At one of Ohio’s top dairy farms, it’s all about the details

FARMDALE, Ohio — For the Hall family of Hallbrook Farm in Farmdale, Ohio, the success of the herd can be attributed to two things: setting goals and paying attention to details.

“I guess I’ve always been a big goal setter,” said Steve Hall, the 25-year-old son of owner David Hall.

“I wanted to be a top herd in the state, so I hung a piece of paper on the wall in the office to remind us every day.”

Top herd

The Halls achieved that goal in 2008 when they topped the Ohio DHI (Dairy Herd Improvement) production report in milk and protein and ranked third in fat.

The Halls’ 153-head milking herd produced 33,979 pounds milk, 1,248 pounds fat and 1,033 pounds protein.

Steve and his older brother, David, currently milk about 140 Holsteins on the 300-acre Trumbull County farm with their father. They also rent an additional 250 acres.

Roles and goals

Steve focuses on the herd management, while brother David maintains the farm equipment and does the crop work.

Parents David and Laura keep up with the recordkeeping and help out wherever needed. The family also employs three part-time milkers.

When it comes to setting goals and working toward them, Steve said it would not be possible without a team approach.

“We regularly sit down with our nutritionist and veterinarian, and we come up with a list of things we’d like to achieve,” he explained.

“Then, we use our best resources available to make those changes and keep records to evaluate our goals.”

The achievement of becoming top herd in the state can’t be attributed to one major change, Steve said.

“It’s not just one thing,” he said. “It’s about doing all the little things right.”

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Details

Areas of improvement over the past several years have included facility and equipment updates, a refocus on the dry cow program, consistency in forages, and a stricter hoof trimming program.

About three years ago, the Halls added 80 stalls to their freestall facility, creating room for 180 cows.

“We have larger cattle, so we need larger stalls,” Steve said.

The family also uses sand bedding for cow comfort.

The updated facilities allowed the Halls to move their dry cows from a pasture to a pen inside the barn.

“They were kind of neglected before,” Steve admitted. “Here, we’re able to keep a better eye on them.”

The Halls also switched the dry cows from alfalfa hay to wheat straw diet, allowing for a low energy, high fiber diet.

“We’ve been able to cut our [displaced abomasums] down to only one or two a year,” Steve said. “And we’ve pretty much eliminated milk fever.”

Another advantage of the wheat straw is that it helps maintain consistency in forage quality throughout the year. Steve said they need to make only a few changes in the diet, depending on the cow’s stage of lactation.

In addition to consistency in their feeding program, the Halls have a routine hoof trimming program that focuses on the entire herd, instead of just sore cows.

Steve said a hoof trimmer is hired to trim hooves on heifers before they freshen, when the cows are 100 days in milk, and right before the cows are dried off.

“We trim early on because we want to get that correct hoof angle,” Steve explained. “If you lose that, it takes a while to get it back to where it needs to be.”

“For us, it’s more of a preventative measure rather than a treatment,” he said.

Challenges

Although the Halls certainly have a lot to be proud of in their management practices, Steve said there is still room for improvement.

“One of our biggest struggles is reproduction,” he said. “We were having trouble with cows not breeding back, and when they did, we were having too many cases of twinning.”

The Halls have implemented the Double OvSynch program and have already seen results.

“We’ve only been using the program for about seven months, but through ultrasounds, we know that only two sets of twins have been conceived,” he said.

“The program also allows me to breed just two times a month.”

Collaboration

Everyone at Hallbrook Farm is welcome to share ideas and suggestions of what can be improved, Steve said.

He also believes that sharing the responsibility is a major part of the farm’s success.

“We just try to do things to the best of our ability, and we don’t play the ‘blame game,’” he said.

The Halls are positive that their attention to details and ability to compromise have helped keep the farm in business over the years — even in today’s tough economic conditions.

Steve’s father, David, appreciates the fact that both of his sons are still involved in the operation, which has been in his family since the 1850s.

He advises fellow producers with children coming back to the farm to learn to share the workload.

“You have to be willing to hand over some responsibility,” David said.

“Let them manage the cows or whatever their area of interest happens to be.”

David also believes young dairy producers should spend time learning about other dairy operations.

“Whether it’s going to college or working at another dairy farm, children should leave the home farm to see something different,” he said.

For example, Steve attended Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute for two years, and he completed an internship at another dairy farm.

“I was able to learn a lot of things,” Steve said. “Most importantly, I learned you need to have an open mind, especially when it comes to new technology.”

The Halls plan to continue keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in feeding, breeding and milk production.

After all, Steve still has plenty of goals he would like to see the herd achieve.

“I’d like to get to the point where we’re milking about 200 cows and able to market registered animals,” he said. “I think 200 cows with 110-pound average sounds pretty good.”

About the Author

Emily Caldwell of Beaver Falls, Pa., serves as the 2009 Farm and Dairy editorial intern. She is a graduate of Penn State University, where she studied agribusiness and agricultural communications. Feel free to follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emily718. More Stories by Emily Caldwell

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