Upper Valley Holstein dairy operation has grown, changed through the years
In pursuit of a lifelong dream to have their own business, Irvin and Miriam Hartig purchased a small dairy in 1966 in Austin, Colo. Irvin loved milking cows, raising calves and growing crops while Miriam fulfilled her ambition as a first grade teacher.
The youngest of their three children, Polly Jo, also made the move with them from Granby, Colo. She attended junior and senior high school in Cedaredge. It was there she met her sweetheart Andy Wick. They married in 1971, but while in college, the couple accepted the offer from her parents to become part of the dairy operation.
Andy and Polly Jo found their own herd to buy, and that was the beginning of 44 years of dairy life. The herds were merged and in 1982 when the Wicks took full ownership after the Hartigs retired.
Today the operation — Upper Valley Holsteins Inc. — is owned by Andy, Polly Jo and their son, Jeff. Andy plays a key role as herdsman and manager. The business has 18 additional employees and during summers, three of Jeff’s college-aged children help out, as well. Every employee has their specific job, whether it be milking or feeding cows, herd health and reproduction, calf raising, corral maintenance or office work—all areas are important.
Days begin at 2 a.m. on Upper Valley.
“That’s when the first milking shift begins, although the crew comes in an hour to an hour and a half earlier to get things ready,” Polly Jo said.
Nine hundred and fifty cows are milked, in a double, 16-milking parlor three times a day. The first shift is completed by 8 a.m., with the second shift starting two hours later. The third and final shift goes from 6 p.m.-midnight.
But with a herd of about 2,000 animals, feeding starts early in the morning as well.
“There is work in all directions, 24/7, 365 days of the year,” Polly Jo said. “Although it doesn’t happen often, I am almost convinced that, at times, the cows that are in our close-up pen all conspire to calve at the same time. Back in the day when I took care of the calves, I thought it was ironic that these times would happen on the days when I was feeding by myself or when a storm was coming and I wanted to get back to the house as soon as possible.”
A maternity pen was built close to the house. The heavily-pregnant cows can be seen from both the porch and the windows. The Wicks are often alerted to births “by the bellowing, or the sounds of the other cows urging the laboring mothers on.”
The newborns are irresistible.
“I’ve gone out to feed them in the pens, and found them all in a perfect circle with their heads to the middle. It was a calf huddle. Also seeing baby calves stomp their feet when I was a little late with their milk kept me on track, too. Too cute.”
During all stages of the growing season, two employees work with Jeff in the fields to help with the tractor work, irrigating and harvest. In 2016, the Wicks leased 900 acres of land within the area. 700 of those acres are for growing corn, which is harvested for the silage. This will feed all the dairy animals through 2017. Alfalfa is being raised on the remaining 200.
More alfalfa is purchased from area farmers, along with straw and corn husks. Truckloads of small grain commodities arrive at Upper Valley almost daily due to the high amount of feed needed for all the animals.
The Wicks are members of Dairy Farmers of America. All of the 10,000 gallons of milk the cows produce daily are shipped to either Denver or Salt Lake City. When the milk is shipped, Andy and Polly Jo’s picture goes with them on the Dairy Farmers of America trucks.
One of their great-nephew is convinced “Uncle Andy” and “Aunt Polly Jo” supply all of the milk for Wray, Colo., where he lives, Polly Jo said laughing.
Upper Valley’s dairy is vastly different from the small one Polly Jo’s parents originally purchased, but the original operation is what made the operation what it is today
“They gave us a start, for which I’m grateful,” Polly Jo said.
The farm is more computerized now, and cows are artificially inseminated. In addition, extra tractors, trucks and farm machinery have been purchased to help keep the operation going.
Despite the long hours and endless hard work — it’s the life Polly Jo wants.
“There’s lots of things I love about this life of ours,” Polly Jo said.
A big part of what she loves are the cows, and how they react to things.
“One time, as I was getting the cows in to be milked, I noticed about 20 of them standing in a line, shoulder to shoulder. Each was looking skyward,” Polly Jo said. “It was then I realized they were all watching the Sand Hill Cranes that were flying far overhead.”
Polly Jo also likes to watch the critters when they get new bedding. “
They kick their heels, push the wonderful new straw with their heads and are all lying down within minutes. Even cows like clean sheets,” Polly Jo said. ❖
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