Growing from the ground up

Metcalfs double herd size in 7 years on farm built from scratch

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MILTON, Wis. — Corey Metcalf grew up on a grain farm, but in his heart, he knew he was meant to be a dairy farmer.

In 2017, on a piece of land void of buildings other than his parents’ house, Corey began to build the farm of his dreams. He and his family constructed a freestall barn, machine shed, milking parlor and manure pit. They bought Jerseys to fill the barn, starting with 300 cows. From the beginning, registered genetics was the focus.

“I really like the Jersey cow,” Corey said. “Everyone was focusing more on components at the time, so I decided to go with Jerseys. I bought cows from all over the country, from North Carolina to Ohio to Missouri.”

Glacier Edge Dairy had the potential to grow, and within six years, the Metcalfs were ready to double the size of their herd.

“We had 700 cows in mind when we built this setup to make it cost-effective,” Corey said.

Corey and his wife, Kristen, farm with his parents, Terry and Jane. Corey’s sister, Lauren, also helps on the farm along with eight full-time and several part-time employees. A focus on production and type has brought success to the Metcalfs, who milk 750 cows and farm 1,200 acres near Milton.

In a recent expansion, the Metcalfs built the second half of their freestall barn while doubling the size of their herd. They also adjusted the milkhouse to allow for direct shipping and switched to milking three times a day.

“Milking three times a day allows us to direct ship our milk and makes better shifts for our employees,” Kristen said. “They were going back and forth for morning and evening milkings. But now, we run two 12-hour shifts. It’s also nice having people here 24 hours a day.”

The barn addition was completed October 2023, and the family began milking three times a day in November. Between December and February, they freshened 250 first-calf heifers, and now, 55% of the herd is first-lactation cows.

“It was a big winter of change,” Kristen said. “We also hired more people when adding that third milking.”

Cows are milked in a double-12 parallel parlor, which has room to expand to a double-16. The herd’s 2023 lactation average was 23,087 pounds of milk, 1,043 pounds of butterfat and 825 pounds of protein on a mature equivalent basis.

The addition also includes a separate pen for Kristen’s 30 Holsteins and Red and Whites, which now have bigger stalls. Kristen and her sisters show at local, state and national shows.

Built with a focus on cow comfort, the cross-ventilated barn features 2-row pens to provide extra bunk space.

“We really like the cross-vent for keeping flies out and preventing things from freezing in winter,” Corey said. “This system provides a consistent climate year-round.”

 Cows are bedded with sand. However, they do not lie on deep sand beds.

“It’s unique in that we have mats in the stalls with 3-4 inches of sand on top,” Corey said. “That cuts our sand usage in half, and it feels just as comfortable.”

Robotic feed pushers and cow brushes are other amenities for the barn.

“The brushes keep the cows very clean,” Corey said. “They have really nice hair coats.”

The Metcalfs also plan to add a hoof trimming area to the new part of the barn to trim more efficiently.

“I appreciate how quiet the barn is,” Kristen said. “We focus on cow comfort in everything we do, and the cows are happy.”

The family added on to their milkhouse and removed the 5,000-gallon bulk tank, replacing it with three ports for shipping milk. The family ships to Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative, sending one truckload per day, or about 50,000 pounds of milk.

“It made it more efficient with the economy and trucking situation to go to direct shipping,” Corey said.

Corey’s roots are in dairy, as his father grew up dairy farming and continued milking cows with his two brothers until 1997. Corey was 6 years old when the cows left.

“Our family farmed a lot of grain acres and decided to focus on that instead,” Corey said. “I always had a greater interest in livestock production. Instead of selling grain, I wanted to make feed and feed it ourselves.”

At age 14, Corey began working on dairy farms. He was exposed to the Jersey breed while helping on a neighbor’s farm. It was here that he also met Kristen, who worked there as well.

“I was really focused on genetics from the start,” Corey said. “Every calf here is genomically tested, and we’ve used sexed semen and beef semen from the beginning.”

The parlor records milk weights, which Corey finds helpful for identifying replacements.

“We’ve done quite a bit of flushing and in vitro fertilization since we started,” he said. “We identified a couple of good families right away, and we tried to make as many daughters as possible.” 

Since the farm’s inception, the Metcalfs have tested milk and classified. They also participate in the American Jersey Cattle Association Registration, Equity, Appraisal and Performance program. 

“The Jersey association has been really great to work with in helping us find cows,” Corey said. “We bought a lot through them.”

Creating well-balanced, long-lasting cows is the goal of Corey’s breeding philosophy, and he selects bulls that can deliver on these traits.

“We are production-focused but also type-focused, too, and I look more at type traits than production traits when choosing bulls,” Corey said. “We’re not necessarily breeding animals to show, but we want them to be long-lasting.”

The Metcalfs have sold five bulls to A.I. stud within the last couple of years.

“That’s impressive because we started from the conglomeration of many herds,” Kristen said.

Previously holding a job off the farm, Kristen is happy to be on the farm full time since the expansion.

“We’re pretty fortunate with our team,” she said. “Everyone we originally started with is still here and taking over management roles.”

Corey agreed.

“Our employees have been a huge part of our success,” he said.

As this progressive couple settles into the next phase of their dairy operation, Kristen said Corey is always looking ahead and asking, “What’s next?”  

“I like to think about different possibilities and plan for the future,” Corey said. “But for now, I’m content where we are.”

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