Family is truly the central theme at Kellercrest Registered Holsteins in Mount Horeb. The 326-cow dairy is a partnership between brothers Tim and Mark Keller and their wives, Sandy and Kareen.
The families are carrying on a tradition started by Tim and Mark’s parents, Daniel and Jeanne, in the 1960s when they purchased two registered Holsteins and created the Kellercrest prefix.
Speaking at World Dairy Expo last week, Tim said, “Our parents saw the future and value of registered cattle and continued over the next several years to add quality animals to the herd.”
Tim’s involvement began when he was 10 years old and his parents bought him a registered calf. As time went on, he purchased more.
In 1988, Tim and Sandy became partners with their parents, and in 1997, they purchased the entire herd and cash rented the farm. With cow comfort in mind, they eventually expanded.
After working in the agriculture industry for 13 years, Mark returned to the home farm. Together they modernized their facilities, expanded the farm and added more animals to the herd. They now have 600 animals on the farm.
The Keller family has a passion for genetics, selling numerous bulls into stud and embryos from their top dams.
Tim said the awards are nice, but filling a wall with plaques isn't the top goal of their program. Instead, they look to increase the herd's genetics to put more milk in the bulk tank.
When the brothers expanded, they built a freestall barn with sand bedding, something they feel has contributed to a significant increase in production. After building the barn, they altered the size of the stalls and lowered the brisket board to make the stalls longer for the mature cows. Their sand bedding is on top of mattresses for added comfort.
“The more the cows lay down, the more they chew their cud, and that’s what makes butter fat, so cow comfort is very important” Tim said.
They have 24-foot macro air fans that are quiet but very effective, and they also utilize sprinklers to keep cows comfortable on hot days.
Their 245-foot long heifer barn provides pens from weaning to freshening, and animals simply progress from one pen to another as the mature. The calves start out in a 52-pen Cozy calf barn.
The Kellers used the plans from the Dairyland Initiative as a guide to provide outside walls that prevent drafts and sun block that allows light into the barn without interfering with ventilation.
In the cold months, they feed calves three times a day.
Cows remain in the fresh cow barn for at least three weeks post-freshening, and Tim said that has contributed significantly to the increase in milk production.
Their proximity to Madison and their efficient dairy facilities and productive herd has resulted in many visits from dairy interns and guests from around the world. They also host veterinarian students from the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.
“They learn from us but we also learn from them," Tim said.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board also brings tours to the farm.
The Kellers have hosted the Dane County Dairy Breakfast, and they supply animals to 4-Hers who do not live on a farm but want to show dairy animals.
“We try to tell our story and get involved in our community,” Tim said. ‘We aren’t doing anything different than 99 percent of the dairy farmers in the state whose goals are to provide the best cow comfort possible.”
The cropping side
The Kellers raise their own feed on 413 acres of owned land and 227 acres rented land. They store their feed in horizontal bunkers and some silos.
With a 10-percent slope on their land, they have utilized contour strips for many years. They have good fertility because of the manure applications.
“We plant half of our corn in 15-inch rows, and that has provided good weed control,” Mark said. “We believe we have a social responsibility to do the best we can for the environment.”
He described the farm’s nutrient management plan and said as a result, they have not needed to purchase any phosphorus for the crops for eight years.
They utilize winter rye to make sure any bare spots on the ground are covered over winter to prevent erosion. Mark said it scavenges phosphorus and is a great heifer feed so they won’t get fat but will still grow.