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

Brothers, partners, dairy farmers

Ackermans build successful dairy on family operation
By 2005, a 35-stall addition had been added to the end of the freestall barn, three grain bins were put up and two sheds built to house round bales and machinery storage.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED
By 2005, a 35-stall addition had been added to the end of the freestall barn, three grain bins were put up and two sheds built to house round bales and machinery storage.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED

By By Jennifer Burggraff- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. - First and foremost, Pete and Kevin Ackerman are brothers. They are also dairymen and business partners. To put it all together, brothers Pete and Kevin Ackerman are partners on their home dairy farm, Ackerman Farms, near Sauk Rapids, Minn.
It's an arrangement that suits them perfectly, and one that has allowed the Ackermans to build a solid dairy business.
The Ackerman Farms story begins in 1944, when Pete and Kevin's grandparents, Barthalomew and Katherine Ackerman, purchased the farm site and began dairy farming.
"It's pretty much been dairy the whole time," Pete said.
Pete and Kevin's parents, Adrian and Katie Ackerman, continued the dairy tradition when they took over the farm in 1960. They raised 12 children on the farm, 10 boys and two girls.
As one of the older siblings, Pete took a job off the farm working construction after graduating from high school.
"I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I always had it in the back of my mind [to come back to the farm]," Pete said.
Kevin, on the other hand, always knew his calling.
"It was always in my blood," he said of dairy farming. "I remember from when I was in kindergarten helping Dad milk. I wanted to be a farmer."
When Adrian and Katie decided it was time to turn the dairy reins over to the next generation, Pete and Kevin stepped up to the plate.
"They asked who of us wanted to farm," Pete said. "It was one of life's big choices. It was there, so we jumped at it."
Pete and Kevin formed a partnership in 1994. From the get-go, their roles on the farm were clear: Kevin is the dairy manager and Pete is Mr. Fix-It and the crops man, although they help each other out when needed. It's a complimentary relationship, Kevin said.
"The key with us is, Kevin likes the cows and I like the equipment," Pete said. "We work together, but we are not overlooking each other all day long."
"We don't question each other's decisions unless it's something big," Kevin said. "Like any business there are ups and downs, but we work through it."
Their easy-going personalities have helped them build a strong partnership and grow their dairy successfully over the years, which has included updating the facilities and incorporating new technologies on the farm.
In 1972, Adrian and Katie moved from a tiestall barn to a new freestall barn and a double-4 parlor. They installed automated feeding stations for the grain and protein in the freestall barn in 1984, and in 1993 they put up the first of three grain bins on their farm. Pete and Kevin's partnership began a series of updates and renovations that has continued to this day. In the dairy barn, mats were added to the freestalls and automatic take-offs installed in the parlor in the mid-1990s. In 2002, they added long-day lighting to the freestall barn. This was followed by a 35-stall addition to the barn in 2004, which allowed them to increase their herd size from 80 to 110 cows. It also allowed them to incorporate sand bedding on their farm.
"That's the gold standard," Kevin said of sand bedding. "[We wanted to incorporate it] for cow comfort."
Also for cow comfort, the Ackermans added a sprinkler system to the freestall barn in 2008.
Around the farm, Pete and Kevin added two sheds for round bale and machinery storage, one in 1995 and one in 2003. More recently, they retrofitted an automated calf feeder with two feeding stations into an existing calf barn. They are currently in the process of building a new 32- by 96-foot heifer barn with a 36- by 96-foot open lot that they hope to be in by the end of June.
"We like to try different technologies," Kevin said.
The dairy herd is not excluded from this. In the late-1990s, Kevin began dabbling in registered animals through a program offered by Genex where he could buy embryos.
"It's snowballed from there," he said.
The dairy herd achieved Level 4 Johne's-free status in 2005 and has been listed in the top 100 herds for low SCC in Minnesota three different years: in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Last year, the Ackermans received an award for having the lowest SCC herd in Benton County. They credit their SCC success to focusing on many little details, consistency and a good workforce.
Just as Pete and Kevin's partnership has allowed them to build their dairy, it also allows them the family time they both want.
Both brothers are married - Pete to Mona and Kevin to Lisa - and both have four children, two boys and two girls each, ranging in ages from a college freshman to 8 years old. Between school events, 4-H activities and family getaways, there is always something family-related going on.
"We enjoy our time off. With both of us having four kids, we have tons of kids' activities [to go to]," Pete said. "It's nice to get away from the farm and to take vacations."
Their involvement in both the dairy industry and family-related events, all done in light of their philosophy of honesty - "If you are doing business you treat everybody fairly," Pete said - garnered them the title of 2005 Benton County Farm Family of the Year. This recognition is a testament to the strong family ties the Ackerman family has always had.
"We (siblings) all get along and talk to each other, so Mom and Dad must have done something right," Kevin said.
That's a plus, especially when they need a few extra hands around the farm.
"When we do need help we can call our brothers and they'll come and help," Pete said. "They enjoy coming out [to the farm]."
The farm has also been used as a central gathering place to celebrate special occasions, such as Adrian and Katie's 50th wedding anniversary on Sept. 11, 2010.
"We had a big party here. We fed around 350 people," Pete said.
Looking to the future of Ackerman Farms, Pete and Kevin don't have any big plans in mind. They'll finish the heifer barn this summer and remain at a steady herd size. Whether or not their children will continue the farm into the next chapter of the farm's story remains to be seen.
"It would be great if they would, but we're not going to force them," Pete said.
For now, Pete and Kevin Ackerman will continue to grow the family farm as partners and brothers.

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