The drive to pursue a lifelong dream
Robinson began dairying in 2020
Brad Robinson stands in his farmyard Feb. 14 on his 54-cow dairy near Lester Prairie, Minnesota. Robinson trucked for many years before starting his dairy career in the fall of 2020. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
LESTER PRAIRIE, Minn. – When Brad Robinson speaks of his dairy the biggest grin comes across his face. At 49 years old, Robinson changed careers and has not regretted his decision yet.
“I trucked for 25 years, but I have always wanted to have a dairy farm,” he said.
After looking for a farm near Arlington, Robinson’s realtor convinced him to take a look at a farm along the Crow River in Lester Prairie. For the last five years, since purchasing the farm site, Robinson has put in countless hours building and renovating his facility to be suitable for a milking herd.
“It was everything I wanted,” Robinson said. “My wife didn’t like the idea of me milking. She told me I was going to have to do it myself. Now, she helps me every night.”
Robinson and his wife, Nicole, milk 54 cows in a step-up parlor built by Robinson with the help of family and friends.
Robinson’s introduction to the dairy industry came in high school when he helped his grandpa on his farm and helped neighbors milk. His grandpa bought Robinson his first Jersey calf which he showed at the county fair for 4-H. Robinson then had to sell the heifer because his grandpa was not set up to milk.
“She was milked by the family that bought her for 11 or 12 years,” Robinson said.
A deep passion for dairy, and a love for that Jersey cow, is part of the reason Robinson pursued a herd of Jerseys.
“Everything here is a big deal to me,” Robinson said of his farm. “I came here with nothing. All I had was the building site.”
The barn was empty and gutted when the Robinsons purchased the farm site. There was no setup for a herd of dairy cows and no equipment for milking.
“I didn’t borrow any money for this,” he said. “I went to the bank, and they laughed at me. I told them I only needed $20,000 to do what I wanted with the place, and they said no.”
Robinson was going to start with 12 Jersey heifers, but when those heifers were ready to calve, he was not quite set up to milk. The heifers were then traded with a neighboring dairy farmer for a few beef cattle.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to work or if that ship sailed,” Robinson said of milking cows. “I did the beef thing for a year or so while I trucked, but I just wanted to dairy. It was always in the back of my mind.”
Despite the odds and contradicting statements from others, Robinson has proven himself right. The pulsating urge to make his home into a dairy farm to fulfill a lifelong desire to become a dairyman became a reality.
After being at the farm site for two years, Robinson knew it was time to put his goals into action when he bought his first batch of heifer calves. He was planning to raise those heifers, calve them and start milking. Understanding his time frame, he kicked the renovations into high gear.
The equipment for the farm, including the bulk tank and parlor stalls, were all purchased used and installed by Robinson.
“I wanted to have everything ready to go by the time my first heifer was ready to calve,” he said. “When she calved, I wanted to be ready to milk her.”
Sure enough, in August 2020, Robinson’s first heifer calved. Two months later, the other heifers started to calve, and the calves just kept coming. Getting the heifers accustomed to the step-up parlor was among some of Robinson’s challenges.
Robinson also had a decision to make: either stay small and keep trucking, or quit trucking in order to farm. Without hesitation, Robinson chose his dairy farm over the job he had done for half of his life and retired his trucking career.
Robinson has learned many new things since beginning his dairy career. A focus on animal nutrition helped increase milk production. He began with having milk picked up every three days to being on a daily schedule.
“I went into town and talked with Big Gain, and they helped me form a ration,” Robinson said. “They told me that by Friday I should be seeing a difference in production. I called him on Wednesday because I had increased by 800 pounds.”
Though Robinson said his feeding setup is not ideal, with having to deliver feed to the bunks using a skidsteer, his milk production has doubled since using a total mixed ration. Robinson uses a mixture of ground corn, corn silage and hay, grown by himself, and purchased mineral mix for the TMR.
Robinson hopes to renovate the barn back into a tiestall to provide for more housing and provide ample room for his heifers.
The reality of his dreams coming true is still setting in, but the path to get here will not soon be forgotten.
“If I don’t do it, I will always regret it,” Robinson said of dairying. “If I do it one, five or 15 years, I at least did it. If I hadn’t, I would regret it and keep wishing I had.”