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Kerfeld dairy focuses on family and ease of operation

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 09/11/2013 10:28 AM

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MELROSE — The construction activity didn't stop on the Kerfeld Hillview Farm during a visit by more than 50 people.

With the sounds of nail guns in the background, the family talked about their dairy and the construction projects, including the free-stall barn addition and the loading area being built near their dry cow and calf barn.

The family farm is owned by Art and Rosie and their son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Carrie. They milk 175 cows, raising all heifers on the farm. They have 300 acres of rented and owned land. They also do custom tillage and planting. The family does most of the work themselves, including Tim and Carrie's three children with help from two part-time workers.

They farm in a partnership that was started in 1991. In 2000, they formed a corporation for the cattle, machinery and feed. The land stayed in the partnership.

When Art had back surgery in 1987, Tim helped with day-to-day operations. He was around 12 to 13 years old at the time, Art said. Tim showed an interest in the dairy side of the operation. After high school, he looked at several farms for his own operation.

The Kerfelds planned together as they considered a joint operation. It would've been a tight fit to keep the original operation for two families, Art said. They considered doubling the size of the barn and making the operation easier to handle. With that in mind, they built the barn in 1995 for 96 cows and eventually added a parlor and free-stall.

The Kerfelds have added precision technologies to the machinery in the field to calf feeding and heat detection with the milking herd.

They had raised the calves in hutches, but the Kerfelds wanted a better way to feed young animals and eliminate scours. They'd considered individual pens in an old barn when they saw an automatic calf feeder. They purchased a unit with two feeders, a Lely Calm Automatic Calf Feeders, about five years ago. The main unit sits in an enclosed structure between two pens with a feeder on each side. It mixes milk and feeds each calf individually, giving an exact portion based on information in the unit's computer.

The computerized system tracks each calf's growth.

In winter, they place a heat tape topped with insulation over the unit's tube to keep it from freezing.

While the units have saved time, Art stressed the importance of physically being with the calves everyday to check on their overall condition.

Some producers have had problem with calf sucking. The Kerfelds were told to give the calves more milk. While some in the industry said to increase the amount to 10 liters, they chose a middle number of 7.5 liters and haven't had the same issues.

Scours have been a problem for the calves, surfacing at five to seven days. Once the young animals pass that blip, they do okay, the Kerfelds said.

Cows are milked in a parlor attached to the naturally-ventilated, four-row, free-stall barn. The barn has cyclone fans with mattresses and a pen pack in the calving area. The free-stall had been an 82-stall barn. Now, they are adding another 120 stalls.

There is no brisket board in the free-stall addition. Extension educator Jim Salfer said the cows will stay within the mattress when laying down, noting that the front of the mattress has a harder edge, which will be a natural stopping point for the cow when they lay down.

They use SCR Lely T4C activity monitors for heat detection in heifers and cows. It's been a good tool in their breeding program.

Tim oversees the entire operation, and Carrie is responsible for bookwork and milking. Their son, Nicholas, is in his second year at Ridgewater College, where he majors in agronomy. Two younger children, Jessica and Nathan, also help.

Art handles the younger calves and the TMR mixing, and Rosie milks in the morning and feeds heifers.

"Everyone knows what everyone does," Tim said. "They will shift around to get the job done."