January 26, 2023 at 4:20 p.m.
MIZPAH, Minn. – Running the last dairy farm in Koochiching County requires dedication and independence.
“We’re very self-sufficient here,” Scott Albrecht said. “We keep a lot of extra parts on hand, and we work on motors, transmissions and our own equipment.”
Scott and Darlys Albrecht and their youngest son, Dallas, farm near Mizpah, a small town in northern Minnesota located 70 miles south of the Canadian border. The area is more known for logging than farming.
Scott and Darlys have been milking together for 34 years. They do most of the dairy work themselves while Dallas mixes feed for all of the animals and is the go-to person for fixing things. Dallas, along with his partner, Callie Murphy, and their children, Reed and Myles, live on the farm as well.
At 61 years old, Scott has lived on the farm his whole life as the second generation to milk cows, but the transition from father to son was not typical.
“My dad sold the dairy cows when I was around 7 years old,” Scott said. “My mother bought me a heifer calf when I turned 11, and I raised her. I’ve been milking cows ever since I was about 13 years old.”
Scott bought a few more heifers until he had enough to have milk picked up at the farm.
“By the time I was 16, I had 13 cows, and I finally had two buckets to milk with,” Scott said. “I milked in my dad’s old barn, the old hip-roof barn. That’s when I started getting (the milk) picked up.”
The Albrechts now milk 90 cows in a double-10 parabone parlor. They bed with sawdust because it is readily available in their area.
The Albrechts’ milk was shipped to Thief River Falls until the plant there closed. Today, the family’s milk is hauled to Land O’Lakes in Perham. Milk is picked up every three days.
“When I first got on the milk route, the truck picked up 46 of us in the area on the one route,” Scott said. “I’m the last one of them still milking cows.”
However, having milk picked up in Koochiching County is not a given.
“Land O’Lakes will keep coming to this farm as long as I am milking, but if I were to move from this farm, or a new dairy moved in this area, they won’t haul their milk,” Scott said. “That’d be the end, and the sad thing is there would never be another milk truck coming to this county again.”
The conviction to retain the dairy industry in their county is one of the reasons the Albrechts persist in milking.
“I’ve been threatening to quit the last couple years, but I don’t know,” Scott said. “You just don’t give up.”
Although Darlys did not grow up on a dairy farm, Scott said she likes the cows even more than he does. When he has considered selling the milking herd, Darlys has held him back.
“When we think about selling the cows, I think, ‘What am I going to do to fulfill that time?’” Darlys said. “I haven’t had to drive to work in 34 years.”
Darlys said she finds milking peaceful.
“You go out there, and it’s kind of my quiet time,” she said. “Nobody bothers you when you’re out there because you’re busy.”
Darlys said there have been benefits from marrying a dairy farmer and raising a family on the farm.
“When we started our own family, it was nice to work at home and be with our children,” Darlys said. “You turn around, and here they are raising families of their own, and you think, ‘Wow, where did the time go?’”
Now, the next generation is experiencing the farm and the lifestyle that parallels it.
“One of the special things is that the grandkids enjoy being here too,” Darlys said. “You get that connection being with your grandparents. Now, Dallas gets to see his kids during the day, and we get to see them too.”
Although farming can be tough in the area because of a shortened growing season and the lack of available resources, the Albrechts have found ways to persevere.
The Albrechts own spare equipment in case of breakdowns.
“We’ve got three round balers and two big square balers, but we’ll only run one round baler and one square baler,” Scott said. “The others are always ready to go. If we need parts or equipment work done for the dairy, we’re just so far away from everybody.”
Tractors and other equipment are of the same make and model so they have interchangeable parts.
The nearest location for equipment service is more than 130 miles away, so the farm is stocked with an inventory to ensure needed parts and supplies are on the farm.
“We get a lot of people coming in and out of our yard because if they need something, they can always come here and get it – whether it’s a tool, a bale of hay, a piece of equipment or whatever,” Scott said.
Other decisions are made with distance factored in as well.
“If you have a cull cow to go to the sale barn, and it’s 130 miles to take her, you just don’t take one cow,” Scott said. “We generally go to (Winger Livestock Sales). The beef cattle go to (Bagley Livestock Exchange). That’s a little closer, only 100 miles.”
The Albrechts also purchase supplies in bulk.
When they need help during calving or with fieldwork, their oldest son will step in or other family members. The Albrechts said there are not people nearby who they can hire for help.
Besides dairy farming, the Albrechts raise 250 beef cattle and farm about 1,200 acres of land across the area. They raise corn, soybean and hay. Through trial and error, they have worked to get the best yields possible.
“We use an 80-day variety (of corn),” Scott said. “As for the hay, if you take really good care of your alfalfa, it does well. I’ve gotten four cuts, but you can generally always get three.”
The Albrecht farm began with one barn and has grown to include 15 buildings. The calving barn has a viewing room and is used for housing cattle during bad weather. The former milkhouse is now where laying hens are kept, and another building is used as a mill where Scott saws his own lumber to sell. Scott built the building himself, using lumber he produced.
“That’s my hobby,” he said.
The farm’s feedlot, with cement aprons on both sides, allows for drive-by feeding. The Albrechts feed a total mixed ration to the milking herd.
Raising calves in Koochiching County can be complex.
“It’s a real challenge here to raise a calf because of the weather, so you try to make your cows last as long as you can,” Scott said. “If you pushed them hard, you’d burn them up that much quicker.”
Scott said he has respect for his cows.
“A cow gives so much,” he said. “A good cow is a good cow. We’ve never pushed our cows for a lot of milk, but we’ve always had good butterfat and protein.”
All hardships aside, Scott said he likes where the farm is located. He said there are good fishing lakes in the area and plentiful wildlife, and he likes the scenery the farm offers.
“I own some ground that is 160 acres in one field,” Scott said. “If I showed it to you, it’s the most unique ground up here. You step off the north edge of that field, and it’s 70 miles to the Canadian border. It’s a beautiful field.”
Mark Klaphake contributed to this article.
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