A career devoted to registered cattle

McCulloughs receive Distinguished Holstein Breeder award

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JUDA, Wis. — Mike McCullough had 16 head of cattle when he left home in 1973 to start farming with his wife, Marcy. Renting a farm in Illinois, it was only a matter of time until they would find their own farm in America’s Dairyland.

It was here the couple blossomed into breeders of renowned registered Holsteins.

The McCulloughs were named the Wisconsin Holstein Association’s 2023 Distinguished Holstein Breeder, an accolade that pays tribute to the long list of accomplishments in their 55-year career.

“I didn’t see this coming,” Mike said. “It was a total surprise.”

Mike and Marcy received the award Feb. 24 at the association’s convention in New Glarus.

The McCulloughs milk between 45-50 cows and farm 1,400 acres near Juda. Cows are milked twice a day in a tiestall barn, and Mike and Marcy are on the milking crew seven days a week. Marcy also feeds calves.

“We all do chores every morning and night together,” Marcy said. “I’m a firm believer that if you don’t use it, you lose it physically and mentally. You have to keep moving.”

Mike and Marcy raised five children on the farm: Chris, Mark, David, Patrick, and Lea. David and his wife, Connie, work full time on the farm. Chris dairy farms with his family nearby while also helping his parents. Lea, a cattle photographer, helps on the farm as well.

“We hire no outside help,” Marcy said. “It’s all family working here. Four of our kids live within 2 miles of us, and everyone is very farm-oriented.”

Working with family is just as important to the McCulloughs as breeding good cows, and they enjoy sharing the farm with their 11 grandchildren.

“Seeing the grandkids in my barn every morning warms my heart,” Mike said.

Mike’s longtime love for registered Holsteins stems from a beloved cow, Taylor Knoll Susie. Susie was given to him by his father as a 4-H calf when he was 9 years old. She was a registered heifer in a grade herd and served as the foundation for Mike’s herd.

 “When my two brothers and I started 4-H, our dad bought us each a registered Holstein calf with money I’m pretty sure he didn’t have,” Mike said. “Susie was one of a kind and was a gift that kept giving.”

Susie was 10 years old before she went on official test, making over 100,000 pounds of milk after that point. She scored Very Good 87 at the age of 14. Susie lived to be 17, milking and calving every year. Susie and her offspring got Mike and Marcy started in their career, and most of their herd traces back to that first 4-H calf.

Mike grew up on a dairy farm in Harvard, Illinois. While in high school, he rented a few acres of land and started buying equipment. The McCulloughs bought their current farm in 1976 and named it Rock-N-Hill Holsteins.

Mike and Marcy made additions and renovations to the farm and grew dramatically in acreage — cash cropping corn, soybeans and wheat — but kept cow numbers the same.

The McCulloughs built a herd while focusing on type, production and longevity. Their rolling herd average is 25,000 pounds of milk, 1,000 pounds of butterfat and 700 pounds of protein. 

They started with a BAA of 99, but today, their BAA is 110.9 and includes 21 Excellent, 21 Very Good and one Good Plus on their last classification.

To date, 103 Excellent and 237 Very Good cows have carried the Rock-N-Hill prefix. The McCulloughs have bred many multiple E cows, including one at 5E, three at 4E, 10 at 3E and 15 at 2E. Mike and Marcy have bred 32 cows with over 200,000 pounds of lifetime milk, five with more than 250,000 and two over 300,000.

“We strive for longevity,” Mike said. “That seems to be more profitable, and we have a fair number of older cows in the barn. For the second time in our career, we have four generations milking at once.”

Mike patiently waits for cows to reach their potential.

“We give cows a chance to grow, develop and mature,” he said. “You don’t see many mature cows anymore. We like to let a cow go at her own pace and do what she can.”

Notable cows from the herd include Rock-N-Hill Knucklebuck EX-94, Rock-N-Hill Gidget EX-94 and Rock-N-Hill Dolly D. Gidget’s son produced four daughters for the McCulloughs, all of which scored Excellent and made over 200,000 pounds of lifetime milk.

One of Mike’s favorite cows was Rock-N-Hill AJ Ella EX90-5E. Making over 300,000 pounds of lifetime milk, Ella had multiple daughters score Excellent and was the dam of Mike’s All-American bull, EJ.

“She was a good ol’ cow that lasted 15 years,” Mike said. “She went to shows until she was 12. We showed her every year. She was just what cows are supposed to be and represents what we have always tried to breed for: high-type, long-lasting cows that produce a lot of milk.”

Favorite sires of Mike’s include Champion, Skybuck, Inspiration, Elevation, Simon, Stardust, Lindy and Leduc. Mike tends to use bulls that were popular 20 years ago like Gold Chip and Chelios or uses bulls from his own herd.

“I’m not into genomics,” Mike said. “I’ve never been afraid to use bulls that I bred. Some of my best cows are out of my own bulls.”

The McCulloughs are a six-time Progressive Breeders’ Registry winner and have bred two Gold Medal Dams and two Dams of Merit as well as one All-American, one reserve All-American, six junior All-American, six All-Wisconsin and multiple junior All-Wisconsin winners.

Giving back to the dairy industry and to their community is important to the McCulloughs. Mike has served on the Green County Board of Supervisors, DHI board, the Wisconsin Holstein Association board of directors, Juda school board, Juda Fire Department and more.

Marcy has spent countless hours with the Green County junior program serving as leader and dairy bowl coach where she led juniors to the national contest seven times. She is getting back into dairy bowl once again with her grandkids.

The McCulloughs remain active in the registered Holstein industry, breeding quality cattle while helping future generations achieve their goals. Not influenced by breeding strategies of the day, Mike continues to pursue genetics that provide the results he and Marcy strive for.

“We like a cow that can do it all,” Mike said. “Breeding a functional cow is the key to success.”

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