The Brotherton family – Steve and Jessie along with their children Michaela and Jayce – are happy to be settled into their new farm they bought near Winthrop, Minn.
The Brotherton family – Steve and Jessie along with their children Michaela and Jayce – are happy to be settled into their new farm they bought near Winthrop, Minn. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    WINTHROP, Minn. – After nearly seven years of searching to find a farm, the Brothertons are finally home.
    At the beginning of the year Steve and Jessie Brotherton along with their two children Michaela, 5, and Jayce, 3, moved to a dairy farm with a 51-stall tiestall barn they bought near Winthrop, Minn. They milk 85 cows.
    “It still hasn’t sunk in,” Jessie said. “I wake up and say, this is actually my house, and I actually have things to do. It’s a good feeling to be settled. It’s a place to call home and it feels like home.”
    The Brothertons’ dairy story started on the East Coast in Massachusetts, where Steve grew up on his family’s farm. After his parents sold out, Steve and his brother decided to start up the farm again in 1998; however, they, too, had to sell their herd in 2006. That’s when the moving started. Steve took a job as a herdsman in Vermont.
    After meeting Jessie on in early 2011 and a quick few months of dating online, Jessie visited Steve in Vermont in May. Within the same month, she moved from northeast Missouri and the two became engaged.
    Steve’s dream to have his own dairy quickly became a shared goal.
    “I’ve always been a country girl, and I could see how much he loved it,” Jessie said. “I can’t see him doing factory work. It would break his spirit.”
    The two searched for opportunities that would allow Steve to work as a herdsman and eventually take over the farm. In November 2011, they tried one in Michigan and were on the move again to Iowa in June 2012. After marrying in October of that year, they packed up again for Wisconsin, where the couple tried out two farms over the course of five years before finding their own.
    “He has always had the Wisconsin dream,” Jessie said about why they moved to the Midwest. “It’s the dairy state so he wanted to be out in a more dairy area. East [Coast] farms were failing and Midwestern farms were thriving a little more at the time.”
    Other criteria for their future farm included distance from the house to the barn, location, and the condition of both the house and the barn.
    “When we would find a farm with a good barn, the house wouldn’t be good,” Steve said. “Or when we found one with a good house, the barn wasn’t usable.”
    After a Google search, Steve found Minnesota Farm Link, a program through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that connects retiring farmers with new ones. That’s when he found their farm listed.
    “We didn’t know,” Steve said. “It was another state, and we would have to swap everything. It’s a struggle to change states.”
    But the rest of the criteria matched. Plus, they were nearing their goal timeline with Michaela needing to attend kindergarten in the fall of 2018.
    “It was pressing because with kids, we wanted to settle down so they could start school and stay in one class,” Jessie said.
    After finding the farm in the fall and a quick visit, the Brothertons worked to get the purchasing process started. Despite challenges working with two banks, they found a banker and a Farm Service Agency officer who helped make the process smooth.
    “They were so great to work with,” Jessie said.
    The Brothertons moved in after the first of the year and bought a herd of cows from a retiring dairy family in Sleepy Eye, Minn. On Jan. 10, the couple milked their own cows for the first time.
    “It’s a release of everything to finally reach that goal,” Jessie said.
    They faced challenges right away. Since they arrived in midwinter, the Brothertons needed to secure feed for their herd.
    “That was a big stressor,” Steve said.
    It was a relief when they found neighbors who had some to sell. This summer they will be able to make a portion of their own feed on their 40 tillable acres of the 55 acres they purchased.
    Along with the typical things like figuring out the right set up for their dairy, Steve needed emergency surgery because of an appendicitis in February followed by the whole family being sick after the first few months they arrived.
    Other challenges have been creating a new schedule for balancing chores and family life.
    “It feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done,” Jessie said.
    Perhaps one of the biggest challenges has been the low milk price.
    “I know milk price is low, but I’d rather start up when it’s low rather than high,” Steve said. “Otherwise you build all your debt up around the high price and don’t know what to do when it drops.”
    Jessie agreed.
    “We’re tight right now and bills are coming in regularly, but we’re not giving up. This is it. This is what we’ve dreamed about getting into,” she said about their optimistic and enthusiastic spirit.
    They now feel freedom being owners of a dairy, being able to set their own hours and go at their own pace.
    “You’re doing the work for yourself and not for somebody else,” Steve said.
    Jessie agreed.
    “Your hard work, sweat and blood all ends up going into something that’s meant for you and your family,” she said.
    Looking towards the future, the Brothertons want to build a dairy that is a foundation for their kids.
    “We’ll be able to spend more time with them now and show them good values, especially hard work,” Steve said.
    They follow the philosophy that they take pride in what they own, making sure to keep their farm clean and tidy. They also live to farm with integrity.
    Building a herd of registered Holsteins – breeding for milk production and longevity – is one way the Brothertons want to follow through on their philosophy.
    “Instead of being people who take their cows to show at the state fair, this [farm and herd] is our showcase,” Jessie said. “This is what we take pride in. Right now it’s in the startup process, but we’re working on it.”
    Despite the challenges and the work of starting a new farm, the Brothertons are excited for what’s ahead.
    “It’s all worthwhile when you’re milking your own cows and see a calf being born,” Steve said.
    Now that they have purchased their own farm, the Brothertons are finally home.