September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

A mother at his side

Holsts make the best of their time farming together
The Holsts herd has many breeds including Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss and crossbreeds.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHTOO BY KRISTA KUZMA
The Holsts herd has many breeds including Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss and crossbreeds.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHTOO BY KRISTA KUZMA

By By Krista Kuzma- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

LAKE CITY, Minn. - Maren Holst picked up on early clues that her son would be a dairy farmer.
"When he was a few years old he would sit for hours watching the cows," Maren said.
Now 29 years old, Maren's son, Jeremy, is right where Maren thought he would be - farming on the Holsts' family farm where they milk 91 cows near Lake City, Minn.
Although Jeremy started farming full-time with both parents, Maren and Curt, in 2005, the farm is now a mother-son operation after Curt passed away on April 9, 2013, from early onset dementia.
"It went really quickly. He had just turned 68," Maren said.
In 2009, Curt started to scale back from working on the farm after learning of his diagnosis. Towards the end, he didn't spend much time in the barn.
"I miss milking with Dad and talking about what kind of things we would do around the farm or reminisce about him growing up on a farm. We always milked together," Jeremy said.
Maren misses Curt's camaraderie.
"We shared time together on the farm. If I had worked off the farm, I wouldn't have gotten that. We could share the common interest of the farm," she said.
Although it's been hard to farm on without Curt, the mother-son duo has made it work, and the two are enjoying the unique aspect of dairying this way.
"We compromise a lot. It's team work around here," Maren said. "It's been a transition, but now I get to share a different type of camaraderie with Jeremy."
Jeremy agreed.
"We like sharing with each other the positive things that happen on our farm," Jeremy said. "We like to talk about each cow's personality."
Jeremy said his parents passed on to him values that make farming a lifestyle.
"My dad taught me to love and respect the land and my mom taught me to care for and love the animals, which has created who I am - a dairy farmer," Jeremy said. "Dairy farming is a lifestyle I love, not just a business I operate."
In order to farm by using these values, the Holsts decided to allow their cows to have access to pasture during the summer and seasonally calve their herd.
"We want them to be out in the sunshine and the grass," Jeremy said. "We treat our cows like pets."
In the past, the Holsts have always given their cows pasture time, starting when Maren and Curt bought the farm in 1978. Throughout the summer, the cows would be let out from stanchions for time to graze or get exercise. Even when the family built a new setup - a double-6 parallel parlor with a freestall barn - they would give their cows time outside.
"It was just a place for them to be out. It was one big pasture with a pond," Maren said.
When Jeremy was in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course, he started learning more about rotational grazing. When he was home from school, he would meet with other area farmers in a grazing group. By the time he returned home full-time in 2005, he knew he wanted the herd to be rotationally grazed.
"I wasn't sure how Curt would accept it, but he did," Maren said.
The Holsts now have about 30 acres of pasture that are divided into six pastures. Those six are subdivided into even smaller pastures.
"Every day, the cows go to a different paddock," Jeremy said.
The milking cows are on pastures located close to the dairy, so they are free to go in or out of the freestall barn.
"It's more of a natural thing for cows. They enjoy going outside," Jeremy said about his draw to graze the herd. "And I've seen how well it's worked for other people."
The grazing works well with their seasonal calving schedule. Cows start calving in February followed by first-calf heifers in March. They don't have any animals calving from May 1 to about Aug. 20.
Since beginning their grazing venture, the Holsts have liked the results.
"Their feet are really good and their overall health is really good, too," Jeremy said about the cows.
The Holsts still consider the pasture to be a supplement to their total mixed ration; however, the ration changes daily based on the time of year, how well the grass is growing and the weather, among other things. Their feed consultant helps them determine what to plant and the ration to feed.
Many of last year's pastures died because of winterkill, so Jeremy planted annuals, including sorghum and Italian rye grasses. For other short-term pastures, Jeremy plants clover, BMR sorghum and sudan grass. For long-term pastures, he uses some clovers, orchard grass, meadow fescue and rye grass.
"We have quite a few permanent pastures," Jeremy said. "You can buy corn and beans, but you can't buy pasture."
The mixed breed herd consists of Holsteins, red and white Holsteins, Guernseys, Brown Swiss, Jerseys, Ayrshires and crossbreeds.
"I like the different colors and their personalities," Jeremy said. "And Dad liked the Brown Swiss."
The Holsts said the Guernseys handle the heat the best during the summer.
"The Jerseys have a personality," Maren said. "They like to reach under the fence."
They keep a rolling herd average of 24,500 pounds of milk with high components, Jeremy said, and their latest somatic cell count from DHIA came in at about 70,000.
"I don't like to see it over 100,000," Jeremy said.
Despite the hard work, it's work the Holsts will continue doing.
"I've always enjoyed it and fell in love with it," Jeremy said about dairy farming.
Maren agreed.
"I always liked the country life," she said.
Although Curt is no longer with them to enjoy the country life, the Holsts keep his memory living on in the values he passed onto his family.
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