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

Working his way up

Marx slowly purchases cattle, farmsite
Paul Marx stands in the pasture with his herd of 52 cows on his farm in Mower County near Le Roy, Minn. Marx, who has been milking cows since 2009, is slowly working his way into the dairy industry by spending money wisely.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA SHEEHAN
Paul Marx stands in the pasture with his herd of 52 cows on his farm in Mower County near Le Roy, Minn. Marx, who has been milking cows since 2009, is slowly working his way into the dairy industry by spending money wisely.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA SHEEHAN

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

LE ROY, Minn. - As a young producer getting his start in the dairy industry, Paul Marx knows he can't have the perfect farm right away.
"You have to earn it. You can't start at the top. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. That's what I'm doing," Marx said.
The 26-year-old is working hard to work his way up in the industry by constantly improving his farm. Marx has been milking cows since 2009 and now has a herd of 52 cows. Last year, he bought the farmsite he had been renting and now owns nearly 10 acres near Le Roy, Minn., in Mower County.
"I've known since I was six years old that I wanted to dairy farm," Marx said. "When you're six, you look up to your dad. I always wanted to be like him."
Marx's dad, Peter, milked cows until he sold his herd in 2001 and moved his family from the St. Michael, Minn., area to Le Roy. Although Peter still crop farmed, Marx - who was 15 at the time - wanted to continue dairying.
To get his start, Marx started raising bull calves to about 400 pounds and worked for local dairy farmers. The same year the family moved, he also bought his first Brown Swiss heifer. As the years went on, he bought a few more heifers and usually housed them at the farms where he worked.
After high school, Marx attended Northeast Iowa Community College for one year, before returning to work for dairy farmers and starting full-time at Johnson Farms, a feed mill where he made milk replacer and hog feed. At this time, he was also looking for a dairy farm where he could milk his own cows.
"My brother helped me a lot. He fed my calves because I was working a lot," Marx said.
In May 2009, Marx started renting Richard Grass's farm. Grass was a neighbor to Marx's dad and Marx had previously worked for the dairy farmer. At the time, Marx was milking 16 cows, raising bull calves and working full-time.
"I'm very fortunate to have rented this place," Marx said.
But Marx wanted a farm of his own. He continued to search for a site for himself. After looking at nearly 50 farms, Marx was losing hope and thought his dairying career might not work.
"At one point I was going to sell my cows. I actually had someone come to look at them," he said.
But everything changed when his landlord decided to move to town and sell his farmsite to Marx.
"I had zero intention of buying this place, but everything worked out," Marx said.
The farm became his on June 30, 2011. Since then, Marx has been making upgrades such as putting a new roof on the barn, pouring cement in the cow yard, purchasing a 1,000-gallon bulk tank, and adding on to his shed for hay storage.
"You've got to take things slow," Marx said.
On his farm, Marx milks his cows in a flat-barn parlor setup. One side of the barn has eight remaining tiestalls, where he milks his herd with four milking units. The rest of the barn had been converted to an open area before Marx bought it. He uses this portion of the barn as a bedded pack and holding area. There are also two other bedded pack areas for the cows along with access to a pasture. During the winter, Marx puts a corn stalk mound in the cow yard for additional space.
"They prefer to be outside in the sun than inside on the bedded pack," he said.
The biggest challenge getting into the industry for Marx was trying to find a farm, he said.
"If it was up to me, I would have started right out of high school," Marx said. "I looked at a lot of places without luck. I understand dairy farmers want to stay on their land, and raise crops or steers, but they need to give young farmers a chance."
Like many other young farmers, finances are another challenge for Marx.
"When I first started, I had to figure out how to get by as cheap as possible. Luckily, I had good equity built up before I started since I worked a full-time job," Marx said.
He is also able to buy corn silage and corn stalks for bedding from his dad.
"He's more than fair when he sells me feed. He's my biggest supporter. He wants me to make it and see me succeed," Marx said.
One way to cut down on cost has been component feeding. Instead of using a TMR, Marx feeds 46 pounds of corn silage, free choice hay and grain while milking. High producers receive 24 pounds of grain while low producers get 10 pounds.
"I want a parlor and to feed a TMR, but it's more expensive and an extra chore. Right now it takes me 15 minutes to feed," Marx said.
This follows his philosophy of gradually working his way up in the industry and spending wisely.
"Any dollar I've made goes back into the farm. I don't do wasteful spending," Marx said.
He bought a tractor he paid off right away and drives an older truck.
"One thing you have when you're young is your labor. That's what I'm using right now. If I'm still doing it this way when I'm 40, I did something wrong," Marx said.
For other young producers, Marx suggests working into the industry slowly, asking questions of others, creating relationships with nutritionists and veterinarians, and working for another dairy farmer for awhile.
"It's the best free education you can get," Marx said about working for others.
In the future, Marx would like to build either a parlor or a new tiestall barn. He would also like to have a 100 percent registered Brown Swiss herd. Currently, his herd is 75 percent Brown Swiss with the rest being mostly Holsteins with a few crossbreds. One thing Marx knows is that he won't get a robot.
"I like being around the cows and working with the cows," Marx said. "It's what drew me to dairy farming."
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