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

Cows among the crops

Amundson milks 60 Holsteins in Clay County
Aside from his dairy herd, Amundson raises his bull calves as feeder steers. The majority of his steers are sold locally.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JENNIFER BURGGRAFF
Aside from his dairy herd, Amundson raises his bull calves as feeder steers. The majority of his steers are sold locally.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JENNIFER BURGGRAFF

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

ULEN, Minn. - When it comes to agriculture, Clay County, Minn., certainly has that.
Ranked No. 3 in the state for crop production - under Polk and Renville counties - Clay County takes the third spot in Minnesota for both sugarbeet and potato production. The county's top five crops are soybeans, wheat, corn, sugarbeets and forage (land used for hay, haylage, grass silage and greenchop).
Crop production comprises 84 percent of Clay County's agriculture industry. The remaining 16 percent represents the county's livestock sector, of which 15 percent is dairy.
Covering an area of 1,052.74 square miles along the border of Minnesota and North Dakota, Clay County boasts eight dairy farms. One of those is Amundson Farms, home of 60 Holstein cows owned by Travis Amundson.
Since 2003, Amundson (28) has been dairy farming near Ulen, Minn. He's going against the grain among his peers as far as career choice, but it's a lifestyle Amundson chose at an early age, and one he plans to stick with.
Amundson grew up on his family's farm, where his parents, Jim and Rhonda, dairied until 1997. The cows were gone, but the allure of the lifestyle remained.
"I kept interest in it," Amundson said. "I maintained the barn even when the cows were gone. I always had it (dairy farming) in the back of my mind."
Following high school, Amundson went to college for diesel mechanics. During his second year, he found a herd of 61 Holstein cows for sale near Pelican Rapids, Minn. - 58 miles away. With financing through the local Farm Service Agency, Amundson purchased the cows and brought them home to his parents' farm on Aug. 18, 2003. The cows adapted quickly to their new barn - nearly identical to the one they came from - and within two months, they had an 80-pounds tank average.
"Everything fell into place as far as the cows go, but I didn't know what I was doing," Amundson said, laughing.
Constant communication between his dad and fellow farmers helped Amundson through those first months of dairy farming, all while finishing his final year of college.
"Those were some long days. I'm not even sure how I did it," Amundson said. "... The biggest thing I learned was to listen when the vet or the feed guy said something."
In the nine years he has been dairy farming, Amundson has maintained a consistent herd size, focusing more on genetics.
"I breed mostly for feet and legs. That's my strongest drawback," Amundson said. "I feel I can get production through good feed."
His herd calves year-round, now in the comfort of four maternity pens that make up a lean Amundson recently built onto his barn.
"Before, cows calved outside. There were lots of nights I wouldn't sleep in the winter," Amundson said.
Amundson raises his heifers and bull calves, which are sold as finished steers.
"Eighty percent of them go to the locker; they're sold locally," he said of the steer market.
Amundson doesn't grow his own crops; instead, he buys what he needs from his parents, who farm 2,800 acres of owned and rented land. Their crops include 310 acres of hay, 1,000 acres of corn, 700 acres of wheat, 160 acres of sunflowers and 630 acres of soybeans.
"Dad got pretty big into crops in 1983. In the early '80s land was readily available," Amundson said. "So I essentially buy all my feed from him. We do a lot of exchanging."
Soil types vary in that part of Clay County, with some heavy and some light soil. Irrigation is not typically needed.
"The hay crops have been good. Between the two crops we've gotten 1.5 tons, so we are definitely happy with it," Amundson said.
Amundson feeds haylage, corn silage, high moisture corn and dry hay in his ration. What he doesn't buy from his dad is sent to the elevator in Ulen. Sunflowers go to Cargill in West Fargo, N.D., and are used for oil. The Amundsons bale all the wheat straw, making 3,500 small square bales for themselves and 4,500 big square bales.
Amundson owns the dairy end of the operation. He takes care of the morning milking and hires high school students for the evening shift. Amundson's wife, Melissa, works off the farm as a college professor in early childhood education, and they have two sons, Tyson (4) and Parker (2).
While his career has not been long, Amundson has weathered the ups and downs. A highlight was the high milk prices in 2004.
"Twenty-two dollar milk - I saw it once in 2004 and it was unreal," he said.
Along with challenges faced by all dairy farmers, Amundson has had a few stem from the lack of dairy farms in his area. One was keeping a milk hauler when he needed every-day pickup. Also, while equipment service is available, the cost of having them drive to the farm adds up quickly, he said.
"Doing my own repairs definitely saves me," Amundson said.
His veterinarian comes from Elbow Lake, Minn. - a two-hour drive from the farm - and dairy equipment and service comes from Sauk Centre, Minn. One shelf in his barn holds an assortment of milker parts in case of an emergency. Amundson also uses the internet regularly to order parts.
"I try to keep things maintained enough to minimize surprise breakdowns," he said.
One of the biggest challenges he and his family faces, however, is living a lifestyle so different from others their age.
"The hardest thing is that nobody understands the schedule," Amundson said. "Everyone says you are tied down by the cows, but if you are going to make a decent living you will be tied down to your job either way."
While his profession of choice may not be the norm among his peers, Amundson enjoys his dairy career. He's tossed around ideas for future growth of the farm, including putting up a wind turbine to generate electricity and putting in robotic milkers.
"But I enjoy milking in the morning, so now robots wouldn't be a good fit for us," he said.
In a county where crop acres far number the cows, Amundson has made a name for himself in the dairy industry.
County information for this article found at[[In-content Ad]]


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