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

Like father, like son

Rudebecks dairying for nearly half a century
In 2014, Bob Rudebeck purchased a TMR mixer that has helped increase production.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JENN JANAK
In 2014, Bob Rudebeck purchased a TMR mixer that has helped increase production.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JENN JANAK

By by Jenn Janak- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

PERHAM, Minn. - A typical day on the Rudebecks' family dairy starts with Bob Rudebeck mixing feed while his girlfriend, Lisa Benes, milks the herd of 55 cows in their 60-stall tiestall barn. Periodically, Bob's father, Roger, may trek out to give a helping hand.
But dairying wasn't always this routine for the Rudebecks who farm near Perham, Minn. in Ottertail County.
In the 47 years that Roger and Bob have been dairy farming, they've seen it all - from herd expansions to extreme droughts to farming accidents - yet neither can get away from the daily responsibilities and rewards of milking cows.
"You never really get out of it [dairy farming]," Roger said, who is now semi-retired. "I spend a lot of my time helping Bob wherever he needs it."
Roger and his wife, Jeanette, first began dairy farming in 1968 with a herd of 18 cows a few miles northwest of the current farm site. They would milk the cows into cans to be sold to the creamery.
Two years had past, and the current farm site was for sale. The older man who owned the 160-acre property was the father of nine children, none of which had any interest in carrying on the family tradition. The property consisted of a pole shed and a small tiestall barn.
"When that property came up for sale in 1970, I bought it," Roger said.
The ambitious dairy farmer received a loan that allowed him to pay for the farm property.
"I had no way to purchase the farm without taking out that loan," he said. "They would take 20 percent of my milk check until I had it all paid off."
After the purchase had gone through, Roger and Jeanette used vehicles to coral their cows and guide them through the dirt roads of rural Perham to their new farm.
"There were a couple that got into the woods," Roger said with a grin. "We eventually got them out."
A year later, Bob was born. He is one of three children Roger and Jeanette raised on the farm.
"I've helped on the farm since I was a little kid, always being involved with 4-H and things," Bob said.
Throughout the years that followed, the Rudebecks became established on the farm site, learning how to manage a dairy in a more-advanced environment than what they were used to.
"It was heaven when we arrived at this site and there was a bulk tank," Roger said.
But cows weren't the only livestock entity on the farm.
The family had six sows that were housed in an old lean-to shed, as well as a couple hundred chickens during the spring through fall months.
"Back then, we had to have those animals," Roger said. "Those chickens bought our groceries."
In 1980, after a decade of building the herd to 35 cows and milking without a pipeline, Roger built an additional 70 feet onto the tiestall barn and installed a pipeline system, which allowed them to expand the herd to 55 cows. At the same time, two silos were built on site.
"The Amish helped us with a lot of projects on the farm, including the silos and a pole shed that was built in 1993," Bob said.
Three years later, the Rudebecks purchased a neighboring farm site. They were now able to farm a total of 275 acres of land.
During the same time, Roger was searching for a newer tractor to replace his 520 John Deere. While he did upgrade to a 730, he also stumbled upon a '60 John Deere B.
"I was at an auction once and a 20 horsepower John Deere B was on the lot," Roger said. "No one wanted it, so I started the bidding at $30 and came home with that tractor for the starting bid."
With money tight, Jeanette was in shock that her husband bought another tractor.
"We were penny counters and spent every coin wisely," Roger said, especially during the drought of 1988.
As the Rudebeck children grew, Bob was the only one who continued to show an interest in agriculture. At the age of 17, he had started his own beef herd of four cows; but like his sisters, Lisa and Patty, he decided to pursue a different career path following graduation.
It was the summer of 2001, when Bob made the choice to return to his home farm and take over the lifestyle of his father.
But that decision only came after tragedy struck the Rudebecks.
On June 4, 1999, Roger was unloading haylage while Jeanette managed the chopper in a field north of the barns, when Roger's foot became intertwined in the hay blower.
"The haylage was 50 percent moisture, super gummy and sticking to the pipes," Roger said.
He proceeded to stick a garden hose down the blower to try to unclog the equipment. In a split second, Roger's foot got caught in the blower and was quickly twisted twice around.
"I just laid there, twisted," Roger said.
Luckily, a game warden was passing through and helped Roger before the paramedics could arrive.
Nine months had passed since the accident and Roger was still in an indescribable amount of pain. With heavy hearts, Roger and Jeanette sold their cows.
Thirteen months after the cows were sold, Bob couldn't stand to know that his family had left the dairy farming lifestyle.
"I had kept my beef cows around, but wanted to keep dairy farming in my family," Bob said. "There aren't many left around the neighborhood, so it was important for my father and I to do this."
With the assistance of a USDA loan, Bob purchased 26 cows and was determined to revitalize the farm.
Thankfully, Roger fully recovered nearly two years after the accident. He developed a knack for woodcarving - a hobby that came about during recovery when there were no chores to be done.
"I still find a lot of time for woodcarving, but since being fully recovered I have found more time helping my son with his dairy farm," Roger said.
Together, the father-son duo made some much-needed adjustments to the dairy operation along side some changes they now regret.
In 2003, Bob installed waterbeds for the tiestall barn, in hindsight knowing newer mats would have worked better.
"That was just an all-around bad investment," Bob said. "With tiestalls, the cows tend to jump into the stalls to avoid the gutter. This damaged the mats and wasn't healthy for the cows, either."
Improvements such as automatic takeoffs in 2008, a new calf barn in 2011 and a TMR mixer in 2014 have greatly enhanced the Rudebecks' operation.
But perhaps the most delightful addition has been Lisa and her three children Zachary (14), Dylan (11) and Marissa (8) who joined the farm this past November.
"She [Lisa] grew up on a farm, so she understands how much work it takes," Bob said.
Benes couldn't agree more and values the time that is spent with her children, Bob and Roger.
"It's important for us to work together," she said.
As the Rudebecks look into the future of the dairy, Bob is hopeful that the dairy will stay alive and well, especially with a younger generation now involved.
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