September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It's got good and bad just like any other job," Mike Carlson said about dairy farming. "But [a dairy farm] is a good place to raise your kids - it's good for the whole family."
The Carlson family milks 70 cows on their farm near Welch, Minn. They received the 2011 Goodhue County Farm Family of the Year award, and were recognized during last year's Goodhue County Fair and in August during FarmFest. While brothers Mike and Dave do most of the day-to-day work on the farm, their mother, Pauline, still keeps up with the bookwork at the age of 90. Mike's wife, Hettie, does landscaping around the farm while their children - Amanda, a senior at UW-River Falls, and Zach, a graduate of UW-Madison's Farm and Industry Short Course - help out whenever they are home. Dave's son, Chris, also pitches in with chores whenever he can.
"We like it. It's a good life on the farm," Dave said.
Mike and Dave continue a career also chosen by family members before them. They grew up on the farm with their two other brothers and sister. When Dave graduated from high school in 1978 and Mike in 1981, they each worked on the farm while taking on other jobs. In 1983, they decided to form a partnership together and rent their parent's farmstead.
"It was a good way to get started farming," Dave said about why they decided to start farming with family.
"It was good for us and good for [our parents]," Mike added. "We would have had to put up buildings ourselves if we hadn't rented."
In 1987, they added onto their barn and again four years ago. At that time they put in a lagoon for manure storage.
"Now it's nice because we were hauling everyday," Mike said.
At the time they formed their partnership, they had a farrow-to-finish operation, which they still continue today with 20 sows, and they milked about 32 Jerseys and Holsteins in the original barn.
"We had better type Jerseys at the time," Mike said.
However, nobody wanted to buy their Jerseys when they had some to sell and they wanted a one-breed herd. The Jerseys left the farm.
"We wanted one way or the other - Holstein or Jersey. Holsteins are just good show cows," Dave said.
At this time, they also started registering their cows.
"Registering adds more value to your herd," David said.
It's also put a lot of emphasis on breeding for the Carlsons. One of the biggest rewards of dairy farming for them is when they breed a good cow or cow family.
"You can always go out and buy any cow, but breeding a good one yourself is an accomplishment," Mike said.
Their current best cow in the barn is Carls-Hills Belero-Hanky, a 7-year-old that scored Excellent-92 in her most recent classification.
The Carlsons focus on udders as the No. 1 trait, then move onto feet and legs, and depth of body; however, milk production is also taken into account.
"It takes the right balance and the right mating," Mike said. "Cows that focus on all type won't get the bills paid."
Although finding the right mating is challenging, fluctuating milk prices have also been challenging.
"They're so variable. Prices are up and down. It's hard," Dave said.
Last year's heat also made it hard to manage the herd this year.
"Because of last year's heat we are losing production and have lots of dry cows right now," Mike said.
Their philosophy of taking care of the cows is never compromised.
"The cows become part of our family. If you treat the cows well, they treat you the same way," Mike said.
As family, they know how to take care of the cows together.
"Together we take care of the cattle better than we would just working for someone. We never have to tell each other what to do," Dave said. "You know how the other one works. If you hire someone you may not always have something done the way you expect it."
When they were recognized at the Goodhue County Fair, their mother was able to attend.
"That made her day," Mike said. "And the award is a nice honor."
They said it's nice to be recognized for the work they do.
"We're making good healthy food for people and we're creating a lot of jobs," Mike said.
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