For many farm families, running a 2,000-cow dairy would be more than enough to keep busy.
But for the Webb family in southeast Idaho, the milking herd is just the cornerstone of an enterprise with a half-dozen business units that allows close management of the entire production process.
“We close more of the loop,” Josh Webb said during a virtual tour of the farm Tuesday during the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit.
Josh and his brother, Eric, were encouraged by their parents to go to college and work off the farm for several years before returning to the farm. Josh became a banker and Eric a business manager.
The brothers’ experience in the corporate world gave them an appreciation for finding and developing the right employees.
“We learned we weren’t the best,” Josh said.
While a farm hard-pressed for labor might feel stuck with anyone willing to do hard work, Eric said he looks for people who are humble, hungry and smart.
That perspective has helped the family grow the Heglar Creek Farms portfolio to include a sod farm, feedlot, custom heifer business, trucking and even an ag electrician business.
Each of these companies helps or relates to the family’s core dairy business but also broadens the farm’s customer base.
So expansive is the Webbs’ willingness to bring dairy services in house that when they installed robotic milkers at the farm, they also started the Lely dealership in their area.
“Robotic dairies are very nice but require a high level of management,” Josh said.
The 18 robots replaced a herringbone parlor the family had been using since it started dairy farming in the 1970s.
Josh believes the robots have saved the farm money. The cows are fed based on individualized nutritional requirements and milked based on production records.
“We gained a lot of efficiency from a feed standpoint,” he said.
The farm’s first diversification was the feedlot. The Webbs had raised dairy heifer and bull calves for years, but with a dedicated feedlot, the family could increase feed efficiency and scale up by buying calves from other dairies.
After the feedlot, custom calf raising for other farms was a natural next step.
Lewis Anderson, the calf ranch manager, raises the heifers for either 100 days or until they are 11 months. With these two tracks of feeding, smaller dairies can cut the costs of raising their own heifers’ calves by sending them to Heglar Creek.
“Going to a higher scale of more numbers, you become more efficient,” Anderson said.
The young bull calves are in individual hutches for 63 days before moving to small group housing of 15 calves for 30 days.
Many of the bull calves will move directly to the farm’s feedlot when they reach 800 pounds.
Despite the large number of calves to manage, mortality is below 1%. Anderson credited the employees’ focus on quality care.
“Sometimes on a dairy the calves get lost or forgotten,” he said. “All we’re doing is raising calves, which gives us the ability to hire people who understand calves, which allows us to bring mortality and morbidity rates way down.”