September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"We would always talk about farming," Willenbring said. "Our parents encouraged us to try other jobs and that we could always come back."
Coming back to dairy farm is just what he did.
Two and a half years ago, Willenbring left his job as a mechanic and started milking cows full-time on the dairy farm his uncles, David and Vernon own. Willenbring, his wife, Becky, and their children, Aleyah (8), Makena (5), Landen (4), Carlie (2) and Brenan (2 weeks), are currently milking 39 cows in a tiestall barn near Farming, Minn.
"In the back of my mind, I had always planned to come back to dairy farm," Willenbring said.
Willenbring's parents, Jerome and Barb, raised their five children on their dairy farm near Farming. Jerome and Barb were not the only family members dairy farming. Jerome's brothers, David and Vernon, dairy farmed together on their own farm, while his other brother, Melvin, dairy farmed as well.
"The whole family works together even though there are three separate farms," Willenbring said.
Willenbring attended St. Cloud Tech to study auto mechanics after graduating from high school.
Once he finished college, Willenbring found a job at Upsala Motors as a full-time mechanic and worked there for five years.
While he was working as a mechanic, Willenbring decided to do some work on his uncles' dairy farm in the evenings.
"For a year, I would come to the farm three nights a week after work to help my uncles out," Willenbring said.
During that year, Willenbring met with other dairy farmers that would come in to the shop on rainy days. They'd talk about their farms and what they enjoyed about farming.
"That helped me make my decision to be a full-time dairy farmer," Willenbring said.
Willenbring was looking at coming back to his parents' farm with his brother, Gary, but decided to milk cows at his uncles' farm instead.
"My parents' farm was not set up for three families to manage," Willenbring said. "And I didn't want to see my uncles' farm sit empty since they were getting to the point of retiring from the dairy part of the farm."
By mid-year in 2011, Willenbring left his job as a mechanic and took over the livestock portion of his uncles' dairy farm.
"I don't think my uncles were ready mentally to quit, but they agreed to let me take over the animals," Willenbring said. "They were happy to see the cows stay on the farm."
Although Willenbring has taken over the livestock portion of the farm, his uncles still play a large part in the farm. David and Vernon still run over 600 acres of land. The majority of Willenbring's feed comes from their fields.
"They pretty much supply everything - corn, haylage, corn silage and dry hay," Willenbring said. "We figure the price by a per cow per day basis not by the silo full."
David and Vernon have also helped Willenbring get heifers into a stall and put straw in the calf barn.
"They still help me," Willenbring said.
Since taking over the farm, Willenbring has started to do some of the AI breeding on his own, which he learned from a two-day training course offered by Select Sires.
Willenbring picks bulls that will help with feet and legs and milk.
"I start from the ground up," Willenbring said. "Feet and legs are the biggest trait I look for since I had some trouble with them when I started. That is what I build off of."
With two and a half years under his belt, Willenbring hopes to get the herd up to 46 cows.
"I would like to possibly expand someday," Willenbring said.
But for now, Willenbring has three main goals for the future of the farm. He hopes to be able to install a TMR mixer, automatic takeoffs and a better ventilation system in the barn.
"This would make it more labor efficient, increase cow comfort and make milking more consistent," Willenbring said.
Willenbring and his family still live in Upsala, Minn., while David and Vernon live on the farm site.
"It's a 23-mile drive one way everyday," Willenbring said. "I would love to move closer. I am looking forward to the day when I can walk from the house to the barn."
Looking back, Willenbring is proud of his decision to dairy farm.
"I have always wanted to do something with animals, especially cows," Willenbring said. "There have always been cows on the farm and I am continuing that."[[In-content Ad]]