“We think it’s good for all the kids to work off the farm before coming aboard,” said Paul of the brothers’ philosophy toward onboarding family members, “to get some work experience and see what it’s like out there in the world.”
The Pierce County farm celebrated their centennial anniversary in 2014. Today approximately 30 employees, including family members, keep the farm operating on all fronts. Paul is the general manager, Steve is the primary herdsman and employee manager while Joe is crop and waste manager and helps in the shop.
The farm has seen its share of changes in the last hundred years and particularly over the last ten years. In 2008, they built a new cow barn and made the switch from rubber-filled mattresses and sawdust to deep-sand bedding. The milking herd approved; by the end of that year, production had climbed from 82 pounds per cow to as high as 98 pounds per cow.
More recently, the Fetzers constructed new facilities to enable them to raise all their heifers on-site; they are currently raising more than 1100 youngstock, including wet calves.
The team recognizes the importance of ongoing education to stay competitive in the dairy industry. Paul has attended executive leadership trainings including Managers Academy for Dairy Professionals and Dairy’s Visible Voice® series. “The ‘Media Training’ session from Dairy’s Visible Voice offers fantastic knowledge on how to deal with media and crisis management,” Paul said.
Underscoring their commitment to ongoing learning, the Fetzers have served as hosts for several PDPW programs, including Youth Leadership Derby, milker trainings and ACE (Agricultural Community Engagement®) On-the-Farm Twilight Meetings. They’ve participated in the PDPW Mentor Program also, which enables college-age students to partner with dairy producers for a one-day on-farm experience. “PDPW is so good at getting the younger people involved,” Paul remarked.
When they transitioned from rubber mattresses to sand bedding, they also converted from curtain walls to tunnel ventilation. Paul says he wouldn’t build another barn without power ventilation; having control over the herd’s fresh air has made a significant difference.
Over the years the Fetzers have been refining the herd’s genetics too. Genomically testing all heifers assists them in selling those that don’t meet their standard for genetic potential in regard to production, fat and protein as well as mastitis and certain diseases.
“We (genetic) test 100 percent of our heifers as soon as they’re born and move them immediately if they test poorly,” said Paul. “We’ve found that animals who test poorly don’t produce well, so we no longer wait until they’re milking to make that decision.”
In addition to the day-to-day responsibilities, the Fetzer farm team makes time to open their doors to organizations and visitors. “Over the years a number of people have toured here, including guests from China, Japan, North Africa, and Europe,” Paul said. “Most have been farmers but there have been some diplomats from Inner Mongolia who were looking for ideas on modernization.”
The Fetzers look forward to continuing to create a workplace that welcomes incoming family members to join the workforce – as well as fostering an open-door policy for organizations and visitors who want to learn more about dairy.