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

Taking matters into his own hands

Hendrickson building on his dairy career
Joel Hendrickson is pictured with his wife, Amanda, and their three children, (from left) Julia (1), Madelyn (2) and Zachary (4). Although Joel generally takes care of the dairy, Amanda has milked for him a few times, allowing him the chance to spend time with their kids. (photo by Jennifer Burggraff)
Joel Hendrickson is pictured with his wife, Amanda, and their three children, (from left) Julia (1), Madelyn (2) and Zachary (4). Although Joel generally takes care of the dairy, Amanda has milked for him a few times, allowing him the chance to spend time with their kids. (photo by Jennifer Burggraff)

By By Jennifer Burggraff- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MENAHGA, Minn. - Joel Hendrickson has always had the itch to own his own dairy cattle. In fact, he purchased his first cow when he was still in high school. Because he didn't know how his dad would react, Joel's oldest brother, Peter Mark, who was working for his dad and eventually took over the home farm, claimed the cow as his own and secretly gave Joel a cut of the milk check.

"That's what I've done since high school; every penny I had went to buy a cow," Joel said. "I would work out a deal for every cull cow my uncles had."

So to say Joel was happy to see the first semi-load of cattle that would make up his dairy herd arrive in Menahga, Minn., last May 26 would have been an understatement.

"I was pretty excited," he said.

After working for various producers over the years, Joel met his own dairy ambition just one year ago, in the midst of the worst dairy crisis in history.

Joel grew up on his family's dairy farm near Menahga. After graduating from high school in 2003, he did not rush to leave for the freedom of college; he already knew what he wanted to do - dairy farm. So he began working for producers in the area, including his uncles and Mark Spadgenske, who owned a 200-cow dairy just a few miles down the road. With each dairy he worked at, Joel gained more knowledge and skills of the trade.

"It was good working at the different [dairies]," Joel said. "I learned a little from everybody."

Although he enjoyed the dairy life, Joel hadn't planned on starting his own dairy right away. That idea came from someone else.

"A neighbor came to me and wanted to start a dairy in partnership with me," he said.

The partnership fell through, but the idea remained.

"[The neighbor] put the bug in his ear," said Joel's wife, Amanda.

In February 2009, Joel and Amanda began planning for Joel to begin dairying on his own. Instead of purchasing a farm right away, they opted to look at renting one. Coincidentally, Joel knew of a dairy facility sitting less than one mile from where he and Amanda lived with their three children - Zachary (4), Madelyn (2) and Julia (1). It was the same farm Joel's friend and former employer Mark Spadgenske, had gotten his start.

Joel's first step was to contact the owner of the facility, Curtis Hasbargen.

"He was very receptive about having someone rent," Joel said.

Even after he got the okay from Hasbargen, Joel did not dive in head-first. Instead, he and Amanda talked with their banker and several trusted producers and agri-business people to get their input.

"I debated about it (starting on my own) for a long time; I'm not one to jump into things," Joel said. "So I talked to people about it - other farmers, my uncles, my feed rep, the veterinarian I had worked with for years - to see if they thought I could make it work and if it was a good time to start."

All were supportive of the idea, including Amanda, who grew up just north of Chicago, Ill., and had no previous dairy experience.

"It's what he always wanted to do," Amanda said. "I was excited but nervous, but it's turned out to be the best thing we've done."

Aside from his own dairy passion, Joel had two things in his favor by starting up last year.

"Cows were cheap and interest rates were low," he said.

By mid-April, the Hendricksons knew their bank was behind them. It was time to put their plans into action.

Although the facilities had been empty since 2001, no major updates were needed. Originally a turkey barn, Hasbargen switched to dairy in the 1980s. He gutted out the interior of the barn, opening it up as a bedded pack facility with access to a drylot and pasture, and added on a parlor room complete with an office, a wash room, a utility room and a milk room.

When Joel went to look at the facility, everything was still there including the bulk tank, vacuum pump and the milking equipment for the double-five herringbone parlor.

"I put new hoses on, checked the vacuum pump and fixed some fence," Joel said. "The facility was in working order."

For the cows, Joel contacted a cattle dealer he knew. Within a short time, two herds - a 55-cow herd in North Dakota and a 22-cow herd in South Dakota - had been located.

On May 26, 2009 - Joel's 25th birthday - the first load of cattle arrived. The second load came the next day. Joel's brother, who owns a semi and transports cattle, hauled the herd.

"We had a nice, big welcome crew when they arrived," Amanda said of several family members who were there to help with unloading and the first few milkings.

The cows adjusted well to their new surroundings, and the Hendrickson family has adjusted well to their new lifestyle.

Although Joel admitted money was and still is tight, he has done several things over the last year to keep his expenses to a minimum in order to get up and running.

With the farm site and 70 acres of pasture, Joel also rented 70 acres of cropland for planting silage corn. Since Hendrickson doesn't own his own equipment, Hasbargen let Joel use some of his machinery to work the land. An uncle helped with the planting and Joel's brother helped with harvesting.

"I've done a lot of bartering," Joel said. "I help my brother and he helps me."

For his alfalfa needs, Joel was able to purchase hay from Spadgenske.

"He baled it and I picked it up and wrapped it," Joel said.

With plenty of storage space on site, Joel also began buying grain by the semi-load to keep costs down.

Joel hopes to rent more land this year for pasture, but he doesn't plan to do his crops any differently in order to concentrate on his cows.

His one indulgence of the year was converting the herringbone parlor to a swing-10 parlor, which was completed just two weeks ago.

Looking to the future, Joel said he doesn't plan to expand in order to keep the herd manageable by one person. With their house currently for sale, Joel and Amanda do hope to move onto the farm site.

"It would be nice even for me and the kids," Amanda said. "We could help with chores more."

Although Joel takes care of the dairy 99 percent of the time, Amanda - a stay-at-home mom - said she has switched places with him a time or two.

"I've gone and milked for him a few times," she said. "It's a nice break for both of us, and for him to spend time with the kids."

Eventually, Joel said, he hopes to purchase a small farm that he and his family can call their own.

"I've never wanted to do anything else," the young dairyman said.

[[In-content Ad]]


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.