Bittersweet change leads to opportunity
Talberg leaves Minnesota to farm in Wisconsin
Ryan Talberg milks cows for the last time Oct. 28 in Freeport, Minnesota. Talberg’s next milking was in a 67-stall tiestall barn in Athens, Wisconsin, that he purchased in September. PHOTO BY GRACE JEURISSEN
ATHENS, Wis. – Opportunities can arrive at unexpected moments, but for Ryan Talberg, a young farmer from Minnesota, the opportunity to grow his herd and acquire more land has come after a long search for the perfect place to call home.
Throughout the morning of Oct. 28, the entire Talberg family showed their emotions with the wiping of tears as they all kept busy finishing up the last chores before two cattle pots arrived to take their cattle to their new home in Athens.
After several trips back and forth leading up to the move, the day became surreal for Talberg as he finished morning milking.
“This has been my home for almost my entire life; this has been my herd’s home for the last seven years,” Talberg said. “I wish I had an opportunity to stay, but with being landlocked, high land prices and neighbors with far deeper pocketbooks, this was my only option to grow and make my dream work. Out there I have room to grow not only my herd but maybe someday raise a family on the farm too.”
For the last seven years, Talberg has lived in Freeport, Minnesota, with his parents, Dan and Stephanie Talberg, to pursue his dream of running a dairy farm. Talberg said they have been more than supportive since the beginning, having dairy farmed themselves until 2001 when they dispersed the herd.
“I’ve been looking for a few years for a site to purchase because I’m landlocked here at my parents’ place, and I don’t have enough acreage to accommodate my herd,” Talberg said.
Talberg began farming at the age of 17 and had a longing to raise his own registered Holsteins.
“I found a picture of my dad’s cows when I was in the fourth grade, and I knew immediately that I wanted to raise dairy cattle,” he said. “I keep that photo in the milkhouse as a reminder to myself of how far I’ve come.”
That photo sparked a passion in Talberg that gave him the drive to pursue dairy in any way possible, from participating in dairy knowledge bowl, attending the National 4-H Dairy Conference and purchasing his own herd.
Talberg also made connections with industry professionals for guidance. He credits Jim Salfer from the University of Minnesota for keeping his hopes high in times of volatile milk prices and providing insight on grants and advice on financing through the Minnesota Dairy Initiative.
In 2013, Talberg purchased his first three cows from Art Stumpf of Pierz, Minnesota. Then in 2015, Talberg’s parents purchased 15 head from Mark and Natalie Schmitt of Rice, Minnesota. Talberg bought his parents out a few years later.
Talberg said the Schmitts have been close friends and mentors for him from the beginning, even arriving at the farm the evening of Oct. 26 to say goodbye and toast Talberg’s future in the dairy industry.
Once Talberg established his herd, the next step was to slowly grow. In Minnesota, he milked in a 35-stall tiestall barn on his parents’ farm and had 15 tillable acres to use toward feeding his herd.
As he looked for a possible farm to purchase, Talberg said he wanted a turnkey operation and something that was beautiful to look at. For him, the farm needed to have the ability to invite technology as he hopes to implement a robotic milking system.
On Sept. 16, Talberg visited the farm in Athens and felt a connection with the farm and the previous owners. Talberg’s offer was accepted, and by Oct. 13, he closed on the farm. The site includes a calf barn, 67-stall tiestall barn, heifer barn, machine shed, enough storage for feed and double the tillable acreage he had in Minnesota.
“I have more acreage to feed my cows,” Talberg said. “With the additional acreage and current feed prices, I won’t have to purchase as much feed, which will help lower my costs now that I have a mortgage to pay for.”
Talberg said he will miss the companionship he has in Freeport. Having made friends with neighbors and area farm families, he is leaving most of his dairy connections in Minnesota.
“It’s scary to basically be starting new, but like I’ve been telling everyone, I’m only a phone call away,” he said.
Though Talberg smiled as he talked about the future of his herd, he said he had few hours of sleep during the week leading up to the move because he had nerves that echoed fear of the unknown. Talberg said the change is scary, but he knows this was the right choice for his herd and himself.
When he stepped foot on his new place in Athens, a sense of peace and home welcomed him into his next chapter. His milk will now be sent to Mullins Cheese in Mosinee.
“I’m slightly elevated on my new site,” Talberg said. “I wanted a site that, when you drive by, it’s picturesque. I drive down the road and think, ‘Wow, this is mine.’”
For Talberg, turning on the vacuum pump in the barn for the last time in Minnesota made him reflect on the many memories and growing pains he has had on the farm. Remembering the first time milking 10 Holsteins he purchased to start his herd, he laughed.
“The first time I turned on the pump in the barn, the power went out,” Talberg said. “I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve always found a way to make it work.”
As the first truck left with a portion of the herd, the family watched as the future approached. Talberg, though grateful for his dairy career in Minnesota, is ready to take the next step.