September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"I have been dairy farming for almost 50 years and will be retiring eventually," Osmonson said. "My whole focus now is to figure out how to incorporate other people into the operation."
His desire to keep the farm going even after he retires is one of the reasons the Osmonsons were named the 2014 Polk County Farm Family of the Year. Bennett milks 160 cows with his wife, Gloria, and his brother's fiancée, Tammie Friborg, on his dairy farm near Gully, Minn.
"It's a very humbling experience to be recognized by your peers," Osmonson said. "I didn't work all my life to get recognized, but if people notice, it's rewarding."
Osmonson grew up on the century dairy farm his grandfather started in 1903.
By 1950, Bennett's parents took over the dairy. However, almost 15 years later, when Osmonson was 17 years old, his father was suffering from cancer.
"I remember he was going in for surgery, and I stayed home the last six weeks of school to put the crops in," Osmonson said. "While my classmates were at school, I was home farming."
Only a year later in April 1966, his father passed away. Osmonson stayed home to continue dairy farming.
"I stayed and ran the farm for my mom," Osmonson said.
Osmonson was milking 16 cows and raising potatoes at the time, but was contemplating making some changes.
"I didn't think it was going to work the way we were doing things," Osmonson said. "But after we had some time to recuperate, I made the decision not to change anything."
In 1967, Osmonson secured enough finances to rent the farm from his mother for six years until purchasing it from her in 1973. During that time, Osmonson married his wife, Gloria, in 1968 and started his family.
Four years after purchasing the farm, the Osmonsons quit growing potatoes and focused more on the dairy farm by expanding their herd from 16 cows to 62 cows.
"That was our first expansion," Osmonson said.
For several years, Bennett and Gloria farmed together with some help from family, friends and neighbors.
"Gloria was my sidekick," Osmonson said. "She took care of the calves and other chores."
But when Gloria decided to go back to school for nursing in 1982, it was going to leave Osmonson short handed at home.
"We realized we were going to need more help," Osmonson said. "That is when we started hosting MAST international students through the University of Minnesota."
When it came to choosing the student they would be hosting, Osmonson looked at their capabilities on their application.
"I wanted to make sure the student's skills would match the needs for our farm," he said. "We wanted to see who would work well with us."
Osmonson put a training plan in place to make the transition a smooth one for both the students and his family.
"It really forced me to rethink why I do things," Osmonson said. "I had to explain to them why we did things the way we did."
The students helped provide more labor on the farm, but Osmonson learned from them, too.
"It was beneficial for us, too," Osmonson said.
One of their earlier students from New Zealand brought up the idea of grazing.
"He asked us one day, 'Why don't you graze the cows?'," Osmonson said. "We started to research it and saw it was something that we needed. That was the beginning for us."
By 1987, the Osmonsons started rotationally grazing their cattle.
"It has been beneficial to our operation," Osmonson said.
Rotational grazing was not the only thing the MAST students brought to their farm.
"We learned several different health treatments they brought from their country, too," Osmonson said. "We learned a lot from them."
The Osmonsons have hosted MAST students ever since, with the exception of four years between 1993 and 1997.
"The last six or seven students we have hosted have been females," Osmonson said. "They have been very attentive to the cattle. They take an interest in it."
But the best part of hosting the MAST students for the Osmonsons has been being introduced to the different cultures.
"It's been enjoyable for us," Osmonson said. "We have been able to see different cultures, beliefs and dietary needs."
In 1993, Bennett began dairy farming with his son-in-law, Brian Olson. After four years of milking in the old stanchion barn together, the Osmonsons were looking for a way to expand the herd again.
"We worked with veterinarians from the University of Minnesota and students to do a projection on our farm and ways we could expand," Osmonson said. "They came up with some ideas and we developed our plan around that."
In 1997, Osmonson and Olson built a double-6 parallel parlor and a new, bedded pack barn for the milking herd.
"I hired key people to do certain areas of the building, but we did most of our own construction and concrete," Osmonson said. "We did it the way we wanted to do it."
Moving to a bedded pack barn meant leaving his old stanchion barn behind.
"We don't have as many feet and leg issues like we did before, and cow comfort was improved immensely," Osmonson said.
That same year, Olson purchased his own cattle.
"We split the two herds apart. My herd was in one section of the barn, had a separate pasture, their own bulk tank and were milked separate from his," Osmonson said. "They never came in contact with each other. We were separate but together."
Thirteen years after the expansion, Osmonson's daughter, Erin Olson, passed away in 2010. Olson decided to leave the dairy operation the following year.
"I continued with all of the cattle," Osmonson said. "We had help from the MAST students, neighbors and family."
This past June, his brother's fiancée, Friborg, took over Olson's old herd and joined the operation.
"She pays attention to detail and is a great cow person," he said. "She has also started using essential oils as a treatment method for the cows. It has been very effective."
Friborg and Osmonson are currently milking 114 cows between the two herds but are hoping to reach 160 - 80 in each herd. But with retirement on the horizon, Osmonson is looking for someone else to step in.
"I have two sons, who have their own careers, so I am trying to give an opportunity to someone else to be involved in the operation and not on a temporary basis," Osmonson said. "That way they have some ownership in it and may be more willing to stay on. I hope it can continue."
Although Osmonson has been busy running his dairy farm over the years, he has found time to be involved in other activities off the farm.
He served as a member of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors for 15 years, was on the Land O'Lakes Leadership Council for five years, was on his county's fairboard for 17 years, participated in the Midwest Dairy Association's Speak Out program, served on several advisory committees for the local school and has been a member of Minnesota Milk. Osmonson has also hosted his county's Breakfast on the Farm.
"I have been involved in many things and I was able to meet many people across the state and nation," Osmonson said.
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