June 14, 2021 at 2:58 p.m.
When Mitchell Reitsma was 7 years old, he knew helping on his family’s dairy farm was more than just chores. It was a responsibility he wanted for the remainder of his life. Now, the 22-year-old works as the next generation of Reit-Way Dairy.
“It all fell into place,” Reitsma said. “When you have a dream and it becomes your reality, that’s sometimes hard to believe.”
Last spring, Reitsma graduated with a degree in dairy management from Ridgewater College in Willmar, and has since found his purpose on his parents’, Paul and Carolyn’s, 250-cow dairy farm south of Sauk Centre.
His days begin early and often last past sunset.
Every morning, Reitsma is in the barn by 6:30. His first task is to review computer data which lets him know if there are cows that have not yet been milked by one of the family’s four robots. Reitsma then takes the list of cows to the pens and guides those animals to the automated milking systems.
He then helps his mom finish feeding calves before returning to the barn and monitoring the robots’ wash cycle. At this time, Reitsma also cleans the stalls and applies fresh bedding for the cattle.
Depending on the day, Reitsma has different tasks to complete for the herd’s health. One day, he will set up a footbath – where cows walk through a solution to clean and prevent lesions on their hooves – vaccinate or breed.
“My parents still own the dairy but I’m the herdsman,” Reitsma said. “I don’t do much fieldwork. Taking care of the cows and making breeding decisions for the cows and heifers is my thing. When we have all of our cows calving and to deal with any issues at that time, I’m that guy.”
Reitsma can recall plenty of times he slept in the barn office, monitoring a cow that was calving.
“I’d rather do that and be sure to have an alive calf in the morning,” he said.
The young farmer’s days come to an end after he walks the pens for any cows that had not visited the robots and then again runs the wash cycle on the milking systems.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot,” Reitsma said. “But when it’s time to call it a day, we’ve got a lot done. It’s always busy.”
When Reitsma thinks about how his days come together, it is not too far off from how he was raised – only with a few more pieces of technology added to the routine.
Growing up, Reitsma would help his mom feed calves or his dad prepare the cows for milking. By eighth grade, he started milking the cows – he and his dad each taking one side of the barn.
The work was expected, but something the young boy enjoyed.
“I had my commitment to the farm. I knew I had to get up early and milk my side of the barn or stay and finish milking at night before I did anything else,” Reitsma said. “My parents made it fun. Farming has always been about family for us, and I think that’s a big part of why the next generation is here.”
Attending college only better prepared Reitsma for beginning a career in dairy farming.
While at school, Reitsma learned from other young aspiring dairy farmers, toured farms across the state and gained an understanding of operating a farm business, financially. The experience of being away from the farm for two years and the connections made during that time were invaluable and solidified Reitsma’s career path, he said.
“I always want to keep learning more and more,” Reitsma said. “The goal is for me and (my brother, Joe,) to eventually take over. We make a good team. My role with the cows will continue getting bigger and eventually the roles will be more than Mom and Dad’s.”
Currently, Reitsma’s brother helps with the crop side of the dairy farm as well as being the on-site mechanic. He also works off the farm at Belgrade Cooperative in the spring and fall.
In all Reitsma does and plans to do for his family’s dairy farm, he is keeping two things in mind – caring for healthy, happy cows and producing a safe, wholesome and nutritious product for consumers.
“There are so many farms out there and no two are the same,” Reitsma said. “There are those that put their cows on pasture, others use barns; some big, some small. They’re all successful and proof you can dairy farm your own way. And, we’re all proud of the products we make.”
Milking cows was once a dream of Reitsma’s when he was a young boy following along in his parents’ footsteps. Today, that dream has become reality, and he is eager to carve his own path in the dairy industry for decades to come.