A Passion For Farming

Juda farmer proves you can make a good living with 50 cows.

Published on: Mar 31, 2006

Mike and Marcy McCullough of Juda milk 105 registered Holstein cows on two farms, feed out 40 to 50 Holstein steers and farm 648 acres.

Whether he's talking about working with his family on the farm, his cows, the Wisconsin Holstein Association or one of his two new John Deere tractors, it's obvious that Mike McCullough loves farming.

In the 29 years since they bought their farm near Juda, Mike and his wife Marcy have developed a successful 648-acre Green County dairy, beef and crop farm.

Mike is proud to note, "Rock-N-Hill Holsteins has been built on the fact that we can make a good living from a 50-cow herd." Additional income from the dairy comes from selling surplus heifers and breeding bulls. They've exported cattle to Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South America and the Netherlands. Their four sons and one daughter have shown a lot of homebred registered Holsteins at local, district, state and national shows earning their cattle one All-American, one Reserve All-American and two Junior All-American honors as well as numerous All-Wisconsin honors.

Rock-N-Hill Holsteins boasts a 24,233 pound rolling herd average with 938 pounds of butterfat and 744 pounds of protein and a 2005 cell count average from their dairy plant of 101,000. The herd has a BAA (breed age average) of 108.9, ranking them among one of the top 100 registered Holstein herds in the nation for type.

Getting started

Mike started farming in Harvard, Ill., in 1971 while he was a senior in high school, renting land, buying a little equipment and using some of his dad's equipment. In August 1973, he married the good looking, hard working neighbor girl who became a registered nurse. Three months later, they rented a dairy farm next door to his parents' farm.

"We started with seven registered Holstein cows and nine heifers," Mike recalls. "We purchased five gilts and a boar and filled our 34-stall barn with mostly registered Holsteins. We were fortunate to have a banker who believed in two young kids and was willing to stand behind us."

In December 1976, the young couple scraped up $10,000 earnest money to buy their own farm and moved to Juda.

"The 160-acre farm had a 3 year old, 48-cow dairy barn and a new silo which we fell in love with and a good plot of land," Mike explains. "But the house needed a lot of repair and the farmstead needed a lot of clean up."

Mike admits, it was tough going in those early years, but one project at a time every building on the farm has been replaced or remodeled and several buildings added.

In 1980, they were penciling out what it would cost to build a heifer facility.

"It was a ridiculous price, so we bought the neighbors' 160-acre farm next door instead," Mike says. Heifers are housed at that farm from age 6 months to freshening.

In the '90s, the McCulloughs purchased 89 acres of bare land ½ mile from their home farm and an 80 acre parcel one mile away.

The next generation

Mike and Marcy's son, David, is employed full time on the farm. He rents land nearby and has a custom stacking business which keeps him busy each fall.

In 1994, Mike and Marcy bought a 170-acre, 50-cow dairy farm two miles from their home farm which is operated in partnership by their oldest son, Chris, and his wife, Kathie. That herd, Rock-N-Hill Holsteins II, has a rolling herd average of 23,034 pounds of milk with 881 pounds of butterfat and 697 pounds of protein. Their BAA is an impressive 111.7. For the two herds combined, they have a total of 30 cows scored excellent, 50 very good and 16 good plus.

While high herd averages and BAAs are nice, Mike contends longevity is more important.

"We're proud that we've bred and developed 12 cows that have produced over 200,000 pounds of milk in a lifetime," he says. We currently have a Bridon Astro Jet daughter who is now 5E and getting close to 300,000 lifetime production."

Having cows that live long productive lives allows the McCulloughs to sell surplus heifers.

"We cull very few cows," he notes. "Most of our cows are sold for dairy."

Last year, Rock-N-Hill Holsteins sold 34 cows and heifers privately and at Holstein sales throughout the state.

Dollars and sense

In addition to selling heifers and bulls, Mike and Marcy also feed out 40 to 50 Holstein steers and cash crop corn, wheat, oats and soybeans.

The McCulloughs grow their soybeans in 30-inch rows and their corn in 38-inch rows.

"The reason for 38-inch rows is the fact that we still pick about 15,000 bushel of ear corn a year for feeding the dairy herd and steers," Mike says. "We've always found ear corn to be both efficient and healthy for the cattle."

Mike makes no apologies for using conventional tillage practices and crop rotation which virtually eliminates the need for rootworm insecticide. They also grow, clean and bag their own seed oats, wheat and soybeans.

"Our farming practices may seem a little old-fashioned, but today Rock-N-Hill Holsteins is debt free," he notes with pride. "The land has paid for itself."

Giving back

While working hard to build his farm operation and raise his family, they have always found time to be active in their community and farm organizations. Members of the county, state and national Holstein associations, Mike has served as a delegate to the National Holstein Convention from 2002 to 2004. He also served six years on the state Holstein board of directors and was president in 2004. Marcy coached county and state Junior Holstein dairy bowl teams from 1986 to 2003. Two of those teams won first place at the national convention in 1990 and 2003.

Mike is quick to credit Marcy and their children – Chris, Mark, David, Patrick and Lea – for his successes on and off the farm.

"I didn't do this all myself," he notes. "Everybody here helped me."

Mike enjoys milking 50 cows and has no plans to build a large dairy operation.

"That's OK for somebody else but not me," he says. "I want to help my kids and my grandkids continue to farm and enjoy farming as much as we do."