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

Family dairies amidst wilderness

Poxleitners milk 200 cows in remote Beltrami County
The Poxleitners built this 180-stall freestall barn and bed it with sawdust. The lumber used for the barn is sourced locally – from Minnesota state sales, loggers and blown down trees. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
The Poxleitners built this 180-stall freestall barn and bed it with sawdust. The lumber used for the barn is sourced locally – from Minnesota state sales, loggers and blown down trees. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

By by Maria Hager- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

KELLIHER, Minn. - The Poxleitners are well aware of the frequent animal visitors to their farm. But, to lend a helping hand with more than just the disruptive wildlife, the dairy has an irreplaceable support system in place - family.
Aaron and his wife, Alexis along with their four daughters Alyssa, 17, Autumn, 9, August, 6, and Athena, 1, house 200 cows in a 180-stall sawdust bedded freestall barn and milk in a double-9 swing parlor in Kelliher, Minn. The family also farms 1,000 acres consisting of corn, oats and alfalfa. Aaron's brother, Brent, with his wife, Stasha, and their two children, Madelyn, 5, and Blake, 3, live on the farm-site and work on the dairy as well. In addition, Aaron and Brent's father, Andy, who has been deemed the jack-of-all-trades, continues to contribute to the operation. Alexis's father, Terry, has been an asset to their dairy.
"We wouldn't be where we are today if they hadn't helped," Aaron said.
And, the list does not stop there. Aaron's four uncles - Vernon, Dennis, Vesty and Raymond - have all been influential to the success of the dairy by contributing cement work, construction and excavating as well as tractor work and feed. Yet another uncle, Greg Thayer, owns a lumber yard and has contributed.
"I can fall back on any of them if I am in a bind," Aaron said. "They are all stubborn, hard-working people."
Dairying is a team effort with Aaron overseeing the operations of the dairy and owning some land and buildings. Brent is responsible for cleaning the barn, doing the AI work and feeding the calves. Andy does everything he can, but with hip and back surgery in the past year along with a battle with prostate cancer, it's been difficult.
"When he (Andy) sees a problem, he tries to fix it. Everybody puts in quite a bit of hours," Aaron said.
For the Poxleitners, dairy is a long-standing tradition. Aaron's grandfather moved to the area in the 1930s and operated, at the time, one of over 1,600 dairies in Beltrami County. Today, the dairy counts itself at just one of six still in production.
" ... and we are still expected to produce more (milk) than the 1,600 did," Aaron said.
Being an integral part of the dairy supply chain in the county, Aaron believes it is important to contribute locally. The dairy employs a team of full-time and part-time help - a blessing and a worry for Aaron.
"It's tough to be a farmer when you have five to six families that are dependent on you for money," Aaron said. "We have five full-time employees and one part-time person. We try to do as much locally as possible. A decent size dairy farm produces a lot of money for a feed store."
Luckily for Aaron, there is an abundance of local resources available for the dairy. This means more opportunities to add on to his existing buildings.
"We have our own band-saw and use wood from (Minnesota) state sales, blown down trees and timber from local loggers to build and add on to our buildings on our own," Aaron said. "I designed and welded all of our own steel stalls with help from Dad. Grandpa and I built our current silo."
Today, the family is producing well. But, it hasn't always been that way.
Starting in 2009 and progressing through 2013, the Poxleitners encountered an extensive stray voltage problem in their barn. Coupled with Brent leaving the farm for a year to work in southern Minn., the stray voltage left its mark on the Poxleitner cattle and on Aaron.
"I was short on help with my brother being gone," Aaron said. "Alexis and I were working 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. We had to cull a lot of our original cows because they wouldn't re-breed after the stray voltage. For three years, we were culling 20 to 30 cows per year."
Thanks to the help from Beltrami Electric Cooperative and other experts, the voltage issue was fully resolved by 2013 with the cows' milking averages weighing in around 65 to 75 pounds - an improvement from the 38 pounds or less produced during the incident.
"The goal is to get where it used to be when we started, which was around 85 to 90 pounds a day," Aaron said.
With the Poxleitners' production returning to previous levels, the dairy continues to face their biggest challenge - trucking.
"It's tough. In northern Minnesota, there's been a lot of dairies leave the business the last four years because of trucking," Aaron said. "Being up here, we pay so much for trucking. It adds a lot on. I think around 50 to 70 cents more per hundredweight."
Although, milk hauling has been improving for the Poxleitners - the dairy works with AMPI shipping, a company that has been doing a good job at watching their rates Aaron said - Aaron still stays diligent to see the dairies in the area succeed.
"We have to make sure we protect the truck," Aaron said. "We want everybody to have their chance to sell their milk - whether they're milking 30 cows or 200. Everybody should have a chance to continue their legacy."
If stray voltage and trucking weren't enough of an issue, the dairy also has frequent visits from wolves, deer and bears.
"I once set up a trail camera and had 270 deer on 40 acres every night for a month," Aaron said. "They walk on top of the plastic (over the feed) and rip open the entire thing."
In addition to the deer, the Poxleitners have lost feed because of bears running across their piles. Even the calves on the farm are not safe with wolves coming in to the farmsite to drag off the youngstock.
Despite the challenges the Poxleitners face, there are always advantages on the other side of the fence. Located on their side is Dr. John Q. Rolfson from Bagley Veterinary Medical Center in Bagley, Minn., being recognized by Trademark Who's Who in 2014, marking him as one of the best vets in the nation.
With high-quality medical care near-by, the Poxleitners also have easy access to feed. With a lack of sun recently and heaving spring rains, the family has had to buy large amounts of hay.
"We have a neighbor that sold his cows and we were able to buy his high quality feed," Aaron said.
And, with a dairy rooted in family support - the Poxleitners have no plans to let their challenges get the best of them.
"Grandpa raised a bunch of hard core workers," Aaron said. "You don't go to the job to get part of the job done. You go to get the whole job done."
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