In early June, Calf-Tel kicked off the first Producer of the Month contest. Nominees were asked to submit answers to a variety of questions for an opportunity to win tickets to a Milwaukee Milkmen game!
We are pleased to announce that Heidi Fischer, Manager of Calves and Operations at Fischer-Clark Dairy in Hatley, Wisconsin, is July’s Calf-Tel Producer of the Month! Heidi has been in the dairy industry for 6.5 years and is the board secretary for both Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and Partnership for Progressive Agriculture of Marathon County. Fischer-Clark Dairy currently milks 925 cows and raises 125 calves.
Check out Heidi’s answers to a few questions we asked her!
History of Fischer-Clark Dairy
“Our farm was started in 1972 by my father-in-law and mother-in-law with 8 cows; growth has been constant. We went from a tie-stall barn to a retro-fitted double-eight parlor, to the new double-20 we installed in 2015, currently milking 925 cows. Our cows maintain a rolling herd average of 32,651 lbs. of milk, a 4.25% butter fat and a 3.25% protein, all while averaging a somatic cell count below 100,000 each month. The facilities have been updated to match the growth of our herd, with a focus on efficiency. We recently remodeled our transition cow barn to a tunnel-ventilated barn to complement the other tunnel-ventilated barn, which now both house milking cows. A new heifer facility was constructed in 2012, and expanded on in 2015 in preparation for the latest milking herd growth in 2016. A new calf barn was constructed in 2017, doubling the size of the current one. And a new young-stock heifer facility was built in 2018. Jon (son/partner) started farming with his parents after high school. I (wife of Jon/partner) joined the farm in 2014 to be more available for our two young daughters.”
Is your farm a family farm? If so, how many generations has the farm been in the family?
“Our farm is starting to be a multi-generational farm as we have begun the process of transitioning.”
What makes your operation unique?
“What makes our operation unique is our focus on efficiency and details. Whether it is putting up a new building or implementing a new work flow – it has to make sense and it has to be efficient. Our goal is to have as few touches as possible with our animals so they can spend their time being calves, heifers and cows.”
How do you balance your career and family?
“Balancing family and the farm is always a challenge. When possible, I like to bring my kids to the farm with me – age 16 and 8, and have them work alongside of me. We can spend time together and accomplish a goal. We do try to set aside time twice a year for a family vacation. Whether it is a long weekend up north, or even a vacation that is an extension of a conference at a fun location. We always try to make the most of our time together. And we have a rule for when we are on vacation. When we go into a restaurant, phones are either turned off or left in the car. Having those moments to sit down, focus on the kids, have good discussion is what it’s all about.”
What is an important lesson you’ve learned working in the dairy industry?
“I’ve learned so many lessons – the minute you conquer something, there is always something else to conquer. Just because something didn’t turn out the way you expected it to, doesn’t mean it was a failure if you took something from it. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should! It may not work for your business plan, operation, work flow, etc. I learned this with feeding 4 quarts of milk, twice a day to my calves. I just wasn’t getting the rate of gains I had hoped to be getting. And the starter intake was not where I wanted it to be. We dropped the feeding amount to 3 quarts, twice a day and saw starter intake increase as well as the rate of gain. When feeding 4 quarts of milk, this was satisfying their appetite enough that they didn’t need to eat the grain.”
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work? Why?
“I worked off the farm in a few different corporate settings. I’ve had good managers and bad ones, and so much of what I do on a day-to-day basis is drawn from each of the types of managers I’ve had. I know what a good manager is capable of – and I know what my employees don’t want in a manager through my own experiences. So, between the two I try to be as accessible, encouraging, honest, and as fair as I can be.
I always stress to my employees that I have an open-door policy no matter the issue. Plus, I love when they come to me with a new idea or way of managing a certain task. When I interview them for a position, I tell them that I am the bulldozer. If they have an idea or want to try something, they let me know. I will get the tools and resources needed to get it done. I’m there all along the way to help them succeed. One thing you will not hear on our farm is, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it”. If there is a better, smarter, more efficient way of doing something, why not?!”