Holsum Dairies prides itself on sustainability

Gloria Hafemeister

Hilbert — Holsum Dairies in Hilbert has earned numerous awards since they were established, including the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award and the IDFA’s Innovative Farming Award, both recognizing the farms for their ability to combine environmentally sound practices and profitability.

Dating to 2006, Holsum Elm is the home of about 4,500 cows, as well as the calf ranch where about 2,000 calves from both farms reside until 7 months of age. Holsum Irish was established in 2001 and has 4,000 cows.  Both farms are set up and managed the same.

Holsum Elm hosted the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin dairy technology tour recently, and participants learned about the innovations that have not only contributed to the farms’ success but also to their recognition as innovators.

“We chose to have two different sites, 4 miles away, rather than have all the cows on one site,” said Dr. Bob Nagel, who oversees both businesses. “We just didn’t want to put all our eggs in the same basket.”

The manager at Holsum Elm farm is Dr. Brent Cousin, who actively practiced veterinary medicine for 10 years and then worked with a large pharmaceutical company before joining the Holsum Dairy family.

Dr. Tom Cully manages the people and the cows on the Holsum Irish site. He grew up in Ohio and attended college in Indiana and veterinary school in New York.

Holsum Elm Dairy focuses on minimizing groundwater usage, energy efficiency and protecting groundwater and air quality while reducing waste.

Holsum dairies were among the first in the state to utilize mixed plug flow anaerobic digesters for manure management. The digesters have a generating capacity to provide power for 900 homes, more power than what the farm actually uses.

Solids recovered from the digested manure go through a new fluid bed dryer to produce quality recycled cattle bedding.

Nagel said their environmental management plan is designed to maximize the timed delivery of necessary nutrients to crops while minimizing wasteful over-application of nutrients.

The two farms have a total of 100 employees who concentrate on the cows. They purchase all the feed for both farms on contract and then sell manure back to area farms.

Electricity is generated by two 1,375 hp engines, and the farm is a net exporter of electricity, but Nagel said the generation of electricity does not generate income for the farm. They sell the power on the grid and then pay the full price for power the farm uses.

Members of PDPW look at the drier system that is in place for the recycled bedding on Holsum Dairy.

The farm does profit from carbon credit sales for destroying methane gas, and they are researching ways to better utilize the gas created by the digesters. Manure stays in the digester for 20 days.

Nagel described some of the challenges with operating digesters and said even though the farm does not use any sand for bedding, there is still plenty of dirt that gets into the digester, resulting in the need to clean it out.

Dr. Bob Nagel, Holstum Dairy, Hilbert, shows the recycled bedding that the farm utilizes for cow comfort.  The bedding is separated solids that is then put through a drier before reusing.Dr. Bob Nagel, Holstum Dairy, Hilbert, shows the recycled bedding that the farm utilizes for cow comfort.  The bedding is separated solids that is then put through a drier before reusing.

They work with their local fire department, getting special masks for those going into the pit to remove debris. Cleaning it out is also hard on equipment, and they use their oldest skid steer for the job.

When the system was first in place, they used the recycled bedding as it came off the presses, but after struggling with mastitis issues, they put the drying system into place.

Solids come off the press at 70 percent moisture and then run through the drum drier that takes it down to 50 percent moisture. The drying is done at a very high temperature that actually pasteurizes the bedding, destroying any pathogens.

“We now have a much better somatic cell count and fewer mastitis cases, but we need to be careful that it is not too dry or it will blow out of the beds,” Nagel said.

The tour also highlighted some of the other technology in place, including the 80-cow rotary parlor.

The calf ranch is managed as a separate entity from the dairy farms. Calves housed on the two farms are housed in a new state-of-the-art facility on Holsum Elm. At any given time, there will be about 2,000 calves on site, birth to 7 months.

They start out in a nursery calf barn, then a group pen with ad-lib feeding and then an open-sided barn before going to a cross-ventilated freestall barn from 4-7 months. At that time, they move on to one of five heifer growers who get them bred and return them at freshening.

This article is the last in a series from the PDPW technology series.