July 8, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

One friendship, one dream

By AMY KYLLO | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer

Amy Kyllo/Dairy Star

Justin Buck (left) and JJ O’Reilly smile June 12 on O’Reilly’s parents’ farm near Goodhue, Minnesota. The two friends are joining their families’ respective dairy operations immediately out of high school. 

GOODHUE, Minn. – Ever since fifth grade, Justin Buck has been begging his parents to let him drop out of school and dairy farm. Now, as a 2023 high school graduate, his wish to farm is coming true.

“Ever since I was young, I dreamed of running the family farm someday,” he said.

Buck is not alone in his dream to farm. His good friend and close neighbor, JJ O’Reilly, is following the same path. Both are joining their respective dairy operations immediately out of high school.

Growing up just a mile apart with parents who are friends, the two have known each other their whole lives. Yet, each came to the decision to farm independently from the other. Both knew in middle school that they wanted to dairy farm and planned to do so regardless of what their friend decided.

The young men grew up on similar farms. Buck’s organic farm milks around 130 cows with 500 acres while O’Reilly’s organic farm has about 161 cows and 600 acres. Both farms have sand-bedded free stalls, but Buck’s farm has a robotic milking system while O’Reilly’s has a double-16 parallel parlor. Buck will be joining his dad, Dennis, and older brother, Austin, and O’Reilly will be joining his dad, Chris, and uncle, Tony.

They both understand that dairy farmers play a key role in society and want to be part of that.

“Only 1% of the world is feeding 100% of the world,” O’Reilly said. “That 1%, I just kind of want to be part of that.”

Buck agreed.

“It feels good to know that you are helping the world out big-time getting food,” he said. “You’re helping people.”

They were both active on their dairy farms growing up. This spring, Buck decided not to play baseball so he could farm more. He feeds calves every day, does fieldwork and helps with moving fence. The Bucks intensive graze their milking herd on pasture during forage season.

O’Reilly milks cows and helps with fieldwork.

“Put me in the tractor, put me in the barn, (doesn’t) matter to me,” he said.

Neither plans to attend college before starting their full-time farming career. They both considered the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Farm and Industry Short Course, but both decided they had sufficient mentorship at home.

“I can learn more probably from my family,” Buck said.

The recent high school graduates said they have gotten pushback from teachers, especially in middle school, who felt that college was the only way to succeed. O’Reilly said there has been improvement, though, in understanding from teachers that a living can be earned without a college education.

Buck is especially appreciative of the opportunity to learn from his dad. His grandpa passed away when Buck’s dad was young.

“He had to learn a lot of things on his own,” Buck said. “I just looked up to that. I am thankful that my dad is here to teach me everything.”

Amy Kyllo/Dairy Star

JJ O’Reilly gives a calf hay June 12 on his family’s farm near Goodhue, Minnesota. O’Reilly and his friend, Justin Buck, have chosen to forgo college in favor of on-farm training and mentorship from their families. 

Buck and O’Reilly hope to buy in to their farms in the future. Their operations currently have sufficient facilities to support additional members of the operation. However, the freestall barn on Buck’s family’s farm only has capacity for 10-20 more animals before new buildings would need to be added.

High prices are the biggest hurdle they said they expect to face in their careers, especially as they both hope to eventually expand their respective operations.

As they look toward their futures, both have management factors they plan to focus on for their success.

For O’Reilly, success starts with keeping track of the financial minutiae of the business.

“If you can be good at finances, you can be good at farming,” he said.

Buck agreed. He also said he wants to focus on having a well-organized farm.

Both young men are excited as they look to the future. For Buck, he looks forward to someday owning the farm alongside his brother.

For O’Reilly, he is most excited about his new title.

“When someone asks you, ‘What are you?,’ I can say, ‘I’m a full-time dairy farmer,’” he said.

Though farming can be challenging, both are ready to dairy.

“Ever since a young age, I’ve been in love with it,” Buck said. “There definitely are those hard days, but yet again, you will have your good days.”


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