Five steps to increase herd size by 1500%

Valuable lessons: Lloyd Holterman says of his 1,300-strong herd
Valuable lessons: Lloyd Holterman says of his 1,300-strong herd "it took about 40 years but if you keep reinvesting your money, if you focus on profit, you focus on new technologies, new ways of doing things, it gives you the ability to grow"

A dairy farming husband and wife from Franklin, Wisconsin grown their dairy herd from 80 cows in 1989 to 1,300 across 1,700 acres today through five fundamentals steps.

"You need great people; you need to be measuring everything; your finances and record keeping needs to be good; so does biosecurity and diseases control; and you need to have genetic excellence. They're the five key points to making a successful farm," said Lloyd W Holterman.

Lloyd was speaking at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) dairy conference in Omagh, Co Tyrone last week.

Lloyd runs the Rosy Lane herd along with his wife Daphne and two other business partners.

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"It took about 40 years (to get to here) but if you keep reinvesting your money, if you focus on profit, you focus on new technologies, new ways of doing things, it gives you the ability to grow," Lloyd told the 300 attendees.

The Holtermans' success is rooted in a ruthless attention to detail, backing their staff and adopting modern technologies and farming practices.

"We have built new barns, and facilities, tractors, trucks and tools have been utilised to focus on cow comfort and quality feed, all with a profitable and sustainable business in mind," Lloyd said.

Lloyd said regardless of the size of operations, the key is to measure everything. He knows that his cost of production is 0.24 cent per litre, where feed accounts for 0.12 cent per litre, and his labour cost is 0.45 cent per litre.

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"Take, for example, the baby calf. If you screw her up in the first couple of weeks of her life, then you're going to suffer for the next couple of years," he said.

"It's all about good habits. Good habits, they're hard to learn at first but once you get used to them, they are easy to pick up as bad habits. That's what separates most farmers.

Mr Holterman said Irish farmers need to monitor farm finances closely and use them as the basis of decision making. His Rosy Lane enterprise always carries a fund of $2.5m to deal with any unexpected issues on the farm as well as a separate $2.5m fund for real estate purchases.

"The farm runs on money, not blue ribbons or accolades," he said.

In order for the farm to make "good profits", there is one simple equation that the Holtermans adhere to.

"The overriding goal on the farm - and everything we do is linked back to this - is to produce 1.7 litres of milk for every 1kg of dry matter feed that the cows consume.

"If we do that, then there's no way we will not make money.

"We have to do everything correctly on the farm to achieve the 1.7 figure."

An American dairy farmer told the CAFRE conference in Omagh how he built up a multi-million dollar enterprise

 

'He offered me $525,000 for the heifer… I won the lottery and I was smart enough to cash her'

While the Holtermans are winding down and are selling more shares of the farm to their other two partners, Lloyd still has a keen interest in genetics

"Genetics is the thing that's going to separate us all out. This is what separates the really profitable people from the really average people," he said.

"You can do everything right but if you have an average cow she's not going to make as much money. The good cows for fertility, production and longevity, they're the ones who make the money."

Through monitoring and breeding, Lloyd's farm has eradicated diseases such as Johnes.

"How do you make cows resistant to diseases? Vaccination, yes but breeding is key," said Lloyd.

"Last year we had only six displaced abomasa in 1,300 calvings and we've had no cases of clinical ketosis or clinical milk fever in seven years."

The focus on genetics has resulted in serious financial gains for the Holtermans. Lloyd bred the number one net merit Holstein cow in North America but decided not to sell her. But when her heifer became ranked the number one net merit heifer in North America, he had a different answer.

"I had someone call me up one day wanting to buy the heifer," he said. "I said 'no' because I didn't want to sell her. He said,'how about $525,000 (€476,590)?'. I said, 'how about yes'.

"I never dreamed that doing a few genomic tests would result in a $525,000 heifer. I won the lottery and I was smart enough to cash her.

"It's not what the cow looks like. It's about what you can't see that makes her profitable. She's in the top 5pc in the Holstein breed across the world."

'You need to promote from within, it develops a good culture'

As part of their modernisation, the Holtermans took on new partners in Tim Strobel and in 2013, Jordan Matthews. Neither grew up on a farm.

"Everyone has a clear role. My wife runs social media and runs the office. I run the genetics and finance," said Lloyd Holterman.

"Tim has been with us since he was 14. He didn't grow up on a farm.

"Tim wanted to be on a farm. His dad said give him all the crap jobs so he wouldn't stick it but he's now a partner. He never saw a dairy animal before he worked on the farm.

"Talent is where you find it. Every time I give a role to someone else, that area improves. That means I'm the problem, right?" Lloyd joked.

Lloyd encourages promoting good staff from within after they are trained well. He has hired people from industries outside agriculture as they had a good attitude.

He explained how the farm's executive assistant worked in a postal delivery store for 16 years, while the head of calf rearing came from a nursing home. The calf rearer is one of the "highest paid" member of the farm staff.

"You need the best people. There are great people are everywhere, you just have to find them," said Lloyd.

"You need to promote from within, it develops a good culture. It makes people think 'I have a chance here'.

"Even if it's your kid, give them a lot of responsibility.

"I took my daughter to a sale once and she did the bidding and bought a $6,000 (€5,446) heifer. She was only 12.

"But it showed she had the confidence that 'I could do this'. She bought a show heifer for $6,000, she realised her mistake.

"Better to eat the $6,000 now and save millions down the line."

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