September 9, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Patience pays off
Mellgrens named Wabasha County Farm Family of the Year
The Mellgren family — Adam (from left), Emily, Roger, Ashley and Sarah — gathers Aug. 4 at their dairy, Higher Ground Holsteins, near Zumbro Falls, Minnesota. The Mellgrens milk 70 cows and manage 350 acres. (PHOTO BY AMY KYLLO)
ZUMBRO FALLS, Minn. — Patience has been a defining characteristic of Adam and Sarah Mellgren’s farm from the beginning of their career until today.
Adam and Sarah and their three children milk 70 cows and manage 350 acres of crops on their farm near Zumbro Falls.
This year, they are being honored as the Wabasha County Farm Family of the Year.
Adam moved to their farm with his parents when he was 7. A few years later, his dad passed away, and Adam and his siblings farmed with their mom until 1995. Ten years later, Adam and Sarah purchased the farm.
In 2007, they started milking their cows at Sarah’s parents’, Vince and Sheri Sexton’s, farm because their barn was too outdated.
“We wanted to pay our cows off,” Adam said. “Then we were able to start saving money and find someone who would work with us who would help us build a parlor and freestall. ... Nobody wanted to loan money to somebody who wanted to milk 70 cows. They thought we were crazy.”
The Mellgrens worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, and in 2012, they moved their cows home.
Like many other farmers, a low milk price has been the biggest challenge they have encountered. They said they have learned how to ride out price variability.
“It taught us not to borrow money,” Sarah said.
“Save, save, save and pay cash,” he said. “Just be patient.”
Ashley (from left), Emily and Roger Mellgren stand with a show heifer Aug. 4 on their family’s dairy farm near Zumbro Falls, Minnesota. The girls dream of someday having a show barn. (PHOTO BY AMY KYLLO)
Daily chores are a family activity at the Mellgren farm. Adam does milking, feeding cows and fieldwork. Sarah also does milking. She works with herd health, oversees calves and does bookwork in addition to her part-time job as a milk inspector for the state of Minnesota.
Emily and Ashley, the Mellgrens’ two daughters, are an integral part of their calf feeding program. They feed calves every day and have developed a keen sense of calf health. Once, when the farm accidentally received incorrect calf feed, it was the girls who identified that multiple calves were sick and that there was a greater problem. Roger, the Mellgrens’ son, also helps feed calves.
Adam said calf care is one of the most important things they do on their farm.
“You don’t take care of your calves right, they are not going to produce for you when they get older,” he said.
The Mellgren daughters have also started becoming involved with sire selection and mating decisions.
“I get them picking out bulls and saying we need this one or that one,” Adam said. “They know how to read a bull book.”
The Mellgrens focus on high-type animals, specifically looking at feet and legs and udder as well as making sure the sire’s milk is rated +1,000 pounds or more.
Their herd average for the past seven months has been over 100 pounds of milk per day on two milkings.
Through years of focusing on bettering their genetics, Adam said they are starting to see a difference.
“We’ve got some of the best heifers right now that we’ve ever had,” he said. “They look good. They milk good.”
The Mellgrens own Holsteins, which Adam and Sarah grew up showing. Now, their children are carrying on the tradition. Adam said one his favorite things is to relive his showing days through his daughters.
Adam said as soon as the ice is gone from the yard, they may begin walking their animals.
The girls do all their own fitting and are good enough that they know their parents are teasing them if they offer to help with a topline. Ashley and Emily even started their own business partnership and own two dairy animals together.
The Mellgrens have extended their delight in showing to lease to other kids as well. Their first lessee was a teenage employee, and over time, the group has grown. Not only do the Mellgrens lease animals, they also train their lessees with mock cattle shows in their driveway complete with cows and a judge.
Cattle shows, mock or otherwise, are not the only things the family does together. Adam installed a LED light on the shop by the basketball hoop, so the girls can shoot hoops as long as the weather is above freezing. Many summer evenings find the family playing catch after chores, driving a mile into town to play baseball in the park or shooting hoops.
“We eat supper late a lot of nights because we’re outside after chores doing something fun instead of working,” Adam said.
Adam would like to have the farm acquire more land to set up the children if they would like to farm someday. Currently, the Mellgrens own about 51 acres and rent the rest of the 350 acres they manage.
The girls have dreams of eventually having a show barn and want to take their cows to World Dairy Expo. Adam said their genetics are getting close to the point where they could begin to see a profit from the investments they have made.
Though growth for the show side of their operation is on their minds, Adam also remains committed to the same financially sustainable, slow growth that has defined the Mellgrens’ career up to this point.
I don’t want to just jump in, borrow money,” he said. “We’re doing it a little bit at a time.”