with 1,233 pounds of fat, and a 3.3 percent protein with 927 pounds of protein. Two cows in the herd are scored EX-95. The herd is a nine-time Holstein USA Progressive Genetics herd and has won premier breeder and exhibitor awards at the Midwest Fall National Holstein Show and the District 5 Holstein Show. In 1997, they were named the Wisconsin Holstein Association Distinguished Young Holstein Breeders.  
    When they took over the farm, the herd had been mostly a closed for over 30 years and a number of cows in the herd had Heatherstone breeding on the top and bottom sides of the pedigrees.
     “We built on their quality herd, infusing new bloodlines for greater market appeal,” Mike said.
    Over several years, the Holschbaches purchased a group of cows that impacted the herd positively. Out of that group, two are now scored EX-95, one scored EX-94 and one EX-93.
    “They maybe didn’t turn out to be the show cows we might have wanted, but they transmitted their genetics and made calves,” Valerie said.     
    Those purchased animals have flushed well, and the Holschbaches are excited about the group that will be selling in April.
    “This group of 2-year-olds we are milking are as nice of a group as we’ve ever calved in,” Mike said. “They are amazing … 18 of 21 2-year-olds are scored Very Good.”
    The Holschbaches have not placed a great deal of emphasis on genomics, but they have started testing some calves they think would have high type numbers. They are working with one family who has been producing calves that are coming back over 4 points on type.  
    “I do believe in DPR and that has become important in our sire selection,” Mike said. “I used to think we did a good job with our reproductive program, but you can see the correlation of the cows sired by low DPR bulls. Typically, they have been our hard breeders.”
    When looking over their career of breeding registered Holsteins, one highlight that rises to the top for both Mike and Valerie is the story of Heatherstone Redhot-Red-ET, a four-time class winner at World Dairy Expo, and twice intermediate and reserve grand champion.
    “It’s a euphoric feeling to have a cow you bred go on and do so well for someone else,” Valerie said.
    Redhot was purchased as a calf by Westcoast Holsteins of Chilliwack, B.C., and later purchased by Milksource Genetics of Kaukauna, Wis.
    “Westcoast looked at her all week the year she was a spring calf,” Mike said. “They finally made the decision to buy her shortly before she went to the ring. Winning four consecutive years in four different classes at Madison is rare, especially for a heifer to come back and win as a cow.”
    Another memory the Holschbaches recall is hosting the 2008 National Holstein Convention Sale on the farm where they entertained about 3,000 people for the pre-sale meal.
    “It was fun to plan, working with our fellow Holstein breeders and a great crew of people,” Mike said. “Despite all the work, when I think of it, I only remember the enjoyment. That was probably at the height of cattle prices and industry interest. Markets were good, prices were high.”
    Hosting that sale provided the Holschbaches with background experience and knowledge in preparing for their upcoming dispersal sale, although Mother Nature has been throwing them a few curve balls in their preparations.
    “We’re doing well preparing the herd,” Valerie said. “All the other stuff is a little more stressful with each snowfall and bout of cold temperatures we face.”
    Mike and Valerie feel blessed to have raised their three children, Brienne, Chelsea and Chase, on the farm and enjoyed sharing their love of dairy farming with all three. While the dispersal will close a chapter on Heatherstone Enterprises, the Holschbaches are looking forward to what the future will bring.
    “We aren’t retiring,” Valerie said. “But, the time is right to disperse the herd and move on to whatever the next chapter might bring. We’ve put together a great group.”
    With both their roots so deeply entwined with the Holstein cow, they will miss the daily contact with their herd.
    “We’ll miss the breeding part of it, watching the generations work and anticipating what they will turn into to,” Mike said. “For me, that has always been the most rewarding part of dairy farming.”