Colby couple pools skills, experience to build successful heifer-raising business

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
Mike and Gina Redetzke combined their individual skills to build a successful heifer raising business in Colby, Wis..

COLBY – For some it’s taking over an existing family farm, while for others it means trying various ventures, developing a plan and making changes in the business as they go.

Mike and Gina Redetzke combined their love for farming by developing a custom heifer raising business at Colby, not too far from where Mike grew up on a 55-cow dairy farm.

Mike and his siblings were home-schooled which provided greater opportunity to help his family with daily chores and fieldwork and learn about farming.

During his teenage years, he sought additional income by working for a custom harvesting operator and milking cows for a neighboring farm.

At age 18 he tried his hand as an over-the-road welder but soon knew his heart was really in farming. He went back to work for both of his previous employers.

In 2011, he met Gina when they both worked for the custom harvesting operation.  After marrying the following summer they moved to River Falls where Gina completed her final semester in college. Upon this move, Mike worked as a mechanic/equipment operator on a 750-cow dairy.

Two years later the Redetzkes decided to venture out on their own, renting 40 acres of cropland near Stratford while retaining their full time jobs. By 2016 they were renting 165 acres but decided they really didn’t want to continue living in western Wisconsin while farming in central Wisconsin.

They eventually moved back to Colby, purchasing a 40-acre farm from a retired dairy farmer and renting with the first right to purchase an additional 137 acres of the farm.

They faced challenges with expenses involved with cleaning up and repairing buildings and using older equipment while trying to make a living farming. They developed, what they call a 'frugal' lifestyle.

While they were not able to purchase their farm from family, they did receive help from both Mike and Gina’s family members who helped them with cleanup and repairs on their farm. They reduced costs  by sharing equipment with Mike's dad and brother who had taken over the family farm. Upon retirement, Mike’s parents assisted by driving tractor.

Their initial goal when purchasing their farm was to cash crop. They also decided to raise Holstein steers from calves through finishing. This venture expanded when Mike’s brothers began milking cows and needed someone to raise their heifers. Mike took on the task. 

As word spread that Mike raised heifers, it spurred a demand from numerous farmers seeking someone to custom raise their heifers. By 2018, Mike and Gina's farm transitioned to a sole custom heifer-raising operation. Instead of cash crops, forages and grains would be used to feed the heifers.

Mike Redetzke gained valuable experience working in several roles in the agriculture industry before developing a custom heifer raising farm where he manages heifers from two months of age to calving.

Today the couple is raising 224 heifers for four different clients, along with a herd of grass fed beef.

Mike’s main goal is transitioning the farm into regenerative agriculture and updating facilities. He says intensively managed rotational grazing the heifers and beef cattle has been an important objective for the farm as well.

Mike began installing high-tensile fencing on the farm in 2017 and has been expanding the system each year.  The current grazing system consists of three large pastures divided into small paddocks via roll-up poly fence, with cattle being moved daily. 

He plans to install raised lanes and a more extensive watering system as well as perfecting the winter bale grazing system that was introduced last winter.

As for cropping, four years ago he achieved a primary goal of no-tilling all the land. He hopes to implement cover crops and inter-seeding in the near future.

For the past 2 years, cover crops have been inter-seeded into the standing corn fields, and a rye cover crop has been seeded onto the bean ground in the fall. This year marks the first year the entire farm will have a green cover heading into winter. 

Next year he hopes to roller-crimp the green rye and plant corn into it, and then experiment with deep-rooted cover crops to break up compaction.

Redetzke says every cropping decision is made with conservation in mind.  All liquid manure is either applied via low disturbance injection or broadcast onto growing hay fields. Solid manure is spread onto a green cover crop with manure rates dictated by the SnapPlus program. 

Vertical minimal tillage has been used on his new seeding this year with great success and Mike plans to continue the practice. Attempts to no-till plant the new seeding hay fields have resulted in poor germination.

This year the farm was enrolled in the CSP program with NRCS. Through this program, Mike will be installing a 30-foot filter strip at the edge of a field that borders Randal Creek and as well as a 1.4 acre Monarch butterfly habitat. Ditch ways and seeding of low-lying areas are also on the to-do list.

The couple has hosted numbThey have hosted numerous visitors to see the test plots on their farm.

Gina contributes to the farm both through physical labor and record keeping.  She assists with daily chores of feeding, scraping and bedding, moving cattle and weighing/vaccinating.  She also drives tractor when needed.

                Much of her time is spent caring for their four children, Daniel, 7; Bethany, 5; Elijah, 3; and Jonathan, 1.  She also maintains a large garden, pastured laying hens, pastured meat chickens, and her milk cow.  Her work is completed with the children at her side while she home schools the two older ones.

                Gina enters and tracks farm income and expenses into their accounting system, generates the monthly invoices for their heifer raising clients, and manages the budget and financial decisions.  Her part-time off farm career as an agricultural appraiser provides financially to the farm and has helped her by providing the opportunity to hear about innovative practices during farm visits and then bringing ideas home to their farm.