DURAND, Wis. – Cow comfort and good feed are the top-two priorities for the Weisenbeck family – who recently became Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council two-time winners. They earned a gold award this year after a platinum award the previous year.

Jake Weisenbeck, who farms with his parents and brother, is the man in charge when it comes to cow care and reproduction on their 450-cow dairy. They were nominated for the council award by their nutritionist, Matt Lamberson of AgPartners.

Lamberson said there’s not just one thing that stands out that the Weisenbecks are doing right.

“The Weisenbeck farm does an outstanding job with all facets of their dairy operation,” he said. “They are very good managers and very detailed-oriented. They’re just wonderful people to work with.”

Weisenbeck said there are many factors that go into a winning reproduction program. He gives lots of credit to his inseminator, Tim Nemitz from Genex, who not only does the sleeve work but enters information into their Dairy Comp 305 computer program. He also helps with bull selection.

The farm’s breeding regimen for cows is a 72-day volunteer waiting period followed by a double-ovsynch procedure right before service. Heifers are bred at 12 to 13 months. In the past sexed semen was used for calving ease. But lately Weisenbeck has changed to using some beef bulls to gain flexibility in the program.

“It was costing too much to raise heifers,” he said. “We had about 150 extra heifers we didn’t need. Beef semen settles better and is cheaper.”

The beef semen is generally used on older cows with less production.

Weisenbeck calls his hit list of key breeding components, “Weapons of Mass Reproduction.” The list includes good feed, comfortable cows, a good technician, attention to details, newborn care and collaboration. The result is a 43 percent conception rate, 95-pounds-a-day production and a somatic-cell count of 100,000.

Newborns are where good cows start. Weisenbeck’s mother, Sally Weisenbeck, is in charge of the heifer barn. Individual pens and jackets are used to background the calves for 10 days. From there they are moved to group pens where they enjoy an automatic feeder, consuming 12 to 14 quarts of replacer milk per day.

The barn has ventilation tubes, creating a total air exchange every five hours; it has rollup side walls for the summer. Jake Weisenbeck said he thinks good ventilation and a clean environment are the most important components to healthy calves. As the heifers grow they are moved to an open south-facing pole barn where they receive dry hay and calf pellets.

Ventilation leads to cow comfort. When the Weisenbecks built their barn in 2009 they chose a cross-ventilated free-stall barn because of the way it fit well with their building site – as well as the results they saw while touring other dairy barns.

Air takes the path of least resistance, through stalls rather than down mangers.

“Ventilation has come a long way,” Weisenbeck said.

Currently the herd is young in age because of an inflated cull rate. Any cow more than 200 days in milk, not bred and less than 80-pounds-per-day production is sold in the meat market. Open cows more than 80 pounds are kept as a “do not breed” and sold later.

“I could grow 100 cows in a few months, but I have to have a place to put them,” Weisenbeck said. “I don’t have the land base to expand and it doesn’t pay right now.”

He said he’s concerned about the future and milk prices.

“I’m not saying my days are numbered, but we need higher prices,” he said. “You need to reinvest in your business to keep going. I feel for the farmers being forced out.”

He said about the downturn that farming is like that. For now the family has no plans to make any major changes in their operation as they continue to keep their award-winning focus on the details.

LeeAnne Bulman writes from her farm in the Waumandee Valley of western Wisconsin. She’s the author of the book “Haffa Huffy or All Huffey.”