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

Siblings fill workforce void for Hirsches

Kottens enjoy employment on Sleepy Eye dairy
Justin Kotten enjoys all parts of working on the Hirsch farm, but has special knowledge about tractors, as he also works at the John Deere dealer in Sleepy Eye, Minn.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY RUTH KLOSSNER
Justin Kotten enjoys all parts of working on the Hirsch farm, but has special knowledge about tractors, as he also works at the John Deere dealer in Sleepy Eye, Minn.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY RUTH KLOSSNER

By by Ruth Klossner- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

SLEEPY EYE, Minn. - Brown County dairy farmer Tom Hirsch had no idea what a simple phone call to a neighbor would lead to. Now, seven years later, he has a whole family working on his 80-cow dairy farm near Sleepy Eye. It all started when Hirsch asked 13-year-old Josh Kotten if he'd like to help on the farm.
"Josh was in seventh or eighth grade then. I knew the kids liked dairy," Tom said, recalling when he asked the first family member to work for him.
Not only is Josh, 20, still working part-time for Tom and Sharon Hirsch and their son Jake, but so are his siblings, Justin, 19, and Jenny, 17.
Justin started next, only about six months after Josh, and Jenny a few years later.
"We realized there were more kids in the family," Sharon said. "The first one was good, so we figured the next ones would be, too, and they are."
For all three, it was their first job and it's a great relationship that's benefitted both families.
After learning to bed stalls, get the barn ready and feed silage, the Kotten kids soon advanced to doing just about anything on the farm - milking, field work, running the manure pump, driving silage loads and anything else.
"And there's always hay baling. These guys are the regulars, then we hire extras," Tom said. "Most of our dairy hay is in big bales but the wild hay and straw is small squares."
He added, "When we run into a jam, guess what ... we call them. Our kids are pretty much gone, except for Jake. He and his girlfriend are getting married next year."
The Hirsch children are scattered, with oldest son Dan a professional painter in Watertown, S.D. Their daughter, Charlotte, is a teacher in the Twin Cities; son Gabe works for Schwartz Farms near Comfrey, Minn.; son Aaron is going for his masters in music performance; and youngest Michael is a sophomore in engineering at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D.
That's where the Kotten siblings come in, filling the gaps for Tom, Sharon and Jake.
"The oldest one tells the younger ones what to do," Tom said.
And finding help isn't hard.
"There's always help here Saturdays and Sundays and, if we need help milking, we call," Sharon said.
Josh makes sure he or one of his siblings is at the farm to help as needed. He schedules farm work around his main job - working the night shift, running the cart in the field, for Del Monte canning plant. Justin, too, has another job, working for Kibble Implement in Sleepy Eye, Minn. This fall, he will be going to the two-year John Deere Tech program in Wahpeton, N.D. Josh also plans around Jenny's activities at Sleepy Eye High School where she'll be a senior this fall.
Josh and Justin's knowledge of tractors and computers is handy when it comes to fieldwork.
"With the new systems in tractors, these guys really took to it. Young guys get into it when older people like me are hesitant," Tom said.
The extra help allows the Hirsches to get away to visit their parents and take vacations.
"Jake really likes it when these guys come. It allows him to get away, too," Sharon said.
The siblings, the children of David and Chris Kotten, live just two miles north of the Hirsch farm and can get there quickly when needed.
"When we take our week-long family vacation up north the second weekend of August, we need somebody to take over. They'll be here every day and my brother John will come over to help, too. That's the only way we can get away," Tom said. "These guys know everything about it - cows, mechanical, silage."
He added, "We understand that they have things, too, and we work around that. We pride ourselves that people like to come here to work. It helps them out, too. Their mom says, 'If they want to spend money, they have some,' but this crew doesn't spend money."
Sharon agreed.
"We like to pay a little more than they'd get elsewhere so they stay," she said.
Josh recently graduated from Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn. He'll use his education in farm operations and management as he also helps on an uncle's farm and hopes to take that over in the future.
Jenny's help has been limited this summer, as she tore her ACL, bruised two bones and sprained her MCL in a fluke accident at the Southern Minnesota Youth Dairy Show. She'll have surgery in a few weeks, but vows to be back in the show ring at the Brown County Fair in mid-August. She's a veteran showman, winning senior showmanship at the fair last year and winning a trip to the state fair.
While the injury will prevent Jenny from continuing to play volleyball on her high school team, she'll be back on the sideline, doing girls' basketball and boys' baseball stats as she has before. After high school, Jenny plans to continue her education in either athletic training or ag business.
All three of the Kottens have been very involved in FFA, with Josh getting his American Farmer Degree, Justin getting a State Degree, and Jenny qualifying for the State Degree this year.
Josh, Justin and Jenny are comfortable around the farm and come and go almost like family.
"Justin brought his prom date out here two days before prom to help pull a calf. She's a city girl from The Czech Republic. That night, I looked out and the lights were on in the barn. They had come back to check that the cow and calf were all right," Tom said.
Sharon told of an interesting experience that involved Josh.
"One time when we were gone, Josh had to help do a D.A. surgery with the vet. Normally he could call Tom's brother John, but that time he had to help," she said.
"That was an interesting experience," Josh acknowledged.
With the Kottens living just north of the Hirsch farm, and driving the same road, Tom can keep track of Jenny's comings and goings. She usually drives a truck, the only vehicle left for her, and one that she loves.
"I hear it or I see it, so I know what time she gets home at night," Tom said, kidding with Jenny.
The Hirsch family is thankful to have the Kottens on their farm and become a part of their lifestyle.
"It's been wonderful having Josh, Justin and Jenny here," Sharon said. "I don't know what we would have done without them."[[In-content Ad]]


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