A different start in the industry
Brothers operate dairy as own
John and TJ Becker manage a 56-cow herd for established dairyman Loren Vetsch in a rented facility near Browerville, Minnesota. The Beckers have long-term plans to purchase the herd and begin farming on their own. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
BROWERVILLE, Minn. – For twin brothers TJ and John Becker, owning and operating a dairy farm is all they ever thought of doing. With the help of veteran dairy farmer Loren Vetsch, the Beckers are nearly there.
The brothers operate Vetsch’s second farm site with long-term plans of purchasing the entire herd and establishing their own dairy.
“After high school, we knew we wanted to farm,” John said. “We went to college and met all these dairy kids who had plans to farm, and we thought, ‘Why couldn’t we?’”
Since Dec. 15, 2020, John and TJ, 21, have managed Vetsch’s 56-cow herd in rented facilities near Browerville. Vetsch’s main farm site is nearby, where he milks about 200 cows.
“I knew (the Beckers) wanted to do it, and we had the cows to do it,” said Vetsch, who doubled his herd size in less than six years. “We didn’t have that much out of pocket to get them set up, so it was an easy decision to make.”
Vetsch and the Beckers have a history of working together. TJ began working at Vetsch’s dairy in the fall of 2015, and John became an employee a year later.
The brothers maintained a working relationship with Vetsch while attending Ridgewater College for their associate degrees in dairy and farm management. Following graduation, TJ and John made plans to begin dairy farming at a rented facility in Todd County; they even planted a spring crop for fall harvest.
“We had everything lined up and were just hoping to get a loan from the bank,” TJ said.
Unfortunately, financing never came through. Yet, the Beckers still had an opportunity to milk cows.
“Loren knew we had the crop planted, so he went ahead and rented the facilities,” TJ said. “We started with milking 30 of his cows and grew the herd in three phases.”
Today, Vetsch and the Beckers work in a unique partnership.
Vetsch owns the milking herd and is leasing the facilities while the Beckers own the calves born, with plans to begin purchasing the herd within the next year. Vet bills and other operating costs are Vetsch’s responsibility, and in turn, he receives 80% of the milk check.
“It’s kind of like we’re herdsmen, but we’re also taking ownership of the dairy because we make all the breeding decisions, take care of the feed costs and other things,” TJ said. “This really helps us get our foot in the door.”
“This is how I got started farming in 2008,” he said. “A cousin of mine sold out because the city was buying him out, but he wanted to help get someone else started. I know how hard it is to get going.”
For the most part, the brothers’ herd is managed as a separate entity to Vetsch’s dairy business. The Beckers arrive on the farm site before 5 a.m., milk and do morning chores. Typically, TJ mixes the feed while John beds the stalls, and then they both bring the cows in from the outdoor lot. By midmorning, TJ breeds and does a herd health check.
The brothers retreat to their home farm during the day, where they raise all the dairy youngstock – heifers and bulls – and have a beef herd.
By 4:30 p.m., they return to the dairy site for evening milking.
“It seems like it’s working out well,” Vetsch said. “The cows get milked, and I don’t have to worry about much there.”
Vetsch is occasionally called when TJ or John cannot figure out an issue with a cow.
“Now that it’s our responsibility, we notice every single detail,” TJ said.
“It makes us feel good that we really have to work hard for this herd to make it,” he said. “We walk into this barn and there’s a feeling of pride.”
As the Beckers have reflected on their year in the dairy industry, they are thankful for Vetsch’s willingness to help and trust two young, aspiring farmers. Both understand the uniqueness of their situation and its feasibility existing because of their relationship with an established farmer.
“We’ve known (Vetsch) for a long time and that relationship started with TJ,” John said.
“I’ve always known they were good workers, dependable and reliable,” he said. “I felt pretty comfortable helping in this situation, and that hasn’t changed.”
As the Becker brothers look to their years ahead in the industry, they think about what they have learned in the past 12 months and know where they want their future to lie.
With nearly a year under their belts, the Beckers are hopeful they have created a balance sheet attractive for financing. Then, the brothers will begin purchasing the milking herd and other assets for dairy farming.
The farm site is under a lease contract for a few more years. After that, John and TJ hope to establish themselves at their home farm.
“That relationship we started back in high school has been so important and it’s been a real eye-opener as we slowly work into it,” TJ said. “We’re still getting our start in the dairy industry even if it’s in a different way than others.”