November 13, 2021 at 7:09 p.m.
And with forward-thinking minds, a willingness to learn and a strong support system, the Nathe Family Farm was recognized as a sesquicentennial farm by Catholic Charities and the Diocese of St. Cloud.
“Us, my parents, my grandparents, we all have farmed with the goal of succeeding,” Jeron Nathe said. “There are things each generation has done to sustain the farm and be competitive in the industry.”
Jeron and his wife, Brenda, and their children – Payton, Kaylee, Tyler and Mya – milk 350 cows on their Stearns County dairy farm near Melrose. Jeron’s parents, John and Ginny, remain active on the farm, routinely helping with calves and fieldwork.
The farm has been a part of the Nathe family for 153 years with John’s ancestors emigrating from Germany and settling on 260 acres in central Minnesota in 1868.
Like many farms in those earlier years, the Nathes’ was diversified with cattle, hogs and chickens, and vegetables were grown for the farm to sustain the family’s needs.
As time went on, John’s parents developed the dairy portion of the farm, milking in a brick-framed tiestall barn that was built in 1948. When John and Ginny began farming in 1970, they focused solely on milking cows.
“The chickens were the first things to go, then the pigs,” Ginny said.
Then, the couple slowly made improvements as they saw fit. Among the changes were the installation of a pipeline and barn cleaner, the construction of a calf barn and building a manure pit.
Today, few of the original structures remain at Nathe Family Farm.
“To meet the needs of our farm, we’ve built accordingly,” John said. “Every change has had a purpose.”
John and Ginny began dairy farming with 30 cows. As their own children expressed interest in farming, they built the herd and remodeled the housing facilities. Their first large expansion came in 1994 with remodeling the tiestall barn into a flat parlor and building a freestall barn.
Five years later, the couple built another freestall barn and double-8 pit parlor, which is used today in addition to five robots installed in 2019.
“We just kept growing slowly,” John said. “We first expanded to 100 cows and (Jeron) didn’t leave yet, so we decided to milk another 100 cows and take that next step to invest in the dairy.”
Jeron worked for his parents before purchasing the dairy business in 2006.
“We’re lucky, fortunate that we had a plan in place and were able to follow through on it,” Jeron said.
“John and I never wanted the next generation to feel like they were forced to farm,” she said. “When we think about it, we’re really fortunate to have an operating dairy in its sixth generation.”
Now, Jeron and Brenda’s oldest son, Payton, 18, is studying dairy management at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Payton has always enjoyed working with machinery and is often found doing maintenance work on the farm’s equipment.
There are many years before the sixth generation has the opportunity to own and operate the family farm, but with each passing year, the Nathes are reminded of the progress made in the past to allow them to farm today with the possibility of decades to come.
“Look at Dad and the progress he made in his lifetime. He first started by milking cows by hand when he was kid,” Jeron said. “I think part of the key to success is staying progressive and up to date with the industry, and putting in the hours when you need to. It’s important for us to do what’s best for us at the time but keeping in mind opportunities for the next generation.”
Through the years, the Nathes have made it a priority to emphasize efficiencies in their dairy business – efficiency with feed, labor and time to create a profitable dairy herd. They have also heavily relied on input from each other in making sound decisions for the farm.
“Everyone has always been easy to work with,” Ginny said. “We might think differently, but things change and we need to be able to consider someone’s ideas.”
“We all get along, and we can’t take that for granted,” she said.
Dairy farming has not always been easy for the Nathes. Each generation has lived through hardships within the industry, risking their livelihood in uncontrollable weather and market conditions. Yet, through it all, they are humbled for the work they do.
“I think we’ve all had the right mindset and really enjoy farming,” Jeron said.
Even the Nathes’ extended family finds satisfaction in knowing the legacy of the family farm. For many years, they have gathered at the farm for a Fourth of July celebration.
“This farm brings whole generations back here,” Ginny said. “They take pride in what we have.”
As the Nathes reflect on the farm’s 153 years in the industry and the recognition of such within their church community, it is a reminder of the farmers before them and the opportunities that lie ahead.