Halls, Holstein Heroes
Profit margin drives the decision for Chris Halls and his parents, Mark and Michelle, to finish Holsteins on their Brooten, Minnesota operation, in the rolling hills of the west central part of the state. “We’ve always been able to make more money feeding Holsteins than colored cattle,” Chris said. No offense, Angus, Simmental, Limousin and other bovine buddies.
The Halls’ operation will calve about 70 pairs in the cow-calf operation this spring. They’re going to reduce that number, however. The focus of the operation cattle-wise is on Holsteins. Chris is thankful the road of his life led back to the family farm. After high school, he attended North Dakota State College of Science for two years, then worked for CHS for seven years.
Then came a proposal from his grandfather, Allen Halls. “My grandpa offered his beef cows to me,” Chris said, and he took his grandpa up on the offer. “And it just kind of snowballed from there,” he said. They established Halls Farms LLC and today the operation includes cattle and hogs.
Chris is in the process of taking over the operation and they’re still strategizing exactly how to handle some details of the transition. Michelle handles all the bookkeeping. Mark spearheads the hog aspect of the operation and takes care of all the livestock bedding. Chris manages the Holstein feeder side, from buying and care to marketing.
Paying attention to the details with calf purchases, the cattleman, in turn, exercises care raising them. Chris talks to his nutritionist every week to fine-tune the three different rations for his herd, with the groups divided depending on weight, size and out dates, as is common.
The operation follows a complete vaccination protocol that was set up by the Halls’ veterinarian. Typically, the arrival vaccine is UltraBac 7/Somubac and the herd is vaccinated for clostridium perfringens types C and D, or overeating disease, and tetanus, with the immunization commonly known as the CD and T vaccine. They also give Bovi Shield Gold one shot, and they do an IS implant every 90-120 days.
The Halls have 800 cattle on feed right now. At the home place, they’re feeding 500 head. Another 300 head are custom fed in Minnesota and Iowa. Ryan Christensen, National Farmers and Nexus Ag livestock representative said Chris is a respectable cattleman. “He pays attention to details,” Christensen said. “He’s a very, very good cattle feeder. His cattle grade at least 90 percent choice or prime every single load. His cattle do really well.”
When the calves come in, they go into two half-open, half-covered barns. At 800 lbs. to 1,000 lbs., they move them into a slat barn where they’re finished. Weather in the Halls’ part of Minnesota brings wind and cold temperatures, but Chris makes sure his cattle have what they need. “His facilities are well-kept, and his cattle are well cared for,” Christensen said. “The cattle are bedded when they need to be.”
“When he calls to lock in cattle or get contracts, you know exactly what he’s thinking. Communication is really easy with him,” Christensen said. “Working with him makes my job I’m doing for him very easy. When you let him know when the truck will be there, he’s ready. Everything is very simple.”
Still, some parts of the cattle life are tricky. “For the last few years, the major challenge has been getting kill space locked in and nobody was killing Holsteins there for a while,” Chris said. That makes Nexus connections especially important.
“When I get cows in, I call Ryan and I tell him, for example, ‘I have cattle to market in March.’ And he handles it for me,” Chris said. However, the abilities Chris exhibits don’t only show up before he markets cattle, because they’re obvious after his cattle are processed, as well. “He’s very knowledgeable when it comes to marketing and grades and kill sheets,” Christensen said. “Everything you get back from the packing plant, he knows what it is. And he knows how to adjust to make it better.”
Chris long knew about the National Farmers Livestock Marketing Center in Fergus Falls, but through his livestock hauler, he learned about Nexus and its risk management and contracting business for cattle.
Now, with a working history with Nexus, the cattleman gives good reports about Nexus and risk management, and how it’s helped the Halls’ operation. “So much has changed in the last four or five years. It’s helped me lock in my profits, helped me know where I’m at and helped make sure I’m always coming out ahead,” he said. Chris would definitely recommend risk management to other producers, he said. “There’s a lot more opportunity to increase your profit using risk management and the tools that Nexus offers to increase profit, he said.
Before transferring marketing responsibilities to Christensen, Nexus and National Farmers, the Halls marketed their cattle on a cash basis. Now, Chris only markets tail ends of pens on a cash basis. While Chris is forging a future in family farming, in his area, others are doing the same. There are “quite a few” newer producers in his area, he said. “There are young farmers in my area, doing what I am, taking over their parents’ farms. It’s good just being able to talk about different things with them. We’re all going through the same thing, and telling each other about different opportunities.”
Chris’ level of excellence as a young producer is the fruit of intentions. Christensen emphasized the precision Chris displays as a cattle producer. “I think the biggest difference is his attention to detail,” Christensen said. “He’s out there doing the chores every day himself. He knows. He sees the cattle every day, more than once a day. He’s a hands-on guy. He does the work.”