By Lisa McCrory
Added July 1, 2009. The Hails Family Farm is not your typical organic dairy farm, but maybe we will see more farms following a similar model as the organic dairy industry continues to adjust. The Hails Family Farm is a 450 acre diversified farm where 52 is owned and the rest is rented. Paul and Joyce grow many products on their farm; from dairy to meat to vegetable crops, and play the role of producer, processor and marketer.
They have a 40 cow dairy herd consisting of Ayrshires, Normande, NZ Jersey/NZ Holstein crosses, Brown Swiss and Jerseys, and they grow an acre of organic produce, which is sold to a small CSA membership, farmers market and other local customers. Located on the farm is one of only 40 Grade A milk processing plants in the United states. They make butter, yogurt, cream cheese, grade A fluid milk, and a number of Monterey Jack cheeses (horse radish, garlic/pepper, etc). They process milk two times a week and the rest of their fluid milk is sold to Horizon Organic; that is, they will be doing that until their contract is up July 1, 2009.
Paul and Joyce have 4 children who have been or continue to be an integral part of the farm operation. Zachary (20) is living on his own with a career with a career as a Farm Refrigeration Specialistd, Caitlin (19) is in college, Cara (17) in charge of milking cows and Jacob (15) is the ‘all-around guy’ on the farm. Paul is in charge of cropping and overall herd management and Joyce is in charge of the calves and home schooling their kids. Another important person working on the farm (Paul says they wouldn’t be able to do it without her) is Julie Matsen. She is in charge of the processing plant including packaging and inventory.
Transition to organic dairy
The farmland has been certified organic since 2000 by GOA. Their transition costs were minimal because the land was certifiable already and the cow herd grew slowly. They started with 8 cows and a bunch of calves and were using a simple walk-through milking parlor. Because they processed some of their milk for their own product, most of the processors were not interested in picking up their milk. Horizon was the only one interested and they started shipping milk to Horizon in 2002.
Forages and Pasture System
The cows’ feed program is grass-based, meaning that their main diet is hay, baleage and corn silage. From April to October the cows are 100% grass fed with minerals from Fertrell. In the winter the ration varies depending on the crop year. Ultimately, the cows get 5 lbs of grain with forages offered as the main course. This winter they may try oats and molasses for a concentrate and they will probably be without corn silage as the spring has been too wet to get the corn planted.
Most of the forages are grown on the farm and harvested as hay, silage or baleage, and 80 acres is used for their intensive grazing system. Paul puts in some baleage using small grains (oats, some barley, triticale, clover). He gets his seed from American Organics out of Illinois. Their winter sacrifice areas are typically planted to oats, festolium and peas.
Milking every 16 hours
Cows are milked every 16 hours year round; even at freshening. The benefits to this is they have more down time for family, milk solids go up a little, and they are able reduce their energy inputs by 14 milkings a month. They have a fall freshening herd with June and July being their slowest time. This schedule works best for their milk market demands as milk sales go down a lot in the summer. This also gives them more time to get their crops in and Paul finds that it is better for his cows to gain condition on the spring pasture rather than making milk that he cannot market.
Cows and heifers are bred primarily with AI, followed by a clean up bull. This year they used a Dutch Belt bull for clean up breeding. Artificial Insemination happens from September to Christmas and the clean up bull gets put to work from December to January. Paul likes to breed for size, good legs, good udders, AA casein milk and dual purpose qualities. The challenge with AI on a 16 hour milkingschedule is you are not watching them enough; sometimes they will use breeding patches and have their vet come for pregnancy checks.
Calves have been raised in hutches over the years, but on a 16 hour milking/chore schedule, this does not work very well for them. This year they decided to try raising the calves on their moms for the first 8-12 weeks. After that, they will transition them to stantions for 8-12 weeks and after that, they will move to a heifer lot. Paul has over 20 cows due to freshen from mid July to September, and is looking forward to seeing how this new system works.
Once a cow has freshened, they like to keep mom and heifer in a pen for a day or two to make sure that the calf is strong and the two have bonded. They feed a lot of yogurt to their calves if they get sick, using their drinkable yogurt product.
Calves in the past were fed 6 quarts of milk a day and the volume increased as they got older. Now that the calves are on their moms, they are certain that the calves will drink more milk and will learn how to graze right away.
Finding Market for 2/3 of their milk
Recently Horizon dropped them, exercising the 180 day notice. Their first reason was quality, as the Hails had a Staph aureus problem last December (since resolved) and the other reason was inconsistent volume of milk available at pick-ups. During the 180 day time period Paul was in discussion with Horizon about a guaranteed volume pick-up, discussing a guarantee of 2/3 of his milk volume to go on the truck. The milk quality has returned to under 150,000 SCC the Hails were hopeful that everything would work out. In early June, Paul received a call from Horizon telling him that they were not going to renew. Paul felt like they were leading him on; probably waiting to see how the market was doing. Nonetheless, the Hails now have a lot of organic milk that needs a home; whether they ramp up their personal markets, decrease their herd, or find another processor willing to work with them, change is in the air for this farm.