PROGRESS: Hunsbergers near the top, but want to keep climbing

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SHREVE, Ohio – Hal Hunsberger and his son Rod, a fourth generation Holmes County dairy farmer, pause at Rod’s farm. Together, they operate Gate Way Holsteins, one of the state’s top herds on test.
The 130-cow Holstein herd ranks 20th in the state, with a herd average of 25,723 pounds of milk, 988 pounds butterfat, and 788 pounds protein.
Their herd is 90 percent registered Holstein and 10 percent good, high production grade cows, but they are slowly building to a 100 percent registered herd by transferring embryos from registered cows bred to super bulls.
Attention to dry cows. In addition to good genetics, they pay attention to dry cows, in order to achieve this high level of production.
“It is very important to take good care of dry cows,” Hal said.
Of course, fresh cows are closely watched, too. All cows except first calf heifers will receive an IV of dextrose and calcium within six hours after calving. Within 12 hours, Hal said, 98 percent of the cows will pass their afterbirth.
Rod, 34, is in charge of herd health, bull selection and the embryo program. They maintain only two groups of cows: milk and dry.
“This helps simplify the feeding program,” Rod explained.
He feeds all corn silage using a TMR mixer and eight pounds of western hay. The rest of the feed is homegrown silage.
The Hunsbergers raise most of their own feed on 400 acres, with the exception of the western hay. This year, they planted 180 acres of corn, 120 acres of hay, 20 acres of oats and 20 acres of wheat.
Dairy roots. Although Hal and Rod use the latest technology today at Gate Way Holsteins, Hal thinks it is important to remember the history of his family since the dairy was once part of the daily life in the Shreve area..
In the 1930s, his grandparents Bird and Mryl Wells hand milked 15 or 20 Jersey cows and bottled the milk for home delivery in the area.
In 1937, the Wells’ daughter Eileen married Raymond Hunsberger and they took over the dairy. To keep up with the increasing demand for milk, they added some Holsteins to the herd.
The name of the dairy was changed to Hunsberger Dairy from Bird Wells Dairy.
“I remember my mom making chocolate milk by mixing one gallon of Hershey chocolate into a 10-gallon can of milk,” Hal recalls.
“Mom also had to wash the empty glass bottles every day for the next day’s use.”
At the height of Hunsberger Dairy, they delivered 600 bottles of milk daily. But by around 1947, the law required pasteurization so the family discontinued the home bottling and sold their milk directly to Ideal Dairy in Wooster.
First parlor in county. Since the focus of the operation changed from home bottling, and the family was growing, Hal’s parents decided to purchase a neighbor’s connecting 150-acre farm when it became available in 1953.
The new farm featured an elevated, single three-stall milking parlor built in 1948. It was one of the first milking parlors in Holmes County.
The cows were then moved to the new farm where the milking is still done today, although the milking schedule has probably changed. Today’s herd is milked at 2:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.
Growing family, growing herd. The family and herd continued to grow. The Hunsbergers added registered Holsteins as 4-H projects for their three boys and two girls. The parlor was upgraded in 1959 to a double 6 herringbone and by this time Hunsberger Dairy had grown to 80 cows.
In the mid-1960s, Hal and his two brothers, Wayne and Raymond Jr., bought out their father and formed Hunsberger Holsteins.
After a few years, Hal and Wayne bought out Raymond Jr. and formed a partnership that lasted until the early ’90s.
Ready for next generation. “We were at a point where we needed to expand since we each have a son farming,” Hal said. “However, we couldn’t build a 300-cow dairy with Shreve only a mile away.”
Wayne and Hal made the decision to operate separate dairies in 1992.
“Even though we maintain our own herds, we continue to share equipment,” Hal added.
Wayne and his son Mike milk about 100 cows on a farm a few miles away and retain the Hunsberger Holsteins name.
Steady growth. In 1995, Hal and Rod added a freestall barn for the milk cows and in 2004, they built a double-eight parabone parlor that Hal says greatly speeds up milking time.
The success of the farm is due to four generations of hard work and slow, but steady, growth.
Hal also credits the success of their operation to two longtime employees who help with the herd and field work. A third employee helps with afternoon milking. Hal’s wife, Sherry, no longer milks but keeps the farm records.
Are there future expansions for the next generation?
“The herd we have now is about the right size,” Rod said. “We don’t need to be bigger, just better.”

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