Two Wisconsin farms featured in Expo virtual tours

Jan Shepel
Pam Selz-Pralle and her husband Scott Pralle (front) took over Humbird, Wsconsin, farm from Pam's dad in 1990. The farm is home to the current world record-holding Holstein cow, Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918.

MADISON - For the past 16 years, when World Dairy Expo visitors want to learn from some of the best and most innovative dairy farms in the country, they can take virtual tours of hand-picked dairies without jeopardizing anyone’s biosecurity.

This year two of those being featured are from Wisconsin. Each of the armchair tours begins with a half-hour presentation followed by time for questions with the farms’ owners and managers.

One of the Wisconsin farms being featured on the Expo virtual tours is the home of the current world record-holding Holstein cow, Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918, a cow that racked up a 365-day record of 78,169 pounds of milk last fall, with a 4.0 fat test (that’s 3,094 pounds) and a 3.1 percent protein (2,394 pounds.)

The record-holding cow is one of 450 registered Holsteins at the Humbird farm where the Selz-Pralle family has the philosophy of giving their cows the best environment to allow their genetic potential to be realized. Visitors on the virtual tour will see the things the family has done to achieve their goal of a stress-free environment for their cows.

Pam Selz-Pralle and her husband Scott Pralle took over the farm from Pam’s dad in 1990 and believe that the best genetics aren’t going to pay off unless the cows have the right environmental conditions to capitalize on the investment in genetics.

Their record-breaking cow traces her lineage back to a cow the couple bought 20 years ago when they expanded the herd.

The farm was expanded in 1998 from 120 to 400 cows with a six-row, naturally ventilated barn with sand bedding to give the cows the gold standard for bedding. That expansion included a double-10 parallel parlor.

Blue Star Dairy Farms is owned and managed by the Meinholz family — brothers Craig and Brian with their wives Sherri and Rhonda, respectively, and their uncle Art and his wife Lori.

About a half-mile down the road from the main dairy barn is a former tie-stall barn that was retrofitted to give transition cows the utmost comfort. It includes sand bedding and freshening pens. When they decided that synchronizing cows for breeding was causing overcrowding in the fresh pens, they moved to spread those calving dates out.

That helped reduce crowding in the pre-fresh pens and has aided in reducing metabolic problems like retained placentas and milk fevers in fresh cows.

The Selz-Pralles have been sold on the use of rumination and activity trackers for their cows and said the use of this technology has reduced their displaced abomasums (DAs or twisted stomachs) by 80 percent.

Virtual visitors will also see the teat scrubbers that they installed in the parlor, which helped reduce their somatic cell counts to 125,000 and brought mastitis down by over 60 percent.

Their big record-holding cow is an amazing specimen, one that has never been sick a day in her life and who likes to be kept in a normal group and get treated like all the other “blue collar” Holsteins in the herd. Like all her high-producing herd mates, Aftershock 3918 benefits from the consistent care, diet and environment that is the norm at the Selz-Pralle farm.

As a three-year-old the Aftershock cow made a record of 44,000 and milked about 58,800 as a four-year-old. The record-breaking lactation began when she was five years and 11 months of age.

The Selz-Pralle Dairy virtual tour will begin Thursday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. All of the virtual tours are in the Exhibition Hall’s Mendota 1 room.

The other Wisconsin operation will be featured on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at noon and will allow Expo visitors to get a virtual tour of Blue Star Dairy Farms, a family-run farm that milks a total of 2,600 cows on three different sites – Middleton, DeForest and Arlington in south-central Wisconsin. Each site has its own size and variety of buildings and Germania herringbone-style parlors where cows are milked three times a day.

The parlors vary slightly from each other – double-12, double-16 and a double-18 at the Arlington farm. The parlors feature integrated milk weighing systems to monitor daily production of each cow along with other parameters like activity that can help manage the cows.

When combined, the dairies have a production average of 90 pounds of milk per cow with a somatic cell count of 130,000. The original dairy in Middleton, near the west side of Madison, has 600 cows; the DeForest operation has 800 cows and there are 1,200 cows at the Arlington farm.

The dairy business is owned and managed by the Meinholz family — brothers Craig and Brian with their wives Sherri and Rhonda, respectively, and their uncle Art and his wife Lori.

The farming enterprise was begun by William and Dorothy Meinholz and was carried on by their sons Art and Louie along with Louie’s wife Joanne. Louie’s sons Craig and Brian are the next generation to be part of running the farm.

At the Middleton and DeForest farms, herd replacements are raised on site in naturally ventilated barns until they are moved to bedding pack barns at two to three months of age. Heifers get used to freestall housing before they enter the milking herd.

Dry cows from the Columbia County Arlington farm — on land that once was home to Tent City for Farm Progress Days — are housed over the county line at the family’s DeForest farm but after calving those cows return to the Arlington facility. Heifer calves remain at the family’s DeForest farm to be raised with other young stock.

In addition to their dairy operation the family runs 4,500 acres of cropland. The cropping enterprise is handled out of the DeForest location. The dairy operation also purchases feed from neighbors to meet their livestock needs. That comes from an additional 1,500 acres of land.

In total the farms employ 65 workers, including the family members who are part of the workforce.