Rodney and Deb Markus have made their passion project into a thriving farm. They own Seven Hills Dairy, a calf nursery in Ocheyedan, Iowa, just across the Minnesota border. The calf nursery is in the business of raising dairy calves from birth to maturity to supply area dairies with milk-production cows. The calves come from a local dairy farm, which Rodney visits every morning to bring the newborn calves into their operation for care. Once they have the calves, it’s time to help teach them to feed. Both Rodney and Deb are gentle with the calves as they help them learn to bottle-feed.
“Some are easy to get started on the bottle, some are hard,” Deb explained. They both spend time with the animals to make sure they’re feeding properly. Most of the calves also start eating a little grain when they’re born, nibbling at it throughout the day. At eight weeks old, they are weaned off milk to grain. At this age, the replacement heifers are sent back to the dairy farm, while crossbreds and others are kept longer.
“I love baby calves,” Rodney said when asked why he got into the business. Before this, he worked at a factory for second shift on over 20 years. After working so long in a factory, he wanted to do something different, and something outside.
“This place came up for sale and I bought it.”
The place was already a calf farm, and he started with just over 200 calves. Some time later, Rodney married Deb, and she was more than happy to join the farm operations.
Deb grew up farming. “I’m a farmgirl, a tomboy,” she said.
Together, they’ve grown the farm over the years, and now hold about 500 calves, with 150 being bottle-fed. Since they started, they’ve built a milk house, food barn, and several other buildings, as well as hired three full-time employees.
It’s clear as they walk around the farm and share their story that both Rodney and Deb have real love for the animals and their farm. They have made their business something they enjoy doing every single day. Rodney shared that he is so grateful he left that second shift factory job to buy this farm.
“I come out at four in the morning, make sure everything is running in the milk house. Go in and have my coffee, come back out and the sun’s just starting to come up. Best part of my day.”