February 1, 2021 at 2:13 a.m.

Dairy Profile: Andrew Gathje

Andrew Gathje
Stewartville, Minnesota
Olmsted County 
55 cows

How did you get into farming? I was a traditional farm kid who got into it because I grew up here. I started feeding calves at 6 years old and milking cows when I turned 9. As I got older, I ran the tractors and combine. I picked up more responsibility over time. I attended college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and earned a degree in dairy science and ag business. I graduated in December 2019. I took my last final in the morning and was home by that night to milk cows and start my farming career. I live on the farm in the house my grandparents used to live in. My parents live on a farmsite where I grew up down the road. I farm together with my dad, Andy. My mom, Nora, works off the farm. 

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? Competition with advertising is a concern. Whenever I turn on the TV, I see commercials for milk alternatives. Rarely do I see an ad for cow’s milk. I know checkoff money taken from our checks is used for promotion. If time allows, I might want to be involved in that. Another concern is the milk price. Last year COVID-19 threw a wrench in the market, and the negative PPDs really hurt dairy farms. I hope the price can get back to normal. 

What is the latest technology you implemented on your farm and the purpose for it? We have not invested a lot in the dairy; however, in 2011 we installed auto takeoffs for the milkers in our stanchion barn. That really helps because no matter who is milking the milker gets taken off at the right time. In the spring of 2019, we also bought a TMR mixer and began feeding a total mixed ration. 

What is a management practice you changed in the past year that has benefited you? Two years ago, we started feeding a TMR rather than component feeding. It has saved us so much time. We don’t have enough wrapped bales to mix in for each day of the year, but that is the goal. 
What cost-saving steps have you implemented during the low milk price? Although we spend more fuel on running the mixer, feeding a TMR has helped us save money over time. It helps us minimize feed waste, which saves us money and time. I spent a lot of days as a kid forking hay out of the mangers. The TMR has also made the cows healthier. 

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? We do not have any employees because we do all the work ourselves. But when working with family, you have to be willing to forgive and move on. You can’t hold grudges. 

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. I am able to get up in the morning. No matter what time I went to bed, I can be up for chores at 5:15 a.m. I also need to do a job right. If I did a chore and only put in half the effort, I usually end up going back to do it the way the proper way otherwise it will bother me. 

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? I like not having to work in town and working with animals. I like the freedom of making my own schedule and doing things how we want to in order to run our business. 

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? The best advice I received was to have pride in whatever product you make, whether it’s milk, meat or grain. If you are proud of what you produce, the rest will fall into place. Also, make sure you enjoy the process. The steps to do it might be hard work, but it makes it worth it in the end. 

What has been the best purchase you have ever made on your farm? The mixer. We can throw everything in at once to mix and feed the herd. We used to have to give several types of feed at different times with component feeding. Before the mixer, used 5-gallon pails each day in order to feed the replacement heifers. Another good purchase for the farm has been the bigger combine we bought in 2017. It has cut down time on harvesting, which helps us move grain faster. Time is valuable.  

What has been your biggest accomplishment while dairy farming? In 2020, the tank average raised 20 pounds of milk per cow. We also had corn silage yields up to 37 tons per acre and corn yields over 300 bushels per acre.  

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? In the next year, my goal is to maintain the herd’s 4% butterfat and 3.3% protein test, and add 5 pounds of milk on to the tank average. I also want to get a plan started for a different milking and housing facility. My young brother, Ben, graduated from South Dakota State University last year and is working on a grain farm in South Dakota before he returns home to the farm this May. In the next five years, I hope we are no longer milking in this stanchion barn and using either robots or a parlor. 

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? Because I farm with my family, I need time for myself so I get out and see other people. I have been able to reconnect with friends and neighbors so it has been fun to see those people again.


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