September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
As he nears retirement, Marvin, 64, reflected on the changes he's seen in dairying during his lifetime.
"When I was a kid, we put the cows out on pasture. When they were outside, cow comfort wasn't a big concern. Now it is, when they're in the barn all the time," he said. "Then we fed everything-silage, hay, grain-separately; now we feed TMR. Our production has doubled, if not more."
Curtis, 54, commented on the major issue current dairy farmers are facing.
"Robots are a huge change we're seeing right now. The next ones down the road...that's their decision, but we're more than willing to help them."
Although the brothers have continued the family dairy operation through and past its century mark, they aren't sure what the future holds for Petzel Farm. Marvin plans to retire next year.
Both have sons who help with the operation, but neither is ready to commit to a dairy operation at this point. Marvin's son Greg works in crop insurance for AgStar in Mankato. He has an interest in farming-but doesn't want to be tied to milking. Curt's son, Doug, will be a senior at the University of Minnesota-St. Paul this fall.
"Doug will be involved in dairy somehow, but we're not sure how," Curt said.
A member of the U of M's undefeated junior dairy judging team this past year, Doug also gained a lot of experience when he worked for a show herd in Quebec last summer, from May through August, then helping at World Dairy Expo in October.
The Petzels have 83 milk cows, milking them in a 49-stall barn. Although the herd is primarily grade Holstein, there are a few registered Holsteins, a few Ayrshires and a few crossbreds.
The Ayrshires stemmed from Doug's 4-H projects and came at the urging of Duane and Mary Nelson of Winthrop. Doug did well with them, garnering a junior All-American nomination with a winter calf in 2008. He's also had two junior All-American nominations with his Red and Whites, a winter calf in 2010 and a winter yearling in 2011. Doug and his sister Cheryl use the name "New Rome Dairy" for their show cattle.
Of the crossbreds, Curt expressed both pros and cons. They've used the three-way cross endorsed by U of M dairy specialists, but have opted to stay with Holstein when they go through the cycle.
"The Swedish or Norwegian Reds are too high strung for us," Curt said. "The Montbeliardes milk okay, but their udders are too deep, even as young cows. They require less maintenance and are hardier animals. They'd be great for grazing setups."
The Petzels' dairy barn was built in 1962, after fire caused by lightning destroyed the original 1910 structure. It had 23 stalls. Marv remodeled it to 34, then added on-for a total of 49 tie stalls and a few box stalls-in 1987.
Curt and Marvin usually do the milking, switching 18 cows in and out. The extra cows are housed on a bedded pack in loose housing. Greg and his brother Bryan help milk in the evening and on weekends as needed. Doug helps when he's home from college and his sister Cheryl, who is employed off the farm, also does some calf feeding and occasionally helps milk.
The herd has been mated through Select Sires for at least 20 years. The Petzels used sexed semen on heifers when it first became available, but quit a few years ago because they were getting too many heifers.
"We used to sell some bred heifers at Zumbrota, but the bred heifer market is not very good. We realized that we can do just as well-or better-by raising out the steers," Curt said. "I still feel there's a market for sexed semen for anybody who's expanding, but it wasn't the best for us."
Calves are raised in individual hutches until they're two months old, then moved to super hutches in groups of about 10. The bull calves are fed out on a full corn diet.
About 30 heifers-six to 12 months in age-are moved to Curt's farm, about seven miles to the west of the home farm, during the summer. There they get to run on a three-acre pasture. During the winter months, Curt starts some steers at his place.
Older heifers and dry cows enjoy being on pasture, too. They have shade in an oak grove that's part of the pasture. The pasture is right along Highway 19 and provides a good view for motorists passing by.
"At the price of land, we can't have much pasture...just enough for cow comfort," Marvin said.
The brothers started feeding TMR in 1993 and noticed an immediate jump in production.
"The herd average went up about 4,000 pounds the first year. We had some DAs but learned how to deal with them. The average has been pretty steady for about 10 years," Curt said.
The farm's usual TMR ration includes corn silage, haylage, baled hay, ground corn and protein supplement. That will change this summer as all of the Petzels' alfalfa-40 to 45 acres-winter-killed.
"We'll use corn gluten feed. It's fairly high in protein, about 20 percent, to replace the haylage when that runs out until the new crop comes in," Curt said. "We have enough large square hay purchased to get by until September, and enough corn silage, too."
While they usually straight-seed alfalfa, Marvin and Curt tried something different with half of the 40 new acres planted. They interseeded barley and peas to get more tonnage for forage this summer.
Although the dairy herd and dairy equipment is owned 50/50 between the brothers, Marvin and Curt own land separately. They farm the land together, however. With Curt living seven miles away, alfalfa and haylage is raised on Marvin's farm near the dairy. Together, the brothers operate about 800 acres.
The herd currently averages about 27,000 pounds of milk-with cows producing up to and over 35,000 pounds. The top cow milked 165 pounds a day on her second test, 155 on the third and 150 on the fourth. Somatic cell count averages about 200,000.
Milk is sold to Bongards, but ultimately ends up at Le Sueur Cheese.
As he ponders the future, Marvin said, "I feel bad that the family farm is disappearing for the next generation. It's pretty much a thing of the past."[[In-content Ad]]
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