Farm Feature: Rock Hollow Dairy

Below is an interview we did with Neil Hertzler. Neil & Kilah Hertzler supply us with Non-GMO Project Verified milk for our
Trickling Springs FarmFriend brand.

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Hello Neil, what is your farm name?
Rock Hollow Dairy.

Where did that name come from? Is it rocky around here?
The road past here is called Rock Hollow Road. I’m not sure why except that perhaps because of the large amounts of rocks we encounter around here.

What breed of cows do you have and how many are you milking right now?
We started by milking Holsteins but today have a mixed group of Jersey crosses, New Zealand Friesians, Short Horns along with a few others.   Our goal has been to choose breeds that do well on the pasture and live a long life. Currently we are milking 250 cows.

How many cows did you start with on this farm?
When my Dad (Duane) bought this farm in 1978 he had approximately 70 cows and till I joined the farm in 1998 he had around 150 cows.

How would you describe your feeding practices?
We grass feed our cows on pasture as much as possible. In 1994, while I was in college my Dad switched to an intensive grazing, grass based feeding program. Our cows get a fresh paddock of grass twice a day. We also feed some stored grasses but most of the cows diet comes from the pasture.

Why did your Dad switch to the intensive grazing grass feeding program?
He initially switched for financial reasons. It just made sense to raise your own feed and feed the cows directly off of the pasture without needing to harvest feeds. After he switched he saw the difference it made in the cows overall health as well.

How do you feed the cows during the winter?
We feed stored grasses and sorghum baleage (no corn silage), and also supplement with a bit of grain when needed for the cows body condition. We still try to get the cows out on pasture during the winter. Cows love it, even when theirs snow on the ground. They will go out running, jumping, and frolicking in that snow just loving the freedom of the outdoors. Obviously if the ground is muddy or there is too much snow we don’t send them out but when possible we do.

Tell us a little about your farm? My wife & I own 200 acres here on the main farm and my Dad owns 100 plus acres directly attached our farm. This 300 plus acres is in pasture grass and is where we graze & feed the cows. During heaving growing times like spring we’ll harvest some of the grass for winter-feeding. There are several other farms in the valley where we rent some land to grow additional grasses for winter-feeding.

 

In part 1 we talked about Neil & Kilah’s farm. In part 2 we learn about their family and what they enjoy about farming!

Tell us a little about your farm?
My wife & I own 200 acres here on the main farm and my Dad owns 100 plus acres directly attached our farm. This 300 plus acres is in pasture grass and is where we graze & feed the cows. During heaving growing times like spring we’ll harvest some of the grass for winter-feeding. There are several other farms in the valley where we rent some land to grow additional grasses for winter-feeding.

What do you like about seeing cows out on pasture?
Neil: After a winter when the cows are in the barn for most of the time and you finally have fresh grass. When you leave the cows out that first time it’s such a good feeling. You know, now that the cows can be out most every day again, they’re going to be happier and healthier.

I need to tell you; this is why I’m back on the farm. I went to college my Dad was farming conventionally, harvesting crops and having the cows in a confinement system. Till I got back he had switched to intensive grazing with the cows being out on pasture. I started helping him out and learning the pasture grass grazing way of farming and that is when I was like “Wow, I could enjoy doing this!”

Kilah: It is fun, when the cows are in the barn more during the winter and we have a day where we can let them out; they’re out there kicking up their heels and having a great time! We’ve had a few times when they got through the fence in the main barn lot into the pasture when they were in the barn for a while. They take off across the pasture like people going for a Black Friday sale!! It’s great and fun to see! We also love the sound of cows munching the grass. It’s relaxing and you know they’re happy.

What is one memory you have of working on the farm that makes you say “WOW! Am I ever blessed to be able to do this!”
Kilah: For me it’s sitting on our gator in the middle of the pasture with Neil and the cows are surrounding us eating grass. That’s a date for me! It’s quiet; you can hear everything going on around and you enjoying the fresh clean air. That’s when I feel blessed. Another time I really feel blessed is when I can help bring a new calf into the world. That new life is a blessing and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Tell us a little about yourself, when did you start helping out on the farm?
Neil: I was two when my parents move here on the farm. I just started helping when I was a young boy. My earliest memory would have been helping to feed calves and sweeping the feed alley. I remember my Mom telling me “Pushing this broom will help you build muscles.” I’m not sure it quite works that way but it got me to help.

Kilah: I grew up in California. We were in a farming community but not on a farm. Some friends of mine had goats which I helped milk but I never lived on a farm till I met Neil.

What is your favorite spot on the farm? When do you like being there?
Neil: Honestly it’s out in the pasture when the cows are out there.

Kilah: My earliest memories being on the farm was when Neil & I was dating. We would go out to set up a fence or move a fence and after several hours of work he would just lay in the grass with his dog soaking everything in for a few minutes. Try walking across the grass barefoot; it just energizes you… There’s something very energizing about the grass, there’s life in it.

Neil: I don’t enjoy being on a tractor, I’d much prefer being on the pasture with the cows. The other thing we really enjoy on the farm is being with the kids and watching them grow up on the farm.

Do you mind telling me about your family?
Kilah: Keegan is 12, Hudson is 10, Talon is 8, and Colton is 7.

Neil: My parents, Duane and June, are still very much involved in the farm and help us out here. My Sister, Heather and Brother-in-law, Chris and their two kids, Dylan and Lily, work with us on the farm.

What is something you and your family enjoy doing together?
Neil: I’m not sure the boys would always agree with this but we really do enjoy working together on the farm. But then when the work is done we come in and play basketball, play in the yard, or just spend time together.

Do you know any of the history of the farm before your family was on it?
Neil: My dad bought it from a man and his wife who had farmed it since the ‘60’s.

Kilah: One of the interesting notes about the farm is the people who owned it prior to the couple that Dad had bought the farm; their last name was “Keegan”. This is our son’s first name. We had no idea about this connection when we named our son. A few years ago we rented land from a farmer who used to be a doctor. This doctor actually knew the Keegan’s and told us about their name.

Anything else interesting about the history/features/landscapes/etc. of your farm?
There was an old early settlers fort (Fort Robinson) that was built around here somewhere. However, they haven’t been able to find out the exact location where it would have been built. Part of our house here was originally built and owned by George Robinson.