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

What it takes to make it

Young producers share challenges, joys of dairying
Andrew (holding Ellie, 1) and Chelsa Golberg are pictured on their 125-cow dairy near Deer Creek, Minn. The couple has been farming since 2005 and said they have encountered several challenges in their dairying career. The couple is expecting their second child in August.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
Andrew (holding Ellie, 1) and Chelsa Golberg are pictured on their 125-cow dairy near Deer Creek, Minn. The couple has been farming since 2005 and said they have encountered several challenges in their dairying career. The couple is expecting their second child in August.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

By By Krista M. Sheehan- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

After their first few years, Andrew and Chelsa Golberg said their dairy farming venture hasn't gone exactly how they envisioned it.
"I don't think anything is ever what you think it's going to be," Chelsa said. "Some parts are 100 times better and then there are some things you didn't expect and catch you offguard."
Although there have been challenges during their 6.5-year career, the young couple from Deer Creek, Minn., who milks 125 cows, does not regret their decision to dairy. Three other dairy farming couples feel the same way: Kevin and Holly Griffin, who milk 56 cows near Rochester, Minn.; Adam and Sarah Mellgren, who milk 60 cows near Zumbro Falls, Minn.; and Paul and Amanda Seedorf, who milk 50 cows near Perham, Minn.

Getting into the industry
The Golbergs started their venture in 2005 while they were dating at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Chelsa wasn't from a dairy and, although Andrew's parents had milked cows in the 80s, he grew up on a crop and beef farm and always knew he wanted to dairy. The couple bought cows during their last year of college in October 2005 and started renting Andrew's parents' farm, where they transitioned a 45-cow tiestall barn to a swing parlor.
Griffin, also a U of M graduate in 2005, worked off the farm full-time in agronomy before purchasing the cows from his dad on July 1, 2007. Although he started his dairy career milking the cows in his dad's tiestall barn, he continued to work part-time off the farm.
The Mellgrens worked together with Sarah's parents, Vince and Sherry Sexton, to delve into the dairy industry. After getting married in 2005, the Mellgrens started milking cows on Sarah's parents' farm. They share the parlor and divide the freestall barn so their herd is on one specific side. Two bulk tanks also differentiate the herds, which are milked at different times.
When Paul Seedorf graduated from high school, he wanted nothing to do with dairy. But after working as an electrician, he decided to work as a herdsman on a farm. He then bought a few cows in 2003 to keep on the dairy, and eventually moved to his parents' farm in 2006 where he built a single-8 parlor and decided to house his cows outside.

The challenges
All four couples said the milk price in 2009 was one of their biggest challenges during their dairy farming career thus far; however, they all managed to find ways to sustain through the low year.
"We never would have survived that year without my parents and their equity position," Andrew said. "They stepped in to help us out and we didn't have to go to the bank."
Griffin's dad also helped him.
"That year was horrible," he said. "Working off the farm part-time and my dad helping us out - those were the two things that kept us afloat that year."
After surviving the milk price crash in 2009, each one of the producers realized they needed to be able to survive a year like that in case it happens again. For Seedorf, he decided to put in irrigation on his land and grow more of his own feed, especially now that grain prices are high.
"You have to look at the overall cost. I had to try to figure out how to run on lower income with higher costs," he said.
He also keeps his costs low by doing things himself.
"I don't call the vet as much for things like IVing because I learned how to do it on the larger dairy I worked for," Seedorf said.
The Mellgrens have learned not to use their milk check all at once.
"I automatically take money out of our milk check to save it for the future," Sarah said. "Even when prices are good, you can't spend it all. You need to save in case another year like 2009 happens again."
After making it through that tough time, the Golbergs said they changed the way they approached dairying. When they first started milking cows, the Golbergs thought they should try to milk as many cows as they could and buy feed since it was cheaper at the time.
"It totally flip-flopped and the commodity markets have been so strong ... now we wish we were farming 1,000 acres and milking 80 cows," Andrew said.
The situation has changed the way the Golbergs manage their farm. They built more silos and added feed storage to try to make the most of their land base for feed.
"If we want to stay in business for the long haul, we have to compete with the most efficient farms. Our focus, now, is on being efficient," Andrew said.
But there have been other challenges for these young producers beyond the milk price. Griffin needed to upgrade his barn by widening and lengthening the stalls. He culled nearly 40 percent of his herd the first year because of health issues.
"My herd wasn't growing. They had mastitis and leg problems. Back then it wouldn't be anything to have a vet bill around $1,300," he said.
After remodeling in 2008, he saw many of those issues dramatically reduce. The feet and legs of his cows are better, his reproduction program is now successful, his vet bill is four times less than what it was and his herd's somatic cell count is consistently under 200,000.
"I always knew cow comfort was important, but I didn't realize how big of an impact it would make," Griffin said.
The Mellgrens also had trouble keeping the numbers in their herd up. None of their own heifers calved for the first two years.
"Fortunately that's when the milk price was good," Sarah said. "We held onto every cow we could. If she got pregnant or she milked, we kept her."
Although keeping every cow they had caused their SCC to increase, it only took time before their replacements were calving.
"You just have to wait. Now, we're having to sell cows and can keep our SCC lower," Sarah said.
All of the dairy farmers said balancing other aspects of life and managing a dairy farm is hard.
"We didn't grow up on dairy farms," Andrew said about he and his wife, Chelsa. "We had to figure out how to get this big work load accomplished and still have time for each other and now our kids."
When Griffin had his part-time job, he said he wasn't dedicating enough time to either job.
"I felt I was short changing both," he said.
Last fall, Griffin left his part-time job to devote his full attention to the dairy.
"When I wasn't here (at the farm) I was missing things. Now I can watch cows for heat and monitor them more closely," he said.
It also gives him more opportunity to see his family throughout the day.
"It doesn't mean I'm at the house more, but I'm there at different times so I can see the kids when they're not in bed or napping," he said.
The Golbergs found out dairying is much more than physical strength, too.
"We weren't surprised it would be a lot of work, but there's so much more planning, managing and organizing than you realize," Chelsa said.
Part of that is managing capital investment.
"Because we're so conscious of it, it can be overwhelming," Chelsa said. "We look at the best use of our money and how it will give us the best return financially."
For Seedorf, that meant small initial investments.
"I went low key here," he said, especially about keeping his cows outside instead of building a freestall barn. "You have to manage your debt load and pencil out what the cows can provide for you."
Seedorf and the other young producers all said that although farming has been a challenge, it's what they want to continue doing into the future.
"I'm happy with what I'm doing," Seedorf said. "I have some issues with farming ... but really I don't have complaints."
This is part one of a two-part series. Check out next issue of the Dairy Star to read the rest of the story about these young producers. [[In-content Ad]]


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