September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Anderson (22), along with his wife, Morgan, and their two sons, Anton (1) and Bodin (8 months), began dairy farming on his home farm in October 2011. It's a dream come true, and one he never saw coming.
Leaving the family farm
Anderson's home farm near Menahga, Minn., was originally settled by his great grandfather. His grandfather continued the family farm, putting up a 50-stall freestall barn and double-4 parlor in the 1970s. He passed the farm on to his son, Anderson's dad, Bret, in the early 1990s.
Bret and his wife, LaRae, raised seven children on the farm. At one point, they were milking 120 cows and upgraded the parlor to a double-7 herringbone.
"I was in third grade when we sold the cows. At that time I was milking every other night and doing calf chores."
Unfortunately, a tough dairy economy pressed Anderson's family to sell their herd and the farm when his dad took a full-time position with the county sheriff's department. The move was hard - especially for Anderson.
"My name is written in the concrete in the parlor. There are lots of memories of this place," he said.
Although his family was no longer in the industry, Anderson couldn't get dairy out of his blood. Within a week after graduating from high school, he purchased five cows, hoping to start a farming career. He ended up selling them and taking a job on a grain farm in North Dakota. From there, he worked on a few dairy farms in the Menahga area, gaining experience and always on the lookout for an opportunity to transition into a dairy business or start up on his own.
"Farming has been my dream from the time I was 5 years old," he said.
In mid-August 2011, Anderson was working a job in Detroit Lakes, Minn., with the intent of heading to the oil fields in North Dakota when the opportunity he had been waiting for came in the form of an unexpected phone call.
It was Morgan's uncle - an organic dairy producer from Menahga - and he had 20 cows he wanted to sell to Anderson. Coincidentally, another uncle of Morgan's happened to own Anderson's home farm and was willing to rent the land and facilities to the young family.
After 15 years, Anderson was coming home.
Smooth start-up, steep learning curve
Anderson's first step back into the dairy industry was acquiring the financing to start dairy farming, which he did with a beginning farmer loan through FSA. After that, he focused on the milking facilities. Although the barns were in good condition, Anderson needed to purchase and install all the milking equipment. To help keep costs low, he opted to use the parlor as a swing-6 instead of a double-7. Much of the equipment he purchased used from various places. By early October, things were ready to roll.
"It was just bam, bam, bam and I was milking cows," Anderson said of the smooth start-up.
On Oct. 14, 2011, Anderson milked his own herd of cows for the first time. Being back in the barn he grew up in was bittersweet.
"It was a cool feeling and never anything I could have possibly dreamed of," he said. "When I left the farm, there's no way I thought I would ever be back milking cows here."
"I guess I just married the right lady," he said, smiling.
For the first week - with help from family and friends - Anderson milked the 20 cows he had purchased from Morgan's uncle. After that, he added 30 more cows to the herd, purchased from an organic producer by Rochester. While things went well, there was a steep learning curve for Anderson - learning the organic side of the industry. His entire dairy herd was already certified, as well as the farm, but Anderson said he still needed to certify his operation.
"It had never crossed my mind to go organic," said Anderson, who was raised on and worked on conventional farms. "... It was a very sharp learning curve."
With countless resources at his finger tips, including Organic Valley and Morgan's uncles, he worked through the 80 pages of paper work. After selling milk on the conventional market for the first couple months, it's now on the organic truck, and Anderson is enjoying the benefits.
"With $31 milk, I can actually reduce my herd to a manageable size. I'm only milking 45 cows," he said. "... And I see now that I don't have the issues [I used to see in our conventional herd]. Everything is healthier when you don't have to push for 80 pounds of milk."
Looking forward to the future
Anderson is optimistic about his future in the dairy industry, though he admits he's still got a lot to learn when it comes to organic farming - the treatments, grazing and raising crops to name a few.
While he currently owns the herd and milking equipment, he is renting the 70-acre farm, much of which will be converted to pasture this year. Anderson is renting another 35 acres of land from his dad for raising crops. Currently, he purchases his feed, but by spring Anderson is hoping to find enough land to raise most of his feed needs, and he's hoping to purchase the farm in the not too distant future.
For now, however, Anderson is simply enjoying being home.
"I'm only 22 and am doing my dream job," he said. "I get up at 4:30 every morning and haven't had a morning yet when I've dreaded getting up. I get to walk to work; that's what I've always wanted."