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In the News: Staff Columns

Hall’s Calf Ranch: Innovative & caring

Thursday, October 25, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joanna Guza, digital communications manager
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The year 1995 marked the beginning of J Hall’s career as a custom calf raiser in Kewaunee.

He started with 13 rented hutches and one super hutch in his backyard, raising calves for the nearby dairy where he was employed. By 2007, the ranch housed 2,500 animals with 15 employees.

That growth hasn’t stopped. Today, J and his wife, Marlene, care for approximately 8,500 animals with 45 full-time employees and various part-time positions. In 2017, they opened a location for 1,000 calves in Gladwin, Mich.

Hall’s Calf Ranch works with various agencies and organizations to stay vigilant and proactive with environmentally friendly practices. Hall’s strives to exceed industry standards in calf care.

DBA: What are you most proud of on your farm?

Halls: The development of the team we’ve created by the help of our HR team, management and specialists. We have a very dedicated and highly qualified group of people, and we’ve developed a great sense of comradery between everyone.

DBA: What sustainable practices are you using on the farm and what benefits have you seen?

Halls: We are working on compacting and anaerobically digesting our manure to create a product called bokashi. Bokashi is the fermentation and breakdown of the manure and bedding, which can then be spread onto the fields or home gardens. We are looking at reducing the amount of waste we make. One of the most important benefits of bokashi for us is that it doesn’t let off greenhouse gasses like traditional composting does. This makes it a lot safer for our environment. It can be utilized as a natural fertilizer for plant growth in all types of settings.

We are also using a product called squeeze milk, which is milk from stores that has reached its “sell by” date. The milk, which is normally thrown away, is instead collected, dried and delivered to us in a powdered form. Not only does it decrease the amount of waste in the environment, but it reduces cost for us, and the calves have been performing as good or better than some milk replacers we have used. We also use non-saleable milk to mix with the squeeze milk and will even take loads from milk plants. This helps the environment because it doesn’t end up in the manure pits.

DBA: How do you engage the non-farming public about dairy farming?

Halls: We give tours — a lot of them! All neighbors, friends and even people driving down the road are welcome to stop in. We invite schools — elementary through college. It’s never too early to start teaching the youth about the dairy industry. We also do seminars and speak on behalf of the industry about raising calves.

We are active members of the community who generously support local law enforcement, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, FFA, 4-H Clubs, Lions Club and other local entities.

DBA: What advice would you offer to young farmers?

Halls: Farming is a lifestyle, which can be very rewarding, but you must remember it is a lot of work. Start at a level that you’re comfortable at and then work your way up and learn from what you go through. Pay attention to the details; the little things matter especially to your clients. For a business like ours, involve your clients heavily and have them be a part of your facility.

DBA: What does the future hold for Hall’s Calf Ranch?

Halls: We are always learning and continuing to improve on how we can raise the best calf out there. We hope that we can always be a part of the community and a part of our employees’ future. And we are always working to develop better animals for our clients.

DBA: What do you see as major challenges and opportunities facing the dairy community in the future?

Halls: Major challenges for anyone who works with hiring people is being able to develop good employees. Make sure your employees understand what the big picture is at your facility. They need to understand that even the smallest jobs matter; there is no job too big or too small when it comes to animal care.

We always try to stay up to date on new technologies to help make operations more efficient. We hope to see technologies that can reinvent the way we manage waste/manure as well as create value to what otherwise can be a waste product. Farms also need to learn to become more global while at the same time knowing it can be a deficit or a plus. You can learn from other countries, with the technologies they are using. But they can take our knowledge and utilize it themselves.

DBA: What technologies have you incorporated on your farm that are beneficial?

Halls: We hope that our new bokashi system will be able to benefit us, the environment and the public. The compactor compacts our manure, allowing it to anaerobically digest. By anaerobically digesting, it doesn’t let off greenhouse gases like traditional composting, making it much safer for the environment. With the bokashi system we should be able to tailor it to specific field needs; if a field is low in certain nutrients, we should be able to add them into the bokashi.

Electronic identification tags are another technology we use. Calves can then be scanned to tell our treatment team what treatments the animals have received. It’s efficient for employees because all the information can be carried with them on a tablet into the barns; they don’t have to come back into the office to find out the needed information. The tablet also can help them figure out the location of specific animals.

Also, a big benefit for our administrative/HR team is our time clock system. Not only does it help keep track of everyone’s hours, but it helps in scheduling reviews, performance and all our equipment. The system also helps with organizing our employees into their specific departments, whether that’s in our calf operations, heifer operations, administrative team or at our Michigan location.

DBA: How does your farm stay up to date on new technology?

Halls: We’re looking at the idea of using outside robotic calf feeding units. Reading articles, going to seminars and relying on sales reps has also been a good way to stay up to date. We and our employees also go to conferences.

DBA: What extra steps does your farm take to provide exceptional animal care?

Halls: Fresh water is always kept in front of the animals no matter the weather; if it’s cold, employees dump out what’s frozen so the calves always have access. In the winter, every animal gets a jacket. Controlling flies is also a huge factor we proactively address to ensure health and comfort.

We have a safety and training coordinator on staff to ensure all employees are staying compliant with our policies. She holds monthly trainings on calf care and animal welfare along with other OSHA-mandated trainings. We are also working on implementing these trainings to specifically fit our protocols.

DBA: If you were talking to people who have no connection to agriculture, what would you want to tell them about your farm or the dairy community?

Halls: Every calf that we raise has a purpose. It’s not just for the money, it’s for the lifestyle.

We are not a corporation, we’re a family-run business. We employ families that live in our communities and go to our schools. We continue to learn and grow in order to help our employees establish lives here and want to stay in the area.

We’re also out to improve the environment by using new technologies and information (literature/knowledge) that we gather daily. Our team tries to stay proactive in learning new things that can help make us better.

DBA: You have been a member of DBA since November 2012. What benefit do you find most helpful?

Halls: Networking at meetings and being able to make connections as well as knowing that DBA is there as a safety net if things go south. I also appreciate the help they do in advocating for us and the dairy community as a whole.

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