Sharing their success

Heim family to host Kewaunee County Breakfast on the Farm

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ALGOMA, Wis. — At Heim’s Hillcrest Dairy, the Heim family strives to be a good neighbor and transparent member of the community.

“I tell our employees the farm has to be tour-ready every minute of every day,” Jeremy Heim said.

In line with this philosophy, the Heim family is inviting all their neighbors to join them on their dairy June 16 for the Kewaunee County Breakfast on the Farm.

“I’m excited to invite the community in to see what we do and how we do it,” Heim said. “I want them to see the care that we put into our ladies.”

Heim and his family milk 825 cows three times a day in a double-12 parallel parlor and farm 1,800 acres near Algoma. Heim and his brothers, Scott and Rod, farm with their parents, Lloyd and Joyce. Scott’s wife, Carrie, is the herd manager. The fourth generation is represented by Heim’s daughter, Kiley, and his son, Ben, and Rod’s son, Sam. Heim’s Hillcrest Dairy is a family-oriented operation, employing many extended family members as well for a total of 36 employees.

In 2015, the Heims started Heim Brothers Custom and provide chopping, baling, merging, manure hauling, spill cleanup and excavation services. The Heims cover 28,000 acres for approximately 15 customers within a 20-mile radius.

“Our driving force is to make our customers stronger and more resilient for the future,” Heim said. “We’ve built amazing relationships because we care, which opens the door for both of us to be successful.”

The Heim family is hoping to have 7,000 people at Breakfast on the Farm.

“We want to see new faces and draw people of all ages,” Heim said.

The day starts with a Catholic Mass at 7 a.m. followed by breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon.

“Our family is excited about educating the community and promoting the positive message going on in the dairy industry,” Heim said. “There is a lot of good technology and improvements for cow health and the environment, and I want to bridge the gap in helping people understand this.”

New to the breakfast this year are educational displays and demonstrations, from tile machines to race cars to tow trucks, Heim said.

“We want the opportunity for everyone that surrounds us and makes us successful to be here,” Heim said. “They are part of the community, and we want to show how they help make things better for the environment and for our cows.”

An automatic calf feeder will feed a calf every half hour, and a stall in their new transition barn will highlight ventilation features. A rain simulator will demonstrate water filtration through cover crops while a manure setup will replicate how the Heims’ system is used in the field.

The farm’s digester company will have a layout showing what happens to the dairy’s manure when it leaves the farm and how it helps the environment while also generating renewable natural gas. The Heims have been processing their manure through the community digester in nearby Denmark for four years.

Attendees of the breakfast will enjoy a sit-down dairy brunch featuring omelets, bread and butter, a variety of cheeses, milk, yogurt, deep-fried cheese curds, pizza and strawberry sundaes. Other activities include farm tours, horse and tractor-drawn wagon rides, a petting zoo and live music.

The transition cow barn built in 2022 will be a highlight. The tunnel-ventilated building features automated environmental technology. Lights, curtains and sprinklers are automatically controlled to create the ideal climate for cows.

“We hit a home run on ventilation and cow comfort in this barn,” Heim said. “It’s an extremely calm and quiet environment, and electricity usage is lower.”

The fans turn on at 10%, and lights go down to 5% at night. During the day, they typically run at 75%. Fans ramp up as needed. The original barn contained 50 fans on one end and 20 fans in the interior.

“Now we have 26 bigger fans on the end and 77 pushers,” Heim said. “We put pushers in where needed, and there’s not a dead spot in the barn. Every stall has good airflow.”

Two years ago, the farm went to 24-hour care.

“It’s been nothing but amazing,” Heim said. “Every hour, the pre-fresh area is walked and checked, and there have been no call-ins — either to us or the vet.”

Cows freshen on a bedded pack, and mother and calf are processed immediately. Warming/cooling rooms for newborn calves are set to 55 degrees in the summer and 70 degrees in the winter.

The new barn houses 250 cows, with dry cows on one side and fresh cows and the maternity area on the other. Cows remain in the barn for up to 40 days post-calving.

The Heims are renovating the barn built in 1996 to mirror their new barn in time for the breakfast.

The Heims are technology-driven in all aspects of their operation yet hands-on in their approach. Heim said attention to detail at every level guides the farm’s success.

Creating a healthy animal has laid a foundation for improvement.

“Healthier cows are our focus over milk,” Heim said. “It’s paid huge dividends to us. A lot of people look for production, but I think that’s a mistake. Switching our focus to the health of the animal helped us greatly improve our operation.”

Heim said this healthy focus starts with healthy feed.

“We focus on feeding the crop well in order to grow a good, healthy crop,” he said. “We put organic matter back into the soil, and this healthy soil can grow a beautiful crop. You need less fertilizer, etc. as the soil replenishes itself. Doing things right in the field turns into quality feed, and our input costs have gone down significantly.”

Last year, the farm had no displaced abomasa and death loss was less than 3%. The Holstein herd consistently produces 4.4% butterfat and averages 90 pounds of milk per cow per day while maintaining an 80,000 somatic cell count.

Heim credits the farm’s activity monitoring system with boosting their reproduction program.

“We went from giving over 100 shots per week for repro down to giving only three,” Heim said. “We really take care of cows on the front end and don’t need to give shots. Twenty-four-hour care has saved me so much money.”

Conservation is important to the Heim family as they work to precisely monitor manure applications, plant cover crops and employ other practices. Heim’s favorite cover crop is a four species mix of turnips, radishes, wheat and rye planted in early fall.

“It’s done amazing things for us and a couple of our customers,” Heim said. “We keep exploring our options to find out what’s next in helping us make high-quality feed and create a better environment for our cows and people. We’re always looking at what’s next for manure application too. We want to be sustainable long-term.”

The family is working on becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

“From cow care to cover crops, we’ve done a lot to improve already,” Heim said. “We try to stay green all the time. We’re in the process of coming up with a carbon score to decide where to go from here.”

Heim said he enjoys working with his family and considers the farm’s family dynamic to be its greatest success.

“Farming is an awesome lifestyle, and my kids love it,” Heim said. “We make decisions together as a family. They know what’s going on every day on every part of the farm and also know all the financials.”

Much has changed at Heim’s Hillcrest Dairy since the first time the Heim family hosted Breakfast on the Farm in 2010. Heim said what he is most looking forward to this time is showcasing the history of his family’s farm and the generations working together to make the farm sustainable and successful.

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