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

Building a dairy from scratch

Petits maintain first generation dairy farm with luck, prayers, persistence
Barb and Bob Petit are pictured with their two children, Tyler (18) and Kelsey (19), who help on the farm when not at school or away at college. Bob and Barb said a dairy farm is a good place to raise a family and teach them responsibility. (photo submitted)
Barb and Bob Petit are pictured with their two children, Tyler (18) and Kelsey (19), who help on the farm when not at school or away at college. Bob and Barb said a dairy farm is a good place to raise a family and teach them responsibility. (photo submitted)

By By Krista M. Sheehan- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

PLAINVIEW, Minn. - Bob Petit said it took a lot of luck, prayers and persistence to start and continue his dairy farm.
"Dairy farming is what we do and I like it, so I kept going and trying," he said.
Bob and Barb Petit milk 60 cows on their farm near Plainview, Minn., with help from their two children, Kelsey (19) and Tyler (18). But for previous generations in the Petit family, dairying hasn't always been their lifestyle.
"I never grew up milking cows," Bob said. "We milked one cow by hand for our family (of 12 children)."
But that changed a few years after Bob graduated from high school.
"My dad gave me the opportunity to farm. We needed more income so I started milking," said Bob about his new venture in 1980 at the age of 21.
It wasn't an easy start since the farm had originally been built for hogs.
"There was nothing here for cattle," Barb said. "Bob built it up."
Bob put in a barn cleaner, stanchions and added a milk house. To help him finance his business, Bob went to the bank and received a loan with an 8.6 percent interest rate.
Being new to the dairy business, Bob learned a lot of new skills quickly.
"I didn't even know about mastitis," he said. "I had to learn by mistakes and by doing."
He also learned from his veterinarian, feed man and DHIA tester. Bob started testing his herd in 1983. But around the same time, Bob, like many farmers, experienced financial challenges. His loan's interest rate shot up to 21.5 percent.
"I had to take out another mortgage to keep going. The banker told me several times we'll have to have a sale. But I thought, 'I'm not going to let that happen,'" Bob said.
Bob continued the milk truck route he had since graduating from high school in 1977 to help with income. He also looked at ways to improve production, like working with a nutritionist.
"I knew I had to get things going," Bob said. "My neighbor who sold feed taught me how to lead feed for production."
This helped his herd receive the title of Most Improved Herd in Olmsted County in 1988.
In 1989, Bob and Barb were married. Although Barb worked off the farm for agricultural businesses, she also fed calves.
"We have a top notch calf feeder," Bob said.
Bob stopped his milk truck route in 1989, but drove school bus from 1992 to 1996 to continue earning more income to pay off their loans. In 1993, the Petits were able to start purchasing the farm from Bob's parents, Logan and Marilyn.
By 1994, they decided to use haylage and corn silage, which they stored in a pile. Two years later, they started feeding a total mixed ration. Production went up and steadily climbed until reaching over 26,000 pounds in 1999.
"Then I decided to do something different. We had been running out of corn and buying corn wasn't working," Bob sad.
Earlage became their feed of choice, but it had an effect on the herd.
"Our production went to heck," Bob said about the rolling herd average, which dropped to 22,000 pounds.
Rather than go back to their regular routine, the Petits decided to work with the change and they saw good results. Because production went down, cows were easier to breed back, which gave the Petits twice the amount of replacement heifers they were used to. They started privately selling cows to other farmers and still do so today.
"Every three months we have too many cows. It's a good problem to have," Bob said.
About 57 percent of the herd is sold each year. Of those cows, 53 percent of them go to other farms as replacements.
In 2007, the Petits made another change when they added automatic take offs.
"Our somatic cell count wasn't outrageous, but it was on the higher side. These dropped our SCC significantly," Barb said about the take offs.
Bob said, "I thought I knew how to milk a cow. I realized I still had more to learn."
The drop in SCC helped give the Petits additional income. They made up for the production they lost through premiums they received for a lower SCC.
Currently, the Petits still milk in their 30-stanchion barn, but added a lean-to with 17 freestalls for the rest of the milking herd. They farm 160 acres and added sheds to the farm over the years.
"We built up this farm," Barb said about their biggest accomplishment while dairy farming.
"We're raising a good crop and farming with decent equipment. It makes the jobs go so much easier," Bob added.
They also said a farm is a great to place to raise kids and teach them responsibility. Although both Kelsey and Tyler might not farm in the future, they still help on the farm when not in school and probably will be involved in agriculture in the future.
Looking back, Bob is glad he stuck with his goal to dairy farm.
"The bank didn't think we were going to come out of it. But we showed them we could do it," Bob said. "Where there's a will, there's a way."
But getting through the tough times was more than overcoming financial challenges, it was following a lifestyle he loved.
"It gets in your blood," Bob said about dairy farming. "It's something you grow to like and you can be good at it if you try."
All the Petits needed to keep going were prayers, luck and persistence.
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