September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It's an addiction I have," Felten said about buying cows.
Now the 29-year-old has a full herd and has been milking cows on his own since August 2007. Felten milks 56 cows on the farm he rents from his parents near Rose Creek, Minn.
When Felten was a young boy, he remembers being out in the barn with his parents while they did chores and helping out where he could. When he was able, he joined 4-H and was active in the dairy project. But in the mid-1990s, his parents decided to exit the dairying business. Felten, however, wanted to continue getting his dairy fix and started working on his uncle's farm.
"I was always in the barn," Felten said.
But soon he wanted more than to work with the cows.
"I wanted to buy something," he said.
So in eighth grade, he brought home his first purchase - a registered Holstein cow, which he housed at his uncle's farm.
"I liked the genetics aspect of the registered cows," Felten said.
He started delving deeper into purebred cattle and started reading publications geared towards the registered breeder. When his uncle's nutritionist at the time, Jim Paulson, asked Felten if he wanted to ride along to sales, Felten jumped at the chance. Throughout high school, Felten attended sales and purchased animals to increase his herd.
"My uncle thought I was nuts when I bought my first expensive one," he said.
When buying cows, Felten said he looked first for high index then type, especially feet and legs, udder and body capacity.
"But usually I look at the whole picture," he said.
To help finance his addiction, Felten drove semi when not working for his uncle. By the time he graduated in 2001, Felten owned about 25 cows and 15 heifers.
After high school, Felten worked several different jobs at the same time - on his uncle's dairy, construction, driving semi-truck and driving a milk truck route. But he wanted more dairy in his life. In 2003, Felten started at Northeast Iowa Community College and by 2005 earned a degree in dairy science.
He went back to working for his uncle and driving semi for the next 1.5 years until he realized a farming opportunity.
"I could have started with my uncle, but I wanted to try it on my own. My parents' barn was sitting empty with two silos so I thought that would be a good place to start," Felten said.
His parents, Tom and Deb, were supportive of his decision.
"My dad told me, 'You're young so you can start dairying. At least try it so you know if you'll be successful.' I think he was excited to see cows back on the farm," Felten said.
Felten worked out an agreement with his parents to rent the barn, which was built in the late 1970s and still contained most of the milking equipment and the bulk tank. To prepare for his herd, Felten changed out three-fourths of the tiestalls in the barn, put in new drinking cups and installed waterbed mattresses. In August 2007, Felten started dairying on his own.
"It's a lot of dedication, but I like it," he said.
Although Felten does most of the work himself, he calls on others when he needs a little extra help. His parents along with his brothers, Ryan, Tim and Josh help. Felten's wife, Heather, also helps on occasion.
In addition to renting the barn, Felten also rents 77 acres from his dad in order to make corn silage and hay. He buys the rest of his feed.
Fluctuating milk prices and rising feed costs are a challenge for Felten. When he started in 2007, the price of milk was high.
"And then it all went downhill," Felten said.
During the low times around 2009, Felten said his parents helped him finance his dream.
"I wouldn't be doing this right now if they hadn't helped me out," Felten said. "No banks were interested in helping me. They were leery about dairying farming at the time."
But Felten is back on the right path after challenging times. Today, with his herd, Felten continues to follow bloodlines.
"It's one of the reasons I dairy - the genetic part of it," he said.
One of the first cows he bought is still in the herd today. Son-Day Sunshine is a 14-year-old Highlight daughter he bought as a 2-year-old.
"She was scored 86 points and had a nice udder," Felten said about why he purchased Sunshine, now scored Excellent 91.
Felten likes to use new bulls that have a genomic focus. Currently, he's breeding cows to bulls such as Numero Uno, Mogul and Sudan among others. His favorite bull is Epic because of his genomic value.
"But in order to get a good one you have to have a lot of luck, I think," Felten said.
Registering animals is important to Felten. His whole herd is registered and has the prefix Twin Spruce.
"You know the cow families better and it helps you keep track of them," he said.
In the future, Felten plans to stay the same size and be as profitable as he can. He might even buy the farm from his parents some day. Felten is happy with dairy included in his life. It's an addiction he can't kick.[[In-content Ad]]
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