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

Dairy farmers by choice

Theis brothers continue family tradition as fourth generation on Century Farm
The Theis family farm is pictured in it’s most recent aerial photo in 2010. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED
The Theis family farm is pictured in it’s most recent aerial photo in 2010. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED

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

SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Even though the Theis brothers are the fourth generation to farm the land that has been in their family since 1912, they said there was no pressure for them to follow in the previous generation's footsteps.
"We grew up doing this. We liked it and wanted to stay in it," Marty Theis said.
His twin brother agreed.
"It was our choice," Marvin said.
Marvin and Marty farm together with the help of two employees and retired dairy farmer, Vern Dockendorf, on their 200-cow dairy, Theis Twin Farm, near Shakopee, Minn. The Farm was recognized as a Century Farm in 2012.
The original 110 acres were bought by the brothers' great-grandfather in 1912 for a total of $6,317. Most of the work done at that time was done by hand or with work horses.
Their grandpa, Anton, bought the farm from his father in 1923 for $11,500. He added another 40 acres in 1935 for $2,000.
"He was able to buy it because someone lost it during the depression," Marvin said.
Marty and Marvin's parents, Martin and Mary, were able to purchase the farm when they were married in 1956.
"He told grandpa that he wanted to buy the farm or he would start looking for another one. That's when they made the agreement to buy it," Marvin said.
In 1960, Martin and his dad added onto the barn for a total of 70 stalls
"Dad wanted to add 30 stalls, but Grandpa only wanted to add 20. They compromised and decided to add 50," Marvin said with a laugh.
The barn stall numbers increased to 150 in 1975, which is still where they milk their mixed-breed herd today.
Of Martin and Mary's 12 children, four brothers started farming together with their dad in the 1980s. Miles and Mitchell with their brothers, Marvin and Marty, started full-time on the farm in 1981 after high school.
"The 80s were tough," Marty said. "The land and everything went down in value."
At the time, the Theis family was milking cows on two farms - 150 on the current farmsite, and 70 in another tiestall barn not far away.
In 1987, the Theis family was anticipating an increase in cow numbers so they built a silo. Investing in the feed storage saved them the next year during the drought.
"The silo was still full of feed when the drought came, so we got by," Marty said.
In 1988, the Theis family chopped 330 acres of corn silage instead of the typical 100 acres.
"The corn was so short," Marvin said.
During the high interest rates, the Theis family was forced to buy a baler when theirs went into disrepair.
"We had to buy one. We needed it," Marty said. "We paid 21 percent interest. By the time we paid it off, we had paid for it twice because of the interest rate."
Although the 80s brought challenges, the Theis farm survived the hard times and times got better.
In 1990, they brought all the cows to one farm.
"It made milking more efficient," Marty said. "We only had to milk with two or three people instead of four on two farmsites."
The Theis family continued to farm without too many additions through the 90s. In 1999, Mary passed away, followed by Martin in 2000. That same year, Miles decided to get out of farming, and move onto a different career.
In 2010, Mitchell passed away from a bee sting.
"He knew he was allergic and would get away whenever he saw a bee," Marvin said.
Mitchell had been stung twice before and always carried an EpiPen. When he was stung in the head in 2010, he immediately used his EpiPen and tried to make his way to the hospital, but didn't make it.
"I think because he was stung in the head, it affected him a lot faster," Marvin said. "I just want others to be aware of bee allergies."
Over the years, the scenery and landscape around the farm has changed. Traffic on their road has increased.
"Few cars would go by and when we would see a car, we would know who it was. Now, there are lots of cars that go by and we don't know most of them," Marty said.
While growing up, many of their neighbors shared the same lifestyle. On a seven-mile stretch of their road, there were 28 dairy farmers. Now the Theis farm is the only dairy left and one of seven in the Shakopee school district.
Urban sprawl has also crept closer.
"There are more houses out in the country. We make sure to talk to our neighbors when we do things like spread manure," Marvin said.
Their farm has also changed. Over the years, the Theises added and sold several acres - including a parcel of land Martin bought from his dad for $1 - but now own about 1,100 in three counties - Scott, Rice and Le Sueur. The farthest field is 28 miles away.
"We go where there is land available," Marvin said.
Despite the changes, the Theis brothers continue to love what they do and follow the philosophy to work hard and play hard.
They also love that they have their family together with them on the farm. Marvin and his wife, Susan, have two kids: Owen (20) and Eric (18). Marty and Carol's son and daughter-in-law, Nathan (24) and Amanda, have three children, Ellie (7), Kayden (4) and Lillian (1). Their other children are Patrick (21) and Shania (18). Many nephews have also helped on the farm over the years.
"I would like to try to keep the farm going," Marvin said.
Maybe a fifth generation will make farming their lifestyle of choice.
"The farm has sentimental value," Marty said. "It means a lot to our family."
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