Branden Sauer milks his herd of 90 cows in a double-9 parlor at the farm site near Pierz, Minnesota.Sauer purchased the farm in April.
Branden Sauer milks his herd of 90 cows in a double-9 parlor at the farm site near Pierz, Minnesota.Sauer purchased the farm in April. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

    PIERZ, Minn. – It has been 10 years since Branden Sauer began his dairying career, and where he is today is almost unfathomable to the 30-year-old.
    “The first day I woke up to a freshened heifer, and I knew that was the beginning of the next 40 years,” Sauer said. “Starting out was tough and looking back, I never thought I’d be this far.”

    Sauer milks 90 cows in Morrison County near Pierz. The cows are housed in a freestall barn and milked in a double-9 parallel parlor, which Sauer began using last month.
    Previously, the cows were housed at his family’s farm site nearby. There, they were housed and milked in a 35-stall stanchion barn.
    “I was switching cows for eight years,” Sauer said. “It was not fun. When I was milking by myself, it took three hours.”
    Sauer rented the facilities, and purchased feed from his dad as he built his own land base over nine years. In 2019, a neighbor and former dairyman approached Sauer with the opportunity for the young farmer to rent 80 acres and purchase the farm site with 160 acres.
    Today, Sauer owns the farm site and runs 500 acres.
    “From day one, this was always my goal. Two years ago, I priced out a freestall barn and was working on a manure pit that I was going to build (at my parents’ farm),” Sauer said. “Then, this opportunity came by, and it’s a piece of land right across the road that will never come for sale again.”
    Sauer still houses his youngstock – from calves to springing heifers – at his family’s farm, with the milking and dry cows at the other property.
    “I’m slowly working on buildings and where I want everything,” Sauer said. “Hopefully by fall I will have everything moved over there.”
    Over the last decade, Sauer has strategically managed his farm business for growth and sustainability in the industry.
    He started his herd while finishing up his degree at Ridgewater College in Willmar in 2010. Sauer had a group of 20 heifers due to calve all around the same time, and then he purchased cows to fill the barn.
    “I fed calves for a few days with the milk, and then once I had enough to hit the agitator, that’s when I had enough to sell,” Sauer said. “I think my first milk check came when I was milking six cows. I started in May, but my first check didn’t come until the end of June. That was stressful.”
    Dairying over the last 10 years has not been easy, but Sauer has found ways to make it a viable career choice.
    All loan payments are automatically taken out of each milk check before Sauer receives the check. And, he makes sure all bills are paid before using any remaining income for purchases or personal savings.
    “It used to be that my first check of the month covered all the bills and the second check was mine,” Sauer said. “Now, I need both to pay the bills. Bills always have to come first, because once you’re behind, you’re always behind. And you’ll never catch up.”
    To get ahead, Sauer took advantage of the years when the milk price was high. At those times, he paid off loans and pre-purchased commodities for the farm.
     Then, when milk prices started to slide, Sauer buckled down and focused on simply covering his expenses.
    “In 2015, I actually didn’t have a feed bill until June because I pre-bought so much feed. Then, I could buy a tractor that spring because I had no bills,” Sauer said. “I can’t say there’s no money in dairy farming, because that’s the only check I get, and I’ve done a lot over the last 10 years. You just have to keep after it and get better and better.”
    Part of furthering Sauer’s dairying career is paying close attention to the herd and its potential.
     He has bred and fed for high components, and strives for a low somatic cell count.
    Sauer credits his achievements to the work of his team, and the help of his dad and girlfriend on the farm.
    “I work with everyone – the agronomist, nutritionist, anyone who can help,” he said. “The neighbors are helpful. Last year, I had my big tractor go down, and we were late planting to begin with. They let me rent one of theirs.”
    After milking in a tiestall barn for almost a decade, Sauer was ready for a facility that was kinder on his body. Sauer’s trusted network and sound business plan helped make the decision to relocate the milking herd an easy one.
    “If this opportunity wouldn’t have come up, I don’t know how much longer I would’ve took it. I was tired,” Sauer said. “It was night and day difference. I think I’ve gained almost three hours of less chores, and I’m milking 20 more cows.”
    But the move was not seamless.
    “As soon as I got inspected, the cows were there the next morning,” Sauer said. “That first milking in the parlor was a disaster, but it still only took two hours. Now, I’m down to about 1.5 hours to milk and wash.”
    In the last 10 years, Sauer has accomplished more than he ever thought possible when he first decided to milk cows. And with careful management, he plans to be a dairy farmer for the long haul.
    “Where I’m at now, I thought it would take 20 years to get here. It’s something that I want to keep doing,” Sauer said. “As long as the bills and loans are paid for, then I’m going to keep doing it whether it’s $20 milk or $12 milk.”
    Mark Klaphake contributed to this article.