Shouldering the weight

Holmes takes the helm of family’s dairy

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ARGYLE, Wis. — When Travis Holmes’ father passed away unexpectedly in 2021, he tried hard to keep the farm running smoothly. But with 400 cows and over 1,000 owned and rented acres, it was hard to do.

“I was grinding, but I wasn’t keeping up,” Travis said. “Dad always took care of managing and feeding the cows and the billing.”

Two years later, with his wife Stephanie and extra hired help, things are running smoothly again.

Travis and Stephanie milk cows near Argyle with the help of Travis’ uncle, Jim, and their employees. Cows are milked three times a day in a parlor and housed in free stalls. Farm ownership has come in stages for Travis and Stephanie.

Travis returned to the farm full time after college in 2007, and the family added 100 cows. In 2013, Travis and Stephanie bought 25% of the limited liability company and were in partnership with his parents. A year after his dad passed away, they purchased the remaining 75% of the LLC which was the cattle, machinery and feed. As of Dec.1, they also own the real estate, making them the sole owners of the entire operation.

Stephanie handles the bookwork since quitting her off-farm job in May 2022 to work full time on the farm. She also helps with fieldwork in the summer and any regular chores that people need help with year-round. 

Jim handles the herdsman work, and the employees take care of milking and calf chores. Travis has been the main feeder since his dad has been gone, along with managing the daily operations.

Having team meetings has been instrumental to the progression of the operation, Travis said. His dad started working with a dairy consultant in 2009, and team meetings have continued since.

“That’s the only way I got to be in the LLC,” Travis said. “We plan to keep it a LLC so that it’s easier to bring our kids in later.”

The team of veterinarian, nutritionist and breeder are a three-legged stool, along with the consultant. Stephanie said they work together to keep reproduction numbers satisfactory.

“They work really hard to make sure the nutrition piece is there,” Stephanie said. “Some of our numbers have fluctuated a bit, but the cows are also milking more.”

The Holmeses raise their replacement calves. They are started out in a calf barn, with overflow going to hutches. Then they are moved to a three-sided heifer shed down the road and brought back to the farm once they are bred.

The heifer facility was built three years ago and has made a difference in their breeding program because the calves are 75-80 pounds heavier at weaning. This allows them to be more mature at calving and become better dairy animals overall.

The Holmeses have earned awards through the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council for a few years in a row since building the improved heifer facilities. This year was no exception, with a gold level award. 

“A lot of our neighbors have won that award with us over the years,” Travis said. “They use the same vet, nutritionist and breeder that we do.”

Herd health checks are done weekly, and cows are bred artificially through a combination of ovsynch and tail chalking. The herd consists of mainly Holsteins. 

Travis always thought he wanted to expand and add a robotic milking system, but since taking over, he has found that he is content where they are at.

“We can pay our bills comfortably, and we can run to our kids’ stuff,” Travis said. “We can make it flexible.”

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