Work satisfies his life’s calling
Spindler receives farm family award
Dale Spindler stands in the tiestall barn where he milks his herd of 44 cows on his dairy near Owatonna, Minnesota. Spindler received the 2020 Steele County Farm Family of the Year award. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
OWATONNA, Minn. – Dale Spindler does not need a wall full of trophies to feel accomplished in his work.
“I just like farming, doing the work and staying out of the limelight,” he said.
However, the dairy farmer appreciated receiving the 2020 Steele County Farm Family award. Spindler milks 44 cows and has 160 acres where he raises corn, alfalfa and oats near Owatonna.
“It’s an honor,” Spindler said. “I’m kind of shy about it. I just like living out in the country doing what I enjoy.”
The family farm started when his parents, Eugene and Marian, began their agriculture enterprise in 1955. They raised their six kids on the farm along with a plethora of animals – cows, pigs, laying hens, broilers, ducks and geese. At one point, the siblings brought rabbits and turkeys into the mix for a few years.
“As time went on, we started whittling that down,” Spindler said.
The family focused on dairy, dairy-beef and hogs.
The animals and a love for being able to make independent choices for the business drew Spindler to the full-time farming life after he graduated high school in 1976. At the time, he joined his parents and older brother, Jerome, on the farm. He liked the family aspect of his career choice.
“Everyone had their own jobs,” he said. “If someone needed help, we were all there to step in.”
Spindler specialized in hogs while Jerome took care of the dairy herd. Over the years, they made upgrades to the dairy, including putting in a pipeline for the milking herd in 1979. After a while, Jerome took an off-the-farm job.
In 2000, the Spindlers’ hogs contracted porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, and at the same time, the hog price dropped below 90 cents per pound.
“The combination was a challenge so we let the hogs go,” Spindler said. “After my brother left, it got to be too much for all of us as my parents were getting older.”
Spindler’s parents have both slowly retired from farming. Until three years ago, Eugene, who was 84, and Marian, who was 81 at the time, helped with a large amount of field work. Now, despite both of them fighting a different form of cancer, they maintain their raised gardens amongst the farm’s buildings.
While Spindler is the only one in his family to do the farm work, his dairy encompasses the family aspect. With his parents living on the farm and needing care for their illnesses, there is a steady stream of people in and out of the driveway to help. Spindler’s sisters, Lisa and Monica, and his niece, Holly, help Marian and Eugene with medical appointments, medication schedules, grocery trips and running errands. Jerome helps Spindler with farm errands.
“This takes a lot off my shoulders,” Spindler said. “But it gets to be quite a bit of farm work, especially now that I’m on my own.
A full-time employee, Kyle Queens, has worked for Spindler for 15 years taking care of field work, mechanical issues and feeding.
“He’s got a lot of mechanical ability that I don’t have,” Spindler said. “That helps quite a bit.”
Spindler takes care of feeding calves and milking, a job that takes over four hours each day.
“I like milking,” he said. “It is a challenge at times, but it’s where I get to review my day. I slow down and get a chance to think. It’s relaxing.”
The challenging part of milking comes in the form of health issues with his legs. More recently, he has had hip, ankle and knee problems, which makes getting around and bending more difficult.
In the last few years, Spindler has employees to help with milking; however, he is currently looking for his next part-time employee after his previous one left at summer’s end.
“Now that I’m alone, I don’t get the time for vacation like I should, whereas when family was here, if you wanted to go out and do stuff, you could,” Spindler said.
While vacation does not always happen, Spindler is active in the county’s American Dairy Association and oversees the malt wagon.
However, it means a lot to Spindler that he was able to take over his family’s farm.
“I don’t have a family myself, but if my hired man is interested, he might take it over without the milking cows,” Spindler said. “It would be nice to keep it going. It doesn’t have to be family, but he’s put a lot of time and effort into it.”
Spindler accepts the farm might change going into the future.
“I’m hoping to keep up with the dairy, but in due time, I’ll probably have to face reality,” Spindler said.
Despite what Spindler sees as the inevitable, he takes on the same philosophy every day his parents taught him – to keep a positive and patient attitude.
“If it goes rough, don’t get excited, slow down, think through and work through it slowly,” Spindler said. “If you just work at it in a positive, slow and thorough way, you’ll get through it.”