September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"I learned it from my dad. It's a saying I grew up with," Roger Read said, reflecting on his dad who passed away two years ago. "As a kid I always heard it and he'd tell me to keep the cows bedded, feed them this and give them that. My dad taught me."
Roger has been able to take that motto and put it to good use. He and his wife, Lori, milk 118 cows on their farm near Lyle, Minn. Their son, Greg, who also works on off the farm, works for Roger and Lori, along with two other employees, John Cook and Kris Kauffman. The Reads also have a daughter, Bethany, who with her husband Kris Folland and 4 children live on their family beef farm in northern Minnesota. This year, the Reads are celebrating 60 years of their family owning the farm.
Roger's parents, James and Nita, were dairy farmers near Spirit Lake, Iowa. After renting for several years causing them to move every few years, they decided to make a plan to someday own a farm. When the time was right, the couple traveled north to Minnesota to find their permanent site and bought the family's current farm in 1953.
"My dad liked the brick barn," Roger said about the facility, which had 34 stanchions.
They moved to the farm, bringing with them their herd of Brown Swiss cows, which is still the breed of choice for the Reads today.
Roger has always had been a part of the farm growing up and began dairying as a career as soon as he could.
"When I first started I figured farming with my family was the only way to get into it," said Roger, who also worked off the farm at Hormel in the earlier years.
In March 1979, Roger married Lori, who also became involved on the farm. The couple bought their first two Brown Swiss cows in 1985.
"Roger took me on a trip to Wisconsin for a cow sale," Lori said with a laugh.
After helping on the farm and being a stay-at-home mom, Lori went back to school before starting to work full-time off the farm in 1986.
By 1989, Roger's dad was looking to retire from farming. At that time, Roger and Lori decided to buy his herd of 32 Brown Swiss cows and rent the barn. They also had about seven cows of their own at the time.
In 1995, the Reads bought the farmsite.
"That's when a lot of changes started happening," Roger said.
They remodeled a shed into a three-row freestall barn with driveby feeding and doubled the size of their herd to about 75 cows by buying a herd of Holsteins. They continued to milk their cows in the stanchion barn.
In the fall of 1999, the Reads started planning for a milking parlor. By Jan. 5, 2000, they milked for the first time in their double-6 swing herringbone parlor, which they retrofitted into the stanchion barn.
"It was a one-person operation until the parlor," said Greg, who would come home from college on the weekends when they first started milking in the new setup.
In 2005, the Reads added on a bedded pack portion of the barn. It houses the recently fresh cows and the high group. One end is sectioned off for a calving area.
"That's worked really well for transitioning fresh cows and heifers," Roger said. "It takes a lot of bedding, but we're happy with it."
For bedding, the Reads use cornstalks, beanstraw or straw. At the same time, they also took out the sand from the freestalls and installed dual-chamber waterbeds.
"The cows love sand, but it chews up equipment," Greg said.
In the winter, the Reads use chopped beanstraw on the freestalls and in summer they use a little sand - just enough to keep it dry.
Now with Greg working more on the farm, Lori calls him their "secret weapon." Greg does a lot of the mechanic and field work, and has his own custom baling business on the side.
Since purchasing their own cattle in the 1980s, the Reads' interest in the Brown Swiss breed has grown over the years, and they became more active in the Minnesota Brown Swiss Association.
The Reads said they value the components of the Brown Swiss.
"Years ago, the Brown Swiss didn't have as good of production, but production has become a lot better and the breed has come a long way," Roger said.
Lori likes their longevity and strength.
"We're more of commercial herd and don't raise much for showing. We raise them for production," Lori said.
Their breeding focuses on components, and feet and legs along with high milk.
"I'll take milk over type because milk pays the bills and that's what we have to have," Lori said about when they are choosing bulls to use for matings.
About 90 percent of their herd is mated to young sires.
"It's cheaper and we can accelerate our genetics faster," Greg said.
In 2004, the family received the National Progressive Genetics Award from the Brown Swiss Association and have been in the top 25 percent since.
Four years ago, the Reads were contacted about a bull contract for one of their cows, Reads Beamer Kayla.
"That was really new to us and really interesting," Roger said. "That opened a door for us that we never imagined would happen."
Now the family has four bulls in A.I.
"It's been fun, but also nerve wracking. You don't want people to get had heifers out of your bulls," Roger said.
In addition to being a resource for their herd, the Brown Swiss Association has also provided them with opportunities to meet people, which is one of Lori's favorite parts. This year, they are also co-chairs of the Minnesota All Breeds Dairy Convention.
"It's one of the best things that's happened to Minnesota dairy farmers," Lori said about the convention. "We're all so proud of what we have and our own breeds, but we get to meet others. It's all about camaraderie and sharing knowledge."
They have also hosted breakfast on the farm and had family reunions at the dairy.
"Lots of relatives jump at the chance to come because a lot of them don't live on a farm now and aren't around livestock," Roger said.
The Reads enjoy their own life on the farm and try not to take it for granted.
"I like the sense of being a part of something bigger than a regular job," Greg said. "The farm is something you can contribute to, be a part of as a family and can look back at what you accomplished."
In the Read family, being accomplished on the dairy farm starts with one simple motto of taking care of the cows.[[In-content Ad]]
To Submit an Event Sign in first
No calendar events have been scheduled for today.